A s a dozen male sailors are waiting to see whether they'll be officially charged for recording, distributing or not reporting videos of their female shipmates in a submarine's shower changing area for over a year. And one suspect's attorney is building a defense based, at least in part, on the contention that personal electronics rules aboard a sub are muddy and unevenly enforced.
Attorney James Stein, based near Kings Bay in Camden County, Georgia, contends that not only is the PED instruction confusing, most sailors and officers don't follow it.
"My information is that the use of the devices was widespread among most of the crew, officers included," he told Navy Times in a Jan. 16 phone interview. "I also have information that by the time the sub hit the docks, officers and enlisted men were using the devices."
It is the first sign of a possible defense in the high-profile case. A Navy official confirmed to Navy Times in December that investigators suspected seven videos had been taken with a cell phone camera aboard the Kings Bay, Georgia-based ballistic missile submarine Wyoming.
Separate command and criminal investigations, meanwhile, are completed and under review by the boat's chain of command. one suspect's lawyer is building a defense around Wyoming's personal electronic device policy, which he says is too confusing about where and when PEDs are allowed on board.Stein declined to identify the sailor or specify what the type of conduct he was implicated in. No formal charges had been filed as of Jan. 30.
Stein said that while his client was in the wrong for playing any role in the videosallegedly using his cell phone aboard the sub, the Navy bears some responsibility for the widespread misuse that preceded the illicit filming of female officers undressing, and cited a PED use agreement. the Navy should take a look at its PED policy and how it could have contributed to the situation.
"When I look at that agreement, I think what we've stumbled on is a widespread breech of security, I'm sure of that," Stein said. "The Navy's remiss in not protecting us a little bit more than that."
Historically, cell phones have not been allowed aboard submarines, because the entire boat is considered a secret space. A smartphone's camera and recording systems, not to mention its transmissions, are anathema to the security that envelopes a submarine's gear and missions, among the U.S. government's most closely guarded secrets. and vulnerable to the recording systems and transmission that can
However, as technology has evolved, more sailors are keeping their music and other multimedia on their smartphones, rather than spreading it over laptops and portable DVD players.
In 2012, Submarine Forces updated its PED instruction to allow commanding officers to set policies on their individual boats, citing a negative morale impact of the previous cell phone ban, which one attack sub crewmember dubbed a "morale time bomb."
The new instruction allowed continued to ban all PEDs while in home port, but loosened rules for underways and port visits. Cell phones are stored in pierside lockboxes when available, but if not, they can be kept in berthing areas with their batteries taken out, which is also the rule while underway.
COs are free to tighten those restrictions as they see fit, an official familiar with the Wyoming investigation told Navy Times on Jan. 26.
"A CO can go all the way to no PEDs at all ... , or, the instruction is vague to allow COs to find the right balance of crew morale with looking at vulnerabilities and OPSEC and security," the official said.
According to the agreement Stein said his client signed aboard Wyoming, which he provided to Navy Times, all wireless communications must be disabled (in airplane mode with Wi-Fi disabled), the devices cannot be connected to ship networks, and sailors are not allowed to bring devices into sensitive compartmented information facilities (such as the radio or engine rooms).
"Your berthing areas, your mess decks, your wardrooms — and this is an example — can be designated as no-classified discussion zones, for that purpose, so that a sailor can sit in the corner, in one of the booths or in a chair and play his video games on an iPad or read on a Nook," the Navy official said.
Cell phones are still prohibited outside of berthing areas, where they can't be activated, and their using them to record on board is strictly prohibited.
A former officer who served on submarines beginning in 2011 agreed that there can be a big difference between PED policy and practice.
At the time of the officer's service, cell phones were still completely prohibited, but that didn't stop some sailors from getting them on board.
On multiple occasions, the former officer, who asked not be identified, had to come to the pier when security forces caught a sailor trying to get on board with his phone, because he forgot it was in his bag.
"When security finds the cameras and phones, they don't treat it like a joke," the officer said. "But, that being said, there is nothing to stop anyone from keeping the phone in their pocket and answering 'no' to the question of whether they are bringing unauthorized items to the waterfront."
Though the officer said there's no excuse for violating the PED policy that the sailor signed, it's likely that he wasn't the only one not following it.
"Watch when any sub pulls back into port in King's Bay and look at the smoking area — it's a very good bet that there are more than a handful of sailors on their iPhones calling and texting," the officer said.