The Naval Criminal Investigative Service took “corrective action” against seven special agents after the war crimes case against Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher collapsed.
First disclosed during a Sunday broadcast of CBS news magazine “60 Minutes,” NCIS and military officials confirmed to Navy Times the following morning that the internal probe began six months ago and continues.
“NCIS can confirm seven NCIS agents have either left the agency prior to the conclusion of the internal inquiry, have been reprimanded or have been reassigned as a consequence of the internal inquiry,” wrote NCIS spokesman Tim Mahew in an email to Navy Times.
“NCIS leadership prides itself on a culture of accountability and investigative excellence. However, as NCIS discussed with CBS prior to the broadcast, we would not discuss the specifics of past or ongoing personnel matters.”
Termed “accountability actions” by the Navy, they’ve led to two special agents being allowed to retire. Another agent was transferred to work outside the agency. Three received “administrative sanctions issued in writing.” Two others were reassigned within NCIS, although one of them was not issued sanctions and isn’t counted on the list of seven punished personnel.
When asked to elaborate on the probe and its initial findings, Mayhew said his agency “does not comment on active investigations" and declined further comment.
Echoing the “60 Minutes” report, Pentagon officials also confirmed to Navy Times that three military attorneys are facing professional responsibility investigations for their roles in the Gallagher case, although they declined to name the targeted trio.
On July 2 — more than nine months after he was charged with murder and a string of other war crimes allegedly committed in Iraq in 2017 — Gallagher was acquitted on all but one crime, appearing in an inappropriate photograph with the body of a dead detainee.
It was a charge he never denied.
On the eve of trial, the government’s prosecution team was sanctioned by Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh for violating the constitutional rights of Gallagher.
Part of the punishment included booting Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, for a warrantless surveillance program cooked up with NCIS agents to track emails sent by defense attorneys and Navy Times.
But the spying wasn’t the only accusation of prosecutorial and police misconduct plaguing the case. They were accused of manipulating witness statements to NCIS agents; using immunity grants and a bogus “target letter” in a crude attempt to keep pro-Gallagher witnesses from testifying; illegally leaking documents to the media to taint the military jury pool; and then trying to cover it all up when they got caught.
To Gallagher’s criminal defense attorney, Timothy Parlatore, one of the most concerning problems uncovered in the aftermath of the warrantless spying operation was that an NCIS counter-espionage agent handled a portion of a probe that targeted lawyers, their administrative assistants and a newspaper.
“Why were NCIS counter-intelligence assets deployed against American citizens in direct violation of Executive Order 12333?” Parlatore asked on Monday from his Washington office.
He told Navy Times he was never interviewed by NCIS or Navy officials for the ongoing investigations and had not been briefed on their initial findings or the punishments they’ve meted out so far.
“It’s a surprise but welcomed announcement that there’s some accountability for this serious misconduct,” Parlatore said. “Unfortunately, it never should’ve come to this in the first place. We hope that the Navy’s leadership and NCIS take the lessons learned from this case and never again violate a service member’s rights.”
The warrantless surveillance operation also targeted defense attorney Jeremiah J. Sullivan III.
On Aug. 1, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson dismissed all charges against Sullivan’s client, SEAL Lt. Jacob Portier, the officer in charge of Gallagher’s platoon in Iraq in 2017. He had been accused by prosecutors of covering up the alleged war crimes, charges he strongly denied.
Like Parlatore, Sullivan told Navy Times he hadn’t been contacted by NCIS or the Navy about the internal probes. But he worries they won’t go far enough up the chain of command to root out wrongdoing and called on Congress to take action.
“There has been a lack of transparency regarding the misconduct of the NCIS agents and Navy prosecutors,” Sullivan said. “The Navy should be required to testify on the Hill about the status of the investigations.”
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.