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Marine officer faces administrative separation after warning of insider threat

Oct. 14, 2013 - 06:54PM   |  
Enduring Freedom
Then-Capt. Jason Brezler meets with leaders in Now Zad, Afghanistan, in 2009. He will face a board of inquiry, and possibly the end of his career, for passing classified information to deployed Marines about an Afghan police chief later connected to an insider attack. (Cpl. Albert F. Hunt / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps has ordered a major to appear before a board of officers that could end his career for the way in which he warned deployed Marines in Afghanistan about a potential security threat.

Maj. Jason Brezler was called by Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Reserve, to stand before a board of inquiry to determine if he should be tossed from the service for “substandard performance of duty and misconduct, or moral or professional dereliction,” according to an Aug. 30 memo that Mills sent the major. The scrutiny stems from the manner in which Brezler, a mobilized reservist, sent classified information about an Afghan police chief to Marines in the area.

The date for the BOI has not yet been set, said Col. Francis Piccoli, a spokesman for Mills. The hearing will be held in New Orleans, where his three-star command is based.

Brezler warned about the police chief, Sarwar Jan, last year after receiving “an emergency request for information” from Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to a July 11 letter from Rep. Peter King, R.-N.Y., to Commandant Gen. Jim Amos. Brezler “immediately told his fellow Marines what he knew about the peril they faced,” and realized afterward that he passed “imminent threat” information, classified as NATO Secret, over an unclassified computer network, King’s letter states.

Brezler, a New York City firefighter, reported his mistake to his chain of command, and subsequently received an adverse fitness report. His story was first reported by Marine Corps Times on Aug. 25, five days before he was ordered to appear before the BOI.

Despite Brezler’s warning, three Marines — Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, 29, Cpl. Richard Rivera, 20, and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley, 21 — were killed Aug. 10, 2012, by an alleged attacker who worked for Jan as a “tea boy,” an unpaid personal assistant. The teen reportedly opened fire on them with an assault rifle at a gym at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand province. A fourth Marine, Staff Sgt. Cody Rhode, sustained five gunshot wounds, including one that shattered his elbow, according to a Marine Corps news release. They were all members of a police advisory team attached to 3/8.

Brezler declined to comment for this story. He had previous interaction with Jan because he served as a civil affairs officer attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., in 2009 and 2010 when the unit was deployed to Now Zad, Afghanistan, according to the book “The Wrong War” by bestselling author Bing West.

Published in 2011, the book states that Marines in Now Zad worked to have Jan removed as the police chief. It describes him as the protegé of Sher Mohamed Akhuadzada, a former governor of Helmand province who is widely believed to have ties to the Taliban and commonly known as “SMA.” Jan later surfaced in Garmser district, where the insider attack in question occurred last year.

Kevin Carroll, a lawyer and former Army officer representing Brezler pro bono, said he is confident that when presented with the evidence, the officers on the BOI will agree the major “did the right thing to help Marines facing a hidden danger in a war zone.”

“It is inconceivable that a combat Marine and New York City fireman, such as Jason Brezler, would have lied or stayed silent when Marines in Afghanistan sought his advice on an emergency force protection issue,” said Carroll, who worked for King earlier this year on the Hill. “There is no evidence, or even allegation, that the information Jason Brezler emailed to fellow security-cleared Marines was disclosed to the enemy, or that any sources or methods were jeopardized. It is not yet even clear that this information was properly classified.”

Brezler's backers

The major won’t go down without a fight. His supporters include influential Marines and public officials who have written letters in his favor. They include West; Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commanding general of 1st Marine Division; Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock, the deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Pacific; retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Roussell, a commander with the Chicago Police Department; and New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.

Nicholson first met Brezler in 2006 in Fallujah, Iraq, where Brezler was serving as a captain and Nicholson was the commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, the general said in an Oct. 1 letter of recommendation. He credited him with braving repeated enemy attacks to launch civil affairs projects as security and stability in the city eventually improved. As a major deployed to Afghanistan, Brezler had similar success in Now Zad, the general added.

“Jason is a selfless, fearless and dedicated Marine Officer,” Nicholson wrote. “He accomplished much, for so many, with little regard for himself. I urge board members to take into consideration these aspects of his character and prior service in deliberations.”

Simcock said Brezler developed a “key and strategic relationship” with a police chief in Fallujah.

“Based on my observation of Major Jason Brezler in a combat environment, I am confident he is a principled man of integrity who is not swayed by peer pressure or personal gain,” Simcock wrote.

West’s letter is the most blunt. He highlights Brezler’s leadership in Now Zad, and says he saw Brezler “brace a punk police chief and drag away a young teen who was being used as a sex slave.” The Marines later lobbied successfully to have the provincial governor oust him as chief, West said.

“To be short and to the point: Brezler has brass balls,” West wrote. “We’d like to believe that’s the definition of a Marine, but I’ve seen Brezler in action.”

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