NSA watchdog finds abusive behavior, grift at senior levels

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The National Security Agency’s Office of the Inspector General determined that multiple senior executive leaders and top officials at the intelligence agency recently have engaged in abusive behavior, misusing their positions, and fudging timesheets.

One senior executive “created a hostile work environment by using abusive and offensive language toward subordinate employees,” according to the NSA OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress, an unclassified version of which was published Wednesday. The same official also asked subordinates to bring in food such as donuts, to be paid for out of pocket, and urged subordinates to perform activities outside of their professional duties and complete tasks that weren’t “authorized in accordance with law or regulation,” the OIG said.

The same executive, who went unnamed in the report, also “misused the NSA/[Central Security Service] information systems in a manner that served no legitimate public interest and which would reflect adversely on NSA, in violation of DoD Joint Ethics Regulation and Agency policy,” the report states. It was unclear what the senior executive had attempted.

The official’s behavior appears to be part of a broader pattern of high-level agency personnel misusing their positions, according to the OIG’s findings. At least one other senior executive and multiple top-level employees at the NSA were found to have abused their positions for apparent financial gain, by fudging their time sheets, for instance, or giving preferential treatment in hiring processes.

“NSA remains fully committed to the rigorous and independent oversight provided by the NSA Inspector General’s Office,” an agency spokesperson told CyberScoop. “NSA takes timely and appropriate action to resolve complaints and other matters referred by the OIG for action to promote effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability within the agency.”

The agency has long dealt with employees and contractors submitting inaccurate information on timesheets or removing sensitive information from the agency. Some of the behavior detailed in the OIG report, though, is more alarming in nature, including allegations of physically threatening behavior.

In one case that was referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, another senior executive at the NSA submitted false and inaccurate timesheets of more than 40 hours, and asked a subordinate to use their official time to perform duties outside of their role, the OIG found. The official, who was also not named, resigned before the OIG’s investigation was completed, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland declined to consider the case for prosecution.

Another senior executive gave preferential treatment to an external applicant in the hiring process, and “improperly claimed government reimbursement for meals provided by another entity” on multiple temporary duty assignments, the OIG report says. This official retired prior to the end of the investigation into their activities.

Some NSA employees in top-level civil service positions, known as GG-15 roles, also abused their positions, the OIG found. One GG-15, for instance, “engaged in threatening physical behavior, created a disturbance, and used abusive and offensive language toward subordinate employees,” the report states.

Three other top-level officials in GG-15 positions “knowingly submitted false and inaccurate timesheets in violation of Agency policy,” causing the agency losses of $13,000, $9,700, and $4,400, the OIG found.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland declined to consider the timesheet cases for prosecution, the OIG said, but many NSA employees still face possible punishment for submitting inaccurate information about their work hours.

“Disciplinary action against seven employees is pending. Four investigations remain open,” the OIG report said of outstanding time and attendance fraud cases.

The NSA officials’ activities were investigated between October 1 of last year through March 31, 2020.

Over the same time period, two former NSA employees were sentenced for fudging their timesheets between 2014-2018 for their work at NSA contractors. The two former employees, Kyle Smego and Todd Leasure, have been ordered to collectively pay the U.S. government more than $400,000 as restitution.

According to documents obtained by CyberScoop, one former NSA employee, Melissa Heyer, whom the U.S. government indicted last year for falsifying her timesheet, entered a guilty plea last month. Her sentencing is slated for January.

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Inspector general, National Security Agency (NSA)
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