Branch's access to classified information was suspended in November 2013, along with that of a deputy, Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the director of intelligence operations, for possible connections to Glenn Defense Marine Asia — the husbanding firm at the center of one of the Navy's biggest bribery scandals in decades.
Vice Adm. Ted Branch said he was disappointed because he expected his classified access would be restored so he could return to performing all the duties required of the naval intelligence boss.
Photo Credit: MCSN Andrew Schneide/Navy
"I have been advised that this nomination is going forward now because my access to classified information has been restricted as a result [of] an ongoing investigation concerning work performed by Glenn Defense Marine Asia during my command of the aircraft carrier Nimitz ten years ago," Branch said in the Nov. 26 statement. "I am disappointed, as I have always hoped and expected that my classified access would be restored so that I can continue as the deputy CNO for information dominance and director of naval intelligence. The investigation has been pending for over a year, and I welcome its conclusion so that I can resume in full my service to the Navy and the country."
"[Mabus sees] the need to have an experienced officer in this key position who is able to address the full spectrum of the duties required," the senior official said.
The official went on to say that the secretary's decision had nothing to do with any new evidence or information regarding Branch's guilt or innocence. Indeed, officials have told Navy Times that the Justice Department's source may have confused Branch with another officer and that the lack of any charges against Branch made the decision to replace him especially difficult.
Mabus will withdraw Train's nomination if Branch is cleared of charges between now and when Train is confirmed, which Navy officials estimate will take place in early 2015 after the new Congress is sworn in, the official said. If Train is confirmed and relieves Branch next year, it's possible he would have to retire as a two-star, but a final determination on that would come later.
Train has previously served as the intelligence chief at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a job that often promotes to three-star.
Branch and Loveless lost their clearances while the Justice Department investigated their connections to GDMA and its larger-than-life CEO, Leonard Glenn Francis, who is accused of bribing Navy officers to steer ships to ports where he allegedly bilked the Navy with overcharges and bogus fees.
Francis was known for targeting senior officers and supply officers with gifts, often putting them in an awkward position by sending expensive cigars or bottles of champagne, some officers have said. On one occasion, Francis allegedly offered Cmdr. Mike Misiewicz tickets to a Lady Gaga concert.
In return for gifts and junkets, prosecutors allege Francis expected information from his active-duty contacts, some of which, like ship's schedules, for example, was classified. He also allegedly prodded them to reroute ships to unusual ports where he could overcharge the service undetected. Francis has pleaded not guilty.
Navy officials say Branch is not suspected of leaking classified information. But he reportedly has been investigated for accepting gifts from Francis, which could open him up to blackmail. Branch, a career F/A-18 pilot who goes by the call sign "Twig," led the Nimitz from 2004 to 2007. He commanded the flattop during its 2005 Western Pacific deployment that included stops in Malaysia, Guam and Hong Kong.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.