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DHS official jailed over domestic violence case says he handles ‘high volume’ of classified information

March 8, 2018 at 10:20 AM

The seal of the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Press Room at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

A senior career official with the Department of Homeland Security who served jail time for an alleged assault on his wife handles a “high volume” of classified information in his role as an intelligence briefer, according to his online résumé.

Lawrence Curran was arrested and charged with felony strangulation and misdemeanor assault in Arlington, Va., after a July 2016 episode that left his wife with two broken ribs and substantial bruising around her neck and chest, according to court documents and a medical report from her treatment at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Curran pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 12 months in jail with nine months suspended; the felony charge was dropped. He served roughly 45 days in jail, remains under a five-year restraining order, and is barred from entering the Coast Guard base in Alameda, Calif., where his now ex-wife is stationed.

Curran, 35, has worked as “section chief” on the DHS secretary’s briefing staff since 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile as it appeared Wednesday morning. In a court filing after his 2016 arrest, he said he held a top-secret security clearance and described himself as a “member of the senior briefing party” at DHS.

Curran declined to comment and referred all inquiries to DHS at midday Wednesday. His LinkedIn profile was taken offline Wednesday afternoon.

Lawrence Curran, a senior briefer at the Department of Homeland Security, in a July 21, 2016, mugshot after he was arrested on charges of felony strangulation and misdemeanor domestic violence. Curran later pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge as part of a plea deal that dropped the felony charge. (Arlington County Circuit Court./Arlington County Circuit Court. )

DHS officials said Curran was employed as an intelligence operations specialist at the department. They would not confirm whether Curran continues to hold a top-secret security clearance or faced any disciplinary action after the 2016 incident.

“DHS takes each claim of criminal activity seriously and follows the standard US Government investigation and adjudication guidelines and processes for employees, which includes examining certain contacts a cleared employee may have had with law enforcement both prior to receiving and while holding a security clearance,” the department said in a statement.

“The Secretary believes that those in public service with the Department must have a high standard of conduct on duty and off. The American people trust the Department to do their jobs with professionalism and integrity and we must earn that trust everyday with every choice we make.”

Curran’s case, detailed in more than 100 pages of public records obtained by The Washington Post, raises questions about the clearance review process at a time when access to classified information is under heightened scrutiny at top levels of the government, including at the White House.

There is no rule triggering automatic suspension or revocation of security clearances when government workers are arrested, charged or sentenced in connection with criminal conduct. The process generally relies on an honor system in which clearance holders are expected themselves to report serious issues with law enforcement. If a security clearance is suspended or revoked, the employee may appeal to try to regain it.

Typically, workers whose conduct results in felony charges or causes serious injury lose their security clearance, at least temporarily. However, there are exceptions, experts said.

“The general answer is that it depends,” said Mark Zaid, a lawyer specializing in clearance issues. “We can often get someone a security clearance who has a past criminal history if we can show mitigation — if we can show the person learned their lesson and accepted responsibility.”

Watch more!
Washington Post national security reporter Shane Harris explains what you need to know about security clearances. (Shane Harris, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

The Post was unable to determine whether DHS was made aware of the criminal charges against Curran before this week.

The security clearance process has been under scrutiny since last month, when news reports revealed that senior Trump aide Rob Porter had an interim clearance despite knowledge within the FBI that his ex-wives had accused him of physical abuse.

Related: [The story behind the story: How the Rob Porter scandal broke]

The ensuing scandal, which increased the upheaval within the White House and led to Porter’s resignation, caused White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to begin an overhaul of the clearance process last month. The Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing Wednesday on security clearance policy.

Curran’s then-wife filed for divorce the week after the alleged assault. In his Aug. 24, 2016, response, Curran denied that he had “viciously attached [sic]” her, saying he was unaware that she was injured during the altercation. He later claimed that some of her injuries “must have already been present,” according to a case file maintained by the Virginia Department of Social Services.

In a legal proceeding three months later, Curran said he had completed his jail time and all other court requirements, including a domestic violence prevention program. He said he had also begun counseling and a behavioral intervention program and was undergoing a “complete psychological evaluation.”

Presented with the facts of Curran’s case, Zaid said he would be “disappointed but not surprised” if Curran maintained his clearance after the incident.

The national debate over sexual harassment and assault could make agencies take a harder stance on alleged domestic violence, Zaid said. If Curran maintained his clearance, “I would be more surprised now given the MeToo climate and how much more sensitive and deservedly inappropriate this has become,” he said.

Reached by phone, Curran’s ex-wife said she was never contacted by DHS as part of a clearance review. She declined to comment further. The Post does not publish the names of domestic abuse victims without their permission.

Curran’s position as he described it on LinkedIn would give him substantial access to classified information. In his now-removed profile, Curran stated that he oversaw the secretary’s morning “operations and intelligence brief” while vetting, coordinating, screening and assessing a “high volume” of classified information.

He listed himself as having had some form of briefing role at DHS since September 2011, including presenting “over 150 briefs” to Janet Napolitano when she was DHS secretary and acting as a “key liaison and primary point-of-contact to the Presidential Daily Briefing staff” under Jeh Johnson when he was DHS secretary.

Curran is a former Coast Guard intelligence officer and is a GS-14 employee, indicating he holds a top-level supervisory position, according to an online database maintained by FedSmith, a news service. His annual salary is $115,755, the database said.

DHS officials would not comment on whether Curran has briefed DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen or briefed Kelly, the White House chief of staff, when Kelly was secretary.

Roughly 1.4 million people hold top-secret clearances, according to a 2015 annual report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Curran’s case raises questions about what happens to those charged with crimes.

Security clearances are granted and reviewed on the basis of specific guidelines that tolerate personal misconduct and criminal history only if there are substantial mitigating factors, experts said. Evidence of criminal conduct, regardless of the legal outcome, is considered a serious strike against a person’s fitness to handle classified information, as is a refusal to provide “full, frank, and truthful answers” to investigators.

Obtaining a clearance in the first place requires applicants to specifically acknowledge whether any previous criminal offense included domestic abuse. Holders of top-secret clearances are generally reinvestigated every five years.

Charles McCullough, another lawyer who helps clearance holders navigate the appeals process, said Curran’s alleged behavior would be “pretty difficult to defend” if he sought to keep his clearance.

“He would have had to use those mitigating factors and showed he was no longer at risk for those kinds of actions,” McCullough said.

The July 2016 altercation between Curran and his then-wife followed several instances of “pushing and shoving . . . and slapping” by Curran, including one incident that caused the woman to call the police, she said in a January 2017 application for a long-term protective order.

According to her divorce filing, Curran awakened her about 3 a.m. on July 21, put her in a chokehold, dragged her down the stairs of their home and confronted her with a hotel receipt from a recent overnight stay in the District.

During the confrontation, he “cut her lip; cracked two of her ribs; bruised her arms, back, chest and neck; pinned her to the ground with his knee and bodyweight and choked her,” causing her to lose consciousness, the filing alleged.

Curran gave a different account of the event in a November 2016 court document, saying it consisted of “a thirty second struggle over the hotel receipt,” which he considered evidence of marital infidelity. His ex-wife denied in other documents that she had been unfaithful.

Rachel Weiner and Alice Crites contributed to this report.


Elise Viebeck is a political enterprise and investigations reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 2015.

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