Pentagon vows action on porn cases

Inspector general says investigators will vet 1,700 files

By Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / January 8, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top investigator yesterday vowed an “all-out pursuit’’ of any employees who downloaded child pornography, adding that his division would review the 1,700 potential cases that were referred to military investigators four years ago but were never screened.

Gordon S. Heddell, the Department of Defense’s inspector general, said in a statement to the Globe that his office is working aggressively to correct the mishandling of cases identified in a multidepartment government probe called Operation Flicker.

“I can assure those with questions that my office is conducting an aggressive pursuit of anyone implicated in Operation Flicker and that it is a key investigative priority,’’ Heddell said in his first public statement on the matter.

The Pentagon agency has faced intense criticism in recent months for its part of a nationwide child pornography investigation that was spearheaded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has jurisdiction for such federal crimes under its mandate.

The Globe reported earlier this week the Pentagon had checked only 3,500 out of 5,200 people who were suspected of downloading child pornography.

The partial screening of that list, which was conducted in 2007, identified 302 people who were military personnel, civilian employees, or private contractors. Some of those held high-level security clearances and worked at sensitive intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on enemy communications. Several also accessed the images on their work computers, a separate violation.

Out of the 302 cases, 70 were eventually pursued, and only a handful resulted in prosecutions. The Pentagon inspector general said many cases were dropped for lack of evidence but also acknowledged that child pornography was not treated as one of its priorities at the time, when it was under different leadership.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, has disparaged the agency’s approach to the matter since the cases were first reported by the Globe last summer. He has pointed out that individuals with access to secret information could be blackmailed or otherwise compromised by American enemies if they are in possession of child pornography, a crime that could bring up to 20 years imprisonment.

“We want a change in behavior in the Defense Department where things of this criminal nature are a top priority, even more than government employees at other agencies because of the national security connections,’’ Grassley told the Globe in an interview earlier this week.

It was in response to Grassley’s inquiries that officials reported late last year the Pentagon had never followed up on all the individuals referred to it.

A spokesman for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, which is overseen by the inspector general, could not predict how many of the remaining names might have military connections, nor when the review would be completed.

Heddell said his office is working with Immigration and Customs, along with investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Grassley said that the statute of limitations has probably expired for criminal charges to be brought against any violators but that he would press for administrative punishment for anyone implicated.

Bryan Bender can be reached at