The agency that controls US intelligence satellites failed to inform law enforcement when some employees and contractors admitted during lie detector tests to child abuse crimes, according to the intelligence inspector general.
The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which operates surveillance satellites for the US intelligence community, was also found in other cases to have delayed reporting to authorities admissions of criminal activity uncovered during security clearance polygraph tests. Two inspector general reports released Tuesday found these delays possibly imperiled evidence in investigations or even endangered children.
In one case, an NRO legal counsel advised employees against reporting admissions by a government contractor of child molestation, viewing child pornography, and sexting with a minor, according to the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.
“Doubt we have enough to interest the FBI,” the NRO’s then-assistant general counsel told another agency official in an email, adding, “the alleged victim is fourteen years old and fully capable of calling the police herself.”
The NRO employee reported the confession anyway, revealing that the girl was still in contact with the contractor who had admitted to the crimes. The US Department of Justice was not informed of the confession for nearly five weeks, according to McClatchy news service.
Overall, 30 individuals of the 30,000 who took the NRO polygraph tests from 2009 to 2012 confessed to child abuse or possessing child pornography, the inspector general found. The inspector general’s office referred for investigation seven confessions related to child pornography or child abuse that the NRO failed to report.
Meanwhile, in some reported cases, delays as long as several months meant “individuals could continue the criminal activity or tamper with or destroy evidence in the interim,” said the inspector general’s office.
The NRO’s lawyers at the time told the inspector general’s investigators that they “were not legally obligated … to report child sexual abuse to DOJ or law enforcement organizations because child abuse is a state crime, not a federal crime,” according to the report.
“Therefore they generally chose not to report those crimes unless the admissions also involved federal crimes such as possession of child pornography.”
While not technically obligated to report child abuse crimes, neither the law nor intelligence-community policy bars the NRO from flagging such cases, especially those that pose “imminent danger,” according to the inspector general.
The NRO did not report "some alleged federal crimes that it was required to," McClatchy wrote, due in part to “inconsistent and inaccurate advice” from the agency’s top lawyers at the time, the inspector general found.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requested a review of the agency’s practices after a 2012 investigation by McClatchy first raised questions about the NRO polygraph policies. Grassley said at the time the NRO exhibited a “complete lack of common sense in failing to require reporting of serious state crimes of this sort.”
The NRO reformed some of its reporting policies after the 2012 McClatchy report, telling the inspector general it had “strengthened internal and external coordination and facilitated identification, referral and reporting of potential crimes.”
Yet a subsequent inspector general investigation – the second of the two released Tuesday – of the same NRO polygraph division found “significant shortcomings” in the agency’s lie detector program, saying it “may result in potential negative national security implications originating at the NRO.”
The intelligence inspector general found one Air Force lieutenant colonel who confessed during a 2010 polygraph test to molesting a child and to downloading child porn on his Pentagon computer. The NRO reported the admission to the Air Force division that has oversight of security clearances, but not to the Justice Department or the Air Force’s special-investigations unit.
According to the inspector general, the Department of Homeland Security investigated the case of the Air Force lieutenant colonel, though the new report did not offer what resulted from the inquiry. McClatchy reported that the officer still held a security clearance as of earlier this month, according to Sen. Grassley.
“The NRO has made important strides in reducing the time it takes to report crimes from over 100 days to an average of three days, but quite frankly, sometimes that’s still too long,” Grassley said. “It’s unacceptable to give a person who has admitted to viewing child pornography or of sexually abusing children any time to destroy evidence or strike again.”