Is Navy engineer James Robert Baker an Iranian spy?
That is now the question many security and legal experts are asking since
the February arrest of the Iranian-American who worked in the Navy for
three decades. He was indicted on fraud charges after U.S. Marshals discovered
suspicious documentation in his home last year.
Baker, who naturalized in 1985, was found to be keeping numerous active
passports (some of which used his original name, Majid Karimi) and owning
deposit and postal boxes in four different states. Baker had his security
clearance suspended only once in the past after superiors found that he
had traveled to Iran against their orders. Baker recovered his clearance
about a year later.
Despite the speculation, one thing remains clear: those vetting Baker for
these security clearances did not look very deep into his background.
"Whoever was doing the security clearance investigations was asleep
at the switch," Attorney Chris Graham told Navy Times. Attorney Graham
explained that investigators have access to databases that could have
revealed evidence of fraud years ago. More than that, investigators had
the opportunity to take a closer look at Baker at least four times over
his 30-year career with the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
"Here's a guy who legally changed his name in 1985," Attorney
Graham told Navy Times. "Seems to me you run his old name to see
if it’s still being used. Nobody was doing anything here but a cursory
Attorney Graham continued, “Since OPM removed the function of background
investigations from the Defense Department in 2004 there has been one
disaster after another. And OPM incompetently allowed the Chinese to hack
into their database and retrieve background investigation information
on millions of government employees, both current and former. These investigations
should be returned to DoD.”
"Classic Examples of Spy Fieldcraft"
Other experts weighing in believe that Baker could actually have been conducting
espionage. "Those boxes—located a long way from his place of
residence—are places a spy could use for clandestine communications
with handlers," former State Department counter-terrorism agent Fred
Burton told the paper. There's also proof of a suspicious wiring of
money, $133,902, from foreign bank accounts that Baker then hid in four
different U.S. bank accounts.
While Baker's security clearance wasn't as high as other individuals'
at the center of US security controversies, many are still concerned about
what he could have gleaned over three decades of working in the Navy.
"It’s not just the information he had access to," Burton
told reporters. "It's things he heard on work trips, around the
water cooler, at lunch with co-workers: Human intelligence. We know those
things aren’t supposed to go on but we all know they do."
To read more of Attorney Graham's insights and the case against Mr.
Baker, read "Red flags in NAVSEA case: Experts cite espionage patterns
in engineer's acts"
at Navy Times here.