U.S. Navy cuts security access of two top intelligence officers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two of the U.S. Navy’s top intelligence officials had their access to classified materials suspended on Friday over their ties to a widening bribery scandal involving a Singapore-based defense contractor, the Navy said.

Vice Admiral Ted Branch, director of Naval Intelligence, and Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless, the director of Intelligence Operations, were also put on temporary leave because of allegations of “inappropriate conduct.”

“There is no indication, nor do the allegations suggest, that in either case there was any breach of classified information,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, Navy chief of information, said in a statement.

Branch and Loveless are the most senior Navy officials so far linked to a case involving Leonard Glenn Francis, whose company Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd helped arrange maintenance and resupply visits for Navy ships to Asian ports.

Francis, a Malaysian national, is accused of providing prostitutes, money, concert tickets and other gifts in exchange for sensitive and classified Navy information, such as ship movements. He would use that information to arrange visits by U.S. Navy vessels to ports where his company had contracts.

The U.S. Justice Department estimated that Francis, who was arrested in San Diego in September, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in services to the U.S. Navy.

Three other Navy officials have already been charged over the alleged scandal. They include Navy Commander Michael Misiewicz, charged in September with accepting paid travel, the services of prostitutes and Lady Gaga concert tickets from Francis’s company, California prosecutors said.

On Wednesday, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez was arrested in Florida and charged with accepting prostitutes, luxury travel and $100,000 in cash from Francis “in exchange for classified and internal U.S. Navy information,” prosecutors said.

Kirby said that although Branch and Loveless had not been charged, the suspension of their access to classified materials was “deemed prudent given the sensitive nature of their current duties.” He added that the allegations against them involve conduct prior to their current assignments.

Kirby said it was possible more Navy officials would be implicated in the widening scandal involving Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Reporting by David Alexander and Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham