SUMMERVILLE, SC (AP) — After losing a high-profile bid for a congressional seat in South Carolina in 2018, Republican Katie Arrington took a job at the Department of Defense where she focused on securing military supply chains and securing thousands of companies that use they enter into contracts The federal government implemented cybersecurity protocols.
Arrington’s official work as Chief Information Officer for the Acquisition and Sustainment Office has been consistent with what she describes as her longstanding passion for cybersecurity and defense. But as she tries to revive her political career, Arrington’s time at the Pentagon is becoming a central theme in her campaign.
Freshman GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, who hopes to defeat Arrington in South Carolina’s June 14 primary, tells Arrington to take a polygraph test about why she lost access to classified information. An anti-Arrington website funded by Mace, meanwhile, has sections labeled “Leaks Classified Information” and “Busted: Loses Her Security Clearance.”
The dispute is likely to surface at a debate between the two on Monday.
The episode reflects the intensity of one of the most closely watched GOP congressional primaries this year. Former President Donald Trump, who supported Mace in 2020, has backed Arrington’s bid to unseat her, enraged by the incumbent’s criticism of him, including his role in instigating the January 6, 2021 riot in the US Capitol. The result will be another barometer of Trump’s influence within the GOP as he weighs another potential White House bid.
Mace’s campaign has argued that Arrington’s clearance status is fair game for someone trying to represent a congressional district with a strong military population. But in an interview, Arrington insisted Mace was “lying” on the matter. She is stepping up efforts to refute the attacks, including providing an affidavit to The Associated Press from an unnamed intelligence officer who worked with her who said he was never concerned about her handling of classified information.
Arrington’s security clearance was suspended and she was suspended by the Pentagon in May 2021 when officials accused her of improperly disclosing classified information.
Arrington says the incident centered on her communications with a contractor whose name had been revealed in a top-secret briefing she received – an “exposure,” she said, had already come before the information was in her hands came.
In the interview, she said that during her daily briefing, an Intelligence agent passed her information about a potential problem with the contractor. According to Arrington, both she and the officer were surprised that the contractor’s name was included in the information, but accepted that a supervisor had made that decision.
When Arrington was told the company had already been apprised of the issue, she said she followed protocol by first notifying a manager before calling the company to see if she could be of assistance – a call that Arrington said sparked the investigation that led to her suspension.
The intelligence officer who leaked the information has come to assist Arrington. In an April 27 affidavit provided to the AP, the official — who cannot be identified due to his continued employment as a news anchor — wrote that he never had any concerns about Arrington’s access to classified information.
“I have never seen her abuse any classified information or documents from this program,” the letter wrote in an affidavit. “Based on my specific knowledge of the matter, I am completely at a loss as to what security breach is alleged to have been committed.”
In the affidavit, the letterer also noted that supervisors told him Arrington “committed a security breach by sharing information through unsecured means with a defense contractor” and asked him “a series of questions” about Arrington’s political affiliations, which according to Arrington, were already widely known, given their previous congress offering.
Arrington also said their policies emerged shortly after the Biden administration took over the Pentagon. In early 2021, Arrington said she asked her new manager, Jesse Salazar, how much cybersecurity experience he had, to which Salazar replied, “Absolutely none.”
“But the part that scared me,” Arrington told AP, “was the question he asked me, ‘Why are you still here? I thought we fired you all.’”
Although Arrington came from a political background, she was classified as a Pentagon official, making such a comment inappropriate, she said.
“I was literally blacklisted for being a Republican, for being associated with Trump,” she said.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Arrington’s employment, citing her pending Freedom of Information Act complaint over communications related to her suspension, and AP was unable to provide her characterization of policy talks with Pentagon Officials to confirm otherwise.
In their response to that lawsuit — which includes Arrington’s allegation that Pentagon officials “did not want Arrington to serve in a senior position within the Biden administration because of her close past ties to President Trump” — Defense Department officials repeatedly wrote that the allegations “that plaintiff’s characterization contain alleged background information, not allegations of fact relevant to the resolution of the claims at issue in this FOIA Complaint to which a response would be required.
According to Arrington, the briefing officer has requested that his affidavit be released for Arrington to share while her Freedom of Information Act claim against the Department of Defense continues.
The investigation into Arrington’s approval dragged on throughout 2021, with Arrington suing the Pentagon in October, accusing officials of “failing to take material substantive steps to advance their investigations.” The lawsuit was settled in January, with the Pentagon paying its legal fees but without providing “useful corroborative facts that would enable Arrington to actually respond to the allegations in substance,” according to Arrington’s subsequent FOIA lawsuit, filed in April.
However, at no point was their release fully revoked, which Mace has claimed. And according to Arrington, she kept her department-issued laptop, cellphone, secure information access device and diplomatic passport, all of which were viewed by AP at her home.
The National Security Agency referred comment on their dispute to the Pentagon, which declined to comment on the allegation.
Arrington resigned days after disbanding her job in February and subsequently launched her campaign against Mace.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
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