Trump-Era Pentagon Official Sues as Suspension Reaches 5 Months
(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon official who led a new cybersecurity initiative for defense contractors sued the department Tuesday for failing to tell her about allegations that led security officials to place her on administrative leave five months ago.
Katie Arrington, who was chief information security officer for the Defense Department’s acquisition and sustainment office, was informed May 11 that “her security clearance for access to classified information is being suspended” as “a result of a reported Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information and subsequent removal of access by the National Security Agency,” according to a memo made available to Bloomberg News.
But there “have been no indications” Pentagon officials “have taken any significant substantive steps to move their investigation forward, much less give” her “an opportunity to respond to any allegations,” Arrington’s attorney, Mark Zaid, said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Arrington “has been deprived of procedural and substantive due process,” the suit asserts.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation and referred inquiries to the Justice Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Jessica Maxwell, spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment office, said last month in an email that “Ms. Arrington is on administrative leave and we cannot discuss the details or timeline.”
Arrington is a former two-term Republican state representative from South Carolina who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2018 that emphasized her private-sector cyber experience. She had been endorsed in that race by then-President Donald Trump. Arrington was brought into the Pentagon in 2019 under the category of “Highly Qualified Expert” and later competed for and attained the nonpartisan Senior Executive Service status.
“It is rare that an individual holding a Senior Executive Service” position “would be left dangling,” according to her complaint. “Generally, these types of investigations would be expedited for senior officials. Upon information and belief, the Defendants are purposefully delaying or failing to take action in this matter in order to compel” Arrington “to resign,” it said.
The complaint alleges that two of the Pentagon units that handle security clearances investigations -- the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency and the Consolidated Adjudications Facility -- “have unreasonably delayed completing agency actions related” to her case and “no substantive information has been provided” despite repeated requests.
In addition, since the suspension “unknown individuals within DoD have improperly, and possibly illegally, leaked privacy protected information concerning” Arrington “to unauthorized third parties for the purpose of further causing harm,” it said, calling some of the leaked information “false and defamatory.”
As part of legal relief sought, the complaint sought expedited Pentagon action to outline the allegations against Arrington, a “name-clearing hearing” and award of attorney’s fees.
In 2019, Arrington took over implementing the Pentagon’s corporate cyber security program and attempted to build industry support for its complex certification process. She quickly emerged as a skillful ambassador, speaking at dozens of events to sell the process to the defense industry, according to Bloomberg Government analyst Chris Cornillie, who has studied the program.
Under the certification program, every company in the defense supply chain -- as many as 300,000 American companies producing everything from F-35 fighter jets to computer microprocessors to office supplies and plumbing equipment -- must undergo a cybersecurity audit performed by a third party about every three years overseen by an “accreditation board,” Cornillie said.
The program remains under an administrative review while Pentagon officials try to figure out how to implement it while minimizing the impact on small businesses, Cornille said.
“We anticipate the review to be completed in late 2021, at which point the Department will communicate any anticipated changes to industry and other stakeholders,” Pentagon spokeswoman Maxwell told Bloomberg Government in an email.
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