The attorney for a Navy enlisted man found with snapshots of his submarine’s classified propulsion system argues his crime is less than Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
Last July, Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier was charged with unauthorized retention of defense information and obstruction of justice after a cellphone with 12 images of control panels and a portion of the reactor compartment of a nuclear attack submarine were found on a phone identified as being his was found at a waste yard in Connecticut.
The station attendant found the phone and, thought he recognized Saucier — who came to the site to dispose of scrap while remodeling his home — in the images, showed the questionable photos to a friend who was a retired Navy chief who advised the worker to contact the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
After investigation, federal agents were able to ascertain that Saucier took the photos between January and July 2009 while stationed as a Machinist Mate on the USS Alexandria and that at least six showed details of the submarine that would be classified as Confidential or Restricted. When confronted with the phone and photos, Saucier at first claimed he lost the device in 2010 and denied taking the images, though four witnesses later told agents they had seen the images on the phone while it was in his possession and one, a fellow Sailor, had cautioned him to delete them.
“From these photographs an engineer could determine significant design characteristics of a U.S. nuclear submarine, including its reactor plant,” notes court documents.
After speaking with investigators in 2015 while stationed in New York, Saucier destroyed a camera, laptop and memory card and hid a handgun he owned but was not registered to him.
Facing as much as 30 years in prison and fines of $500,000, Saucier plead guilty in May to a single count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information. Now, with his sentencing set for Aug. 19, his attorney argues the Sailor should be granted probation rather than thrown in jail.
“Mr. Saucier admitted that he knew when he took the pictures in 2009 that they were classified and that he did so out of misguided desire to keep these pictures in order to one day show his family and his future children what he did while he was in the Navy,” wrote his attorney, Tully Rinckey, in an 18-page memo to the court asking for leniency, holding Saucier never intentionally shared them with anyone and they were not taken maliciously.
Rinckey argued that Saucier was dedicated from an early age to attain a military career, eschewing a Congressional appointment to the Naval Academy in 2004 to enter active duty in the Navy’s competitive and selective Naval Nuclear Power Program. He made fast friends and became something of a leader in his assignments, with Rinckey forwarding the court over 100 letters of reference from former shipmates and instructors vouching for his character. Saucier even once drove 1,600 miles to help make sure a fellow Sailor’s dog was safe.
Further, Saucier’s attorney argues, he is facing an Administrative Separation from the Navy and a likely Other Than Honorable Discharge, and, with his career over, the prospect of serving a lengthy prison time as further punishment is unneeded.
As part of his argument, Rinckey pointed to at least six other cases in which service members who committed similar offenses were let off with comparatively light punishment. This included two other Sailors on USS Alexandria who took photographs inside the same locations of the submarine as Saucier in 2011 but were only given Naval Non-Judicial Punishments (NJPs) and ordered to forfeit $560 in pay.
Finally, Rinckey dropped the Clinton card.
“FBI Director Comey stated that there was ‘110 emails and 52 email chains’ that were deemed classified on Hillary Clinton’s personal servers collected in 2014,” wrote Rinckey. “Of these emails 8 of these chains contained ‘top secret’ information, 36 contained ‘secret’ information and 8 contained ‘confidential’ information. … Comey stated that ‘none of these emails should be on personal servers,’ however, the FBI recommended Ms. Clinton not be brought up on any charges as she lacked ‘intent.’ In our case, Mr. Saucier possessed six photographs classified as ‘confidential/restricted,’ far less than Clinton’s 110 emails.”
Rinckey closed by saying it would be unjust and unfair for Saucier to receive anything other than probation “for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid.”
Saucier’s case is not the first instance of a service member under fire for mishandling classified information invoking Clinton’s scandal. Attorneys for Maj. Jason Brezler, a Marine Corps Reservist who has served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who was found with 100 classified documents on his personal hard drive and thumb drive hold,” the current commander-in-chief should apply the same standard to Maj. Brezler and any service member under his command who have been found unfit to serve for far, far less alleged misconduct.”
The Navy, on the other hand, feels much differently. Sentencing guidelines for Saucier’s conviction range from 63 to 78 months, and officials are eager to see most of that applied.
In a letter to the court arguing for a significant prison sentence, Navy Rear Adm. Charles A. Richard, director of the Undersea Warfare Division for the Chief of Naval Operations, held up the fact that Saucier’s motives for taking the images remain unclear since he destroyed his computer during the investigation. Richard maintains the photos were not just random images and compromised the billions in taxpayer dollars the Navy spent on development at its nuclear laboratories.
“The detailed nature of the information Mr. Saucier captured in his photographs is far more gravely serious than, and stands in contrast to, what might be found in any improper ‘casual’ or ‘social’ type pictures taken aboard a submarine that might contain some segment or technical component in the background,” said Richard, asking the court to hand down a sentence at the higher range of the sentencing guidelines.
U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill is expected to hand down Saucier’s sentence on Friday.
He teaches a course on the subject of federal sentencing at the University of Virginia and is a 1999 appointment to the bench by President Bill Clinton.