SUMMERVILLE, South Carolina
After losing a high-profile bid for a congressional seat from South Carolina in 2018, Republican Katie Arrington accepted a position at the Department of Defense, where she focused on securing military supply chains, ensuring that thousands of federally contracted businesses implement cybersecurity protocols. .
Arrington’s civil servant job as the information officer for the Office of Acquisition and Sustainment was in line with what she describes as her lifelong passion for cybersecurity and defense. But as she seeks to revive her political career, Arrington’s time at the Pentagon becomes a central issue in her campaign.
Freshman GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, whom Arrington hopes to defeat in South Carolina’s June 14 primary, asks Arrington to take a polygraph test on why she lost access to classified information. An anti-Arrington website funded by Mace, meanwhile, has sections titled “Leaks Classified Information” and “Busted: Loses Her Security Clearance.”
The dispute is expected to surface in a debate between the two on Monday.
The episode reflects the intensity of one of the most watched GOP congressional primaries this year. Former President Donald Trump, who backed Mace in 2020, backed Arrington’s bid to unseat her, angered by the incumbent’s criticism of her, including her role in instigating the Jan. 6 insurgency 2021 at the US Capitol. The result will be another barometer of Trump’s influence within the GOP as he weighs another potential White House offer.
Mace’s campaign argued that Arrington’s clearance status is fair game for someone seeking to represent a congressional district with a large military population. But in an interview, Arrington insisted Mace was “lying” about the issue. She is stepping up her efforts to refute the attacks, including providing The Associated Press with a sworn statement from an unnamed intelligence officer who worked with her and said he never worried about her handling of information classified.
Arrington’s security clearance was suspended and she was placed on leave from the Pentagon in May 2021 when officials accused her of improper disclosure of classified information.
Arrington says the incident centered on her communication with a contractor whose name had been revealed in a top-secret briefing she had received – an “unmasking” which she says had already happened around the time the information reached him.
In the interview, she said that during her daily briefing, an intelligence officer relayed information to her related to a possible problem with the contractor. According to Arrington, she and the officer were surprised that the contractor’s name was included in the information, but accepted that a superior made that decision.
Told that the company had already been notified of the issue, Arrington said she followed protocol by first notifying a supervisor before calling the company to see if she could be of assistance – a call that, according to Arrington, sparked the investigation that resulted in his suspension.
The intelligence officer who passed on the information came to support Arrington. In an April 27 affidavit shared with AP, the officer — who is unidentified due to his continued employment as an intelligence informant — wrote that he never had any concerns about the Arrington’s access to classified information.
“I have never seen her mismanage any classified information or documents from this program,” the briefer wrote in a sworn statement. “I am completely at a loss based on my specific knowledge of the matter as to what security breach was allegedly committed.”
In the affidavit, the briefer also noted that superiors told him that Arrington “committed a security breach by sharing information with a defense contractor through insecure means” and asked him “a series questions” about Arrington’s political affiliations, which Arrington said had already been widely known, given his previous run for Congress.
Arrington also said his policy emerged shortly after the Biden administration took over at the Pentagon. In early 2021, Arrington said she asked her new supervisor, Jesse Salazar, about his experience with cybersecurity, to which she says Salazar replied, “Absolutely none.”
“But what scared me,” Arrington told AP, “is the question he asked me back: ‘Why are you still here? I thought we fired you all.
Although Arrington had a political background, she was classified as a public servant at the Pentagon, making such a comment inappropriate, she said.
“I was literally blacklisted because I was a Republican, because I was associated with Trump,” she said.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Arrington’s employment, citing his pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over communications related to his suspension, and AP was unable to otherwise confirm his characterization of the conversations. policies with Pentagon officials.
In his response to that litigation — which includes Arrington’s assertion that Pentagon officials did not “want Arrington to serve in a leadership position in the Biden administration because of his previous close ties to the President Trump” – Department of Defense officials wrote repeatedly that the charges “contained characterization of alleged background information, not factual allegations relevant to the resolution of the claims at issue in this FOIA action to which a response would be required.
According to Arrington, the information officer requested that his affidavit be declassified so that Arrington could share it while his Freedom of Information Act claim proceeds against the Department of Defense.
The investigation into Arrington’s clearance dragged on through 2021, with Arrington suing the Pentagon in October, accusing officials of failing to take “significant substantive steps to advance their investigation.” The suit was settled in January, with the Pentagon paying its attorney fees. but providing “no significant facts useful to allow Arrington to substantially address the allegations,” according to Arrington’s subsequent FOIA lawsuit, filed in April.
At no time, however, was his clearance revoked entirely, which Mace claimed. And according to Arrington, she kept her laptop, cell phone, secure information access device and diplomatic passport, all of which were viewed by AP at her home.
The National Security Agency referred comments on its dispute to the Pentagon, which declined to comment on the allegation.
Arrington resigned days after disbanding his job in February, subsequently launching his campaign against Mace.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.