Under investigation from the Justice Department for his suspected involvement in a massive corruption scandal, the Navy’s intelligence chief has been barred from accessing classified information since 2013. Although the Navy has previously taken steps to remove the intelligence chief from his position, sources speculate that officials are waiting until July, when he will have accrued enough service time to qualify to retire as a three-star vice admiral instead of a two-star rear admiral.
While investigating a foreign defense contractor caught bribing U.S. Navy senior officers, the Justice Department informed the Navy in November 2013 that Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch along with hundreds of Navy personnel were suspected of accepting lavish gifts in exchange for classified materials. As CEO of Singapore’s Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), a company providing services to the U.S. Navy, “Fat” Leonard Francis defrauded the Navy of more than $20 million while bribing officers to steal classified documents, including ship routes and schedules. Besides providing Navy officials with millions of dollars in gifts and expenses, including over $500,000 in cash, Francis spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for their prostitutes, first class airfare, luxurious hotel visits, spa treatments, Kobe beef, Spanish suckling pigs, top-shelf alcohol, Cuban cigars, designer handbags, concert tickets, watches, ornamental swords, and hand-made ship models.
While commanding the world’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, during the mid-2000s, Branch retained GDMA’s services and is suspected of participating in the massive bribery scandal. On November 8, 2013, the Navy suspended his security clearance after the Justice Department notified his superiors of the intelligence chief’s possible involvement in their investigation.
On January 15, 2015, Francis pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. For at least ten years, Francis bribed Navy personnel in order to receive preferential treatment for GDMA contracts and to obtain classified materials. Francis also admitted to bribing a federal criminal investigator in an attempt to learn more about the federal investigation into his company.
Although the current Director of Naval Intelligence and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance cannot access intelligence reports, the Navy has not removed Branch from his position. Even though the Navy formally nominated Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train to replace Branch as the service’s intelligence head, her promotion has been stalled since last year. If forced to leave before July, Branch will only be eligible to receive a two-star admiral’s pension instead of a three-star’s larger pension.
Along with Branch, the Navy also suspended the security clearance for one of his deputies, Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the Navy’s director of intelligence operations. Unlike Branch, Loveless was moved to a less sensitive post due to the fact that he can no longer read intelligence reports. Although the DOJ investigation into the Navy’s bribery scandal continues, neither Branch nor Loveless have been charged with committing any crimes.