Then-Capt. Jason C. Brezler, a reservist with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, meets with Afghan leaders in Now Zad, Afghanistan, in December 2009. The reservist faces a board of inquiry for transmitting classified information over an unsecured network and having classified documents on his personal computer. (Cpl. Albert F. Hunt / Marine Corps)
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MARINE CORPS FORCES RESERVE HQ, NEW ORLEANS — A Reserve Marine officer hailed for trying to inform colleagues about a corrupt Afghan official with Taliban ties also illegally kept classified information so he could use it to write a memoir, Marine Corps attorneys argued this week.
The board of inquiry administrative hearing that will decide the career fate of Maj. Jason Brezler began Tuesday morning at Marine Forces Reserve Headquarters in New Orleans.
Brezler, a New York City firefighter, is accused of substandard conduct and conduct unbecoming an officer for bringing home more than 100 classified documents after a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan and storing them on a personal hard drive.
The offense came to light in 2012, when Brezler used his Yahoo email account to fire off one of the documents to a Marine colleague regarding a corrupt police officer named Sarwar Jan, who was known for his child sexual abuse and links to the Taliban and had risen to power at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand province. About two weeks after the email exchange, one of the “tea boys” Jan kept on the base grabbed a rifle and killed three Marines who were exercising in the base gym.
Brezler’s defense attorneys argued he had taken home the classified documents by mistake and didn’t even realize he had them until his email about Jan raised alarms from the officers who received it. When he was warned that he had mishandled the privileged information, they say he immediately reported himself to Marine superiors and cooperated fully with a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe that involved a detailed scan of all the information on his computer.
But the Marine attorney for the government, Maj. Chip Hodge, said NCIS discovered something else: a 130-page manuscript detailing Brezler’s 2010 experiences in Now Zad in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that makes the Reserve officer’s motives seem much less innocent.
The book draft included a thick paragraph of classified information copied-and-pasted directly from the document regarding Jan, Hodge said. And since the cache of classified documents all pertain to the deployed environment and location Brezler was writing about, he said it appeared that he planned to use other files to inform his writing.
“If (Brezler) was so cooperative, when he was shaping this through the media, why didn’t he tell anyone he was writing a book?” Hodge said. “This case isn’t about an email getting sent downrange from a nonsecure email account. It’s about why he had that documentation.”
Hodge also contested that Brezler took the initiative to report his classified information spillage, saying he had only done so when confronted by fellow officers.
“Unfortunately, a half-truth is a lie, because he wasn’t truly cooperative,” Hodge said.
In a portion of the hearing closed to the press because it dealt with classified information, Hodge called a NCIS special agent, Bryan Hanusey, to testify regarding the investigation into the documents in Brezler’s possession.
A Marine spokesman, Col. Fran Piccoli, said the testimony confirmed the existence of 107 classified documents.
But Brezler’s attorneys contest only 13 of those 107 documents actually contained classified information and analysis of the files show Brezler had not accessed them since January 2011, seven months after he returned home from deployment.
Moreover, they said, the information copied and pasted into Brezler’s manuscript had already been made public by popular military author Bing West in his book “The Wrong War.”
In an opening argument, Brezler’s military attorney, Maj. Amelia Kays, said West would testify via telephone in Brezler’s defense, and a barrage of character witnesses would paint a picture of the officer’s integrity and professional record.
“You’ll really be able to develop a full picture of who Brezler is as an officer and as a person,” she said.
The panel of three senior officers officiating the board of inquiry denied an early motion by Brezler’s civilian attorney, Kevin Carroll, to disband the hearing on the grounds that senior officers — including the convening authority, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills — had sought to influence the outcome of the case, and that Brezler was being unfairly targeted for punishment.
Among those attemding the first day of the hearing were Greg Buckley Sr. and Mary Liz Grosseto, the father and aunt of Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley, one of the Marines killed in the insider attack on FOB Delhi.
Buckley and Grosseto said they flew to New Orleans from their Long Island, N.Y., home to offer Brezler moral support at the hearing.
The board of inquiry will continue Wednesday with the remainder of the government’s case and defense witnesses.