Sailor faces charges for submarine photos on cell phone
By David B. Larter
SOUDA BAY, Greece (Jan. 23, 2013) The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Alexandria (SSN 757) arrives in
Souda Bay. Alexandria is on a scheduled
deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security
cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy
photo by Paul Farley/Released)
On a March day in 2012, the supervisor at the town dump in Hampton, Connecticut, saw an LG cellphone resting atop a sitting on top of one of his dumpster. Deciding he needed a new cell phone, he powered it on. to make sure it worked
It was the seemingly inconsequential beginning of an unlikely series of events that led to the Justice Department filing charges that could put Machinist Mate 1stFirst Class Kristian Saucier behind bars for 20 years. Prosecutors say the 10-year Navy vet used his cell phone to snap phone to take career submariner for taking unauthorized pictures of the classified engineering spaces on the attack submarine Alexandria, and raising questions about his intentions to share them. and raised questions about the 10-year sailor's intentions in regards to the photographs.
And It's the latest case where sailors are accused of violating the submarine force's ban on personal electronic devices; the ban was adopted to prevent sailors from photographing sensitive spaces. As many as 12 sailors have been implicated for having recora of submariners violating the Navy's restrictions of the use of personal electronic devices on submarines. Late last year, 12 sailors were implicated in a ring that allegedly recorded female shipmates undressing with cellphones aboard the sub scandal where sailors were videotaping female officers in the shower and distributing the videos online.
Saucier, a 28-year-old native of Arlington, Vermont, had been remodeling his home and making regular trips to the dump. When the supervisor opened the pictures app on the phone, he discovered photos of Saucier, who he recognized, along with several detailed pictures of what looked like he was pretty sure was a Navy ship.
The supervisor showed the photos to his buddy, a retired Navy chief, who took them to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who then looped in the FBI, and it was off to the races.
The photos that raised red flags at NCIS and the FBI included images of various control panels, a panoramic view of the reactor compartment and a panel that showed the condition and exact location of the submarine at the time the photo was taken.
The FBI alleged that "an engineer could determine significant design characteristics of a U.S. nuclear submarine" from the images on Saucier's phone.
Saucier pleaded "not guilty" to charges he took and retained pictures of classified spaces and knowingly destroyed evidence to disrupt an ongoing investigation.When reached for comment, Saucier's attorney said his client categorically denies any wrongdoing and is "vehemently denying the charge of espionage."
"It's my position that the government is distorting the facts to make it sound as if that is what he was doing," said Derrick Hogan, an attorney with Tully Rinckey who represents Saucier.
Saucier is assigned to currently serving Naval Support Activity Base, Saratoga Springs, New York. Hogan said he is reporting daily to the command. He was arrested May 28 and released on $100,000 bond.
Saucier told the FBI in an interview that the phone was his but that he didn't take the pictures, according to the criminal complaint. The FBI alleges that afterimmediately following the interview, Saucier went back to his home and smashed up his personal laptop, a personal camera and an SD card.
Pieces of the laptop were found in the woods behind Saucier's grandfather's house in another part of the state, according to the criminal complaint filed by the FBI.
So far, prosecutors have not presented any evidence that suggests Saucier tried or intended to share the photos to foreign agents.
'Now I'm in trouble'
The U.S. Attorney's FBI's case against Saucier is seriousdamning.
Three witnesses, including a shipmate of his on the Alexandria, claim Saucier showed them the photographs and admitted taking them, according to the complaint.
After doing forensics on the photos, the FBI claims the photos were taken at odd hours. A photograph of the reactor compartment through a yellow-tinted observation port was taken in January 2009 at 4 a.m.
Photographs of a panel in the maneuvering compartment that included the exact location of the Alexandria were taken that March at 1:30 a.m. in the morning.
And still more pictures, including this time a panoramic view of the reactor compartment, were taken in March in the early afternoon of July 15.
Navy records show Saucier was on the ship and on duty at the time all the pictures were taken, according to the FBI.
One of the witnesses cited by the FBI claims that when word got out he was being investigated by the FBI, he was approached by a shipmate who asked him if there were pictures of the reactor on his phone. (The rumor on the ship was that Saucier's ex-wife had turned in the phone.)
"Yeah it did," Saucier told the witness, according to the complaint, "and now I'm in trouble. It was for myself, it's not like I texted them to somebody."
Another witness cited by the FBI claimed to be at Saucier's home when he returned got back from the interview, and that Saucier told the witness that the FBI had "my old cell phone with the pictures I took on it," and that he was "screwed."
During the interview with Saucier, the FBI had asked him about his personal computer and other electronic devices he took with him on deployment, according to the complaint.
Immediately following that interview, he returned to his home and, according to the witness at his home that day, he then grabbed his camera and the laptop the FBI had asked about, took them to the basement and smashed them to bits inside a plastic bag.
Saucier then told the witness not to talk because the witness would be in trouble too for seeing the images. because of having seen the photos as well.
On the hook
While Saucier denies any intention to distribute the photos and his reasons for intentions in keeping the photos are unclear. However, the photos, if exposed, could have been damaging, experts said.
The pictures as described in the complaint could reveal to a trained eye some of the state-of-the-art technology used to silence the hull's noises and to ilencing technology and reveal the capabilities and configuration of the plant inside the Los Angeles-class attack boat, according to a former sub skipper who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive areas on the boat. one former sub skipper who spoke to Navy Times on background to discuss sensitive areas of the boat.
If espionage was his intent, however, it's unclear how much information on a retiring Cold War-era boat would be valuable to foreign adversaries now. to any of the usual suspects such as Russia or China.
What's more likely is that would be more likely would be a potential adversary could use using an initial and largely worthless transaction with a potential spy as a way of getting the person "on the hook," said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Much of the technology inside the reactor compartment would be well known to Russia and China, but agents for those governments could then put pressure on a new source to go dig for more sensitive data.
"They might take the photos and then turn around and threaten to turn the person in if they didn't go find some nugget of information that they are actually interested in," Clark said.
One of the largest spy cases in U.S. history was Chief Warrant Officer warrant officer name John Walker, whose prolific spy career began when he lifted an encryption card from his ship and walked it into the Russian embassy in D.C. to sell it.
Saucier's case is currently in the preliminary phases, where lawyers will file motions and enter a discovery period, where the sides lawyers will exchange paperwork and evidence to build their cases.
About David B. Larter
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.