An online relationship with a Russian woman led to a Navy IT chief losing his anchors this week.
Chief Information Systems Technician Charles T. Briggs, 41, pleaded guilty Tuesday to sharing a classified email with the woman in January 2019 while stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
In addition to being busted down to E-4, Briggs was also sentenced to 31 months in the brig, Navy officials said.
The woman’s name is redacted in charge sheets provided to Navy Times, but the charge sheet states that “the information could be used to injure the United States or benefit a foreign nation.”
Briggs’ civilian attorney, Frank Spinner, told Navy Times Thursday that the relationship between his client and the Russian woman “was not a spy case.”
“Essentially, he met a Russian national online and fell in love with her,” Spinner said. “And it was in the context of their romantic relationship that the offense of giving away classified information was committed.”
While Spinner declined to discuss specifics, he said that “the classified information that was given away had to do with identifying a classified location.”
Spinner said there was no indication the woman was a Russian spook.
“On the record, under cross examination, they confirmed there was no foreign government involvement in this case,” Spinner said.
Briggs had been held in pre-trial confinement since August 2019 at the Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake in Virginia.
And while he hasn’t been in touch with the Russian woman in that time, Spinner said the former chief’s parents had.
“The potential is they may continue in their romantic relationship once he’s released from confinement,” Spinner said.
In working the plea deal, Spinner said he sought to ensure Briggs didn’t receive a punitive discharge from the Navy after a 22-year career.
“Chief Briggs and his parents were happy with the outcome of the sentencing process,” Spinner said. “We feel this gives him an opportunity to potentially retire from the Navy, and that was the ultimate goal.”
He will get credit for time served and could be out of jail as soon as October 2021, Spinner said.
Briggs also pleaded guilty Tuesday to several specifications of making a false official statement on several occasions in 2018.
In April of that year, he signed a sensitive compartmented information pre-screening questionnaire and wrote “no” to a question asking if he had maintained a close and continuing relationship with anyone who is not a U.S. citizen, according to charge sheets.
Five months later, Briggs signed a U.S. Strategic Command document attesting that he had not met any foreign nationals who requested future contact, even though he knew that to be false.
In November 2018, he signed a leave request stating that he would be staying in Nebraska for vacation, but the former chief knew that was false, according to charge sheets.
Briggs faced several other charges that were withdrawn as part of the pre-trial agreement.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.