The Treasury Department’s inspector general has confirmed reporting by BuzzFeed News that found that a former analyst, who was accused by whistleblowers of accessing sensitive financial data in 2016, did not have a proper security clearance and was considered a “potential insider threat.”
In new documents obtained by BuzzFeed News through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Treasury investigators said that in June 2018, the case was sent to the FBI’s counterespionage division, which is tasked with investigating foreign spies operating inside the US. It is unknown what the FBI’s inquiry found. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.
Last December, BuzzFeed News first reported that at least 10 whistleblowers from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, raised a series of red flags about troubling behavior inside the division during the height of the 2016 presidential election.
In June that year, the whistleblowers warned the inspector general that the man, who has close family ties to Ukraine, was working in a unit that tracked the finances of corrupt foreign officials — but he did not have a security clearance, which was required for that position. The whistleblowers were further disturbed that the man had been asking questions about investigations outside of his normal duties, and they believed he was trying to glean information about internal Treasury databases to which he did not have access.
One coworker became particularly alarmed when the man showed up outside his apartment building in Washington, DC, and asked detailed questions about internal Treasury investigations.
That employee also sounded alarms about Treasury officials using an unsecured back channel to communicate with the Russian government regarding sensitive financial information about the Kremlin’s enemies.
BuzzFeed News is withholding the name of the employee who lacked proper clearance because his name is redacted in the inspector general’s memo and he has not been accused of a crime. He did not respond to detailed questions from reporters last week. Reached last year, he told BuzzFeed News that the whistleblowers were wrong.
“I have never had a security clearance denied, suspended, revoked, or been informed that I pose a ‘security threat,’” he wrote in an email. “Your contention of my visit to a coworker's apartment building is completely false.”
But the inspector general’s one-page memo from April 26 has now confirmed that concerns about the employee were well-founded.
The memo said a review of the employee’s security clearance documentation determined he “did not have the appropriate clearance to work in his position and location” at FinCEN; it also stated that a subsequent investigation by the inspector general’s Office of Investigations “considered [redacted] to be a potential insider threat.”
According to four FinCEN sources, the man’s uncleared access to sensitive information was considered such a major national security breach that FinCEN as a whole was temporarily stripped of its authority to grant security clearances to anyone.
The incident prompted the Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General to review FinCEN’s security procedures and issue a report on the matter, said Richard Delmar, the Treasury’s acting inspector general, in response to questions this week from BuzzFeed News.
“As a result of this investigation, a security specialist received administrative actions and later resigned,” Delmar said. “FinCEN also conducted an internal review into its security procedures, including the review of background investigations and clearance verifications, and has improved its security procedures.”
The man joined FinCEN as a “presidential management fellow” via a program that places graduate students into positions across the US government.
“When this office initially became aware, in mid-2016, of the employee’s lack of a clearance, immediate steps were taken to assure that the employee had no further access to sensitive material,” Delmar said. “Ultimately, the employee received administrative sanctions, and is no longer employed.”
The Treasury Department’s office of counterintelligence and FinCEN agreed to let his participation in the presidential management fellow program expire, and they did not consider him for rehire. The inspector general formally closed the case in April, nearly a year after it was referred to the FBI.
The man was hired last year by Google to work in global security, a company spokesperson confirmed. The spokesperson, Gina Scigliano, said Google “conducts a thorough background check” before employment decisions. The man’s LinkedIn profile reveals that he has since left the company.
The Treasury whistleblowers also made other, more serious allegations about the disarray inside America’s financial intelligence system. Chief among them: that top officials in another division of the Treasury used ordinary Gmail accounts to communicate with the Russian government as it sought secret financial information on the Kremlin’s enemies — at the same time it was interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign.
According to documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Russian officials requested suspicious activity reports — sensitive documents created by banks to track money laundering, terror financing, and narcotics trafficking — on a group of individuals. Among them were the Ziff brothers, billionaires who had run afoul of the Kremlin.
The request was made weeks before a Russian lawyer showed up at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign offering top Trump aides “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — including her supposed connection to the Ziff brothers.
In response to the December 2018 BuzzFeed News investigation, a Treasury Department spokesperson declined to discuss the allegations and said he notified the matter to the inspector general.
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.
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