Adam Lovinger was a strategic affairs analyst with the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA). Since January 2017, he had been working on loan as a White House National Security Council analyst after being selected for the position by Gen. Michael Flynn.
On May 1, 2017, Lovinger was notified that his Top-Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS-SCI) clearance had been suspended. He was to return to the Pentagon immediately.
How Lovinger arrived at this juncture is both illuminating and frightening. In the end, his story will likely shine a light on a broader series of events—some of which remain not fully known.
In September 2016, Lovinger, who holds a doctorate in law and is a professor at Georgetown University, was working in the Office of Net Assessment as a strategist. His position within the specialized think tank required a top-level security clearance.
According to his Georgetown profile, Lovinger’s responsibilities include “net assessments and competitive strategies developed for the Secretary of Defense on strategic competition in the Indian Ocean region, the Persian Gulf, and sub-Saharan Africa.”
Lovinger had grown increasingly concerned over the ONA’s use of outside contractors, due in part to the “problem of cronyism” and a growing “revolving door policy” that resulted from ONA analysts leaving to join the better-paid ranks of private contractors.
In 2016, Lovinger decided to write the first in a series of emails to ONA’s new director, James H. Baker, who had recently been appointed by Obama’s defense secretary.
One of the problems noted by Lovinger was the number of “sweet-heart contracts” issued “to a privileged few.” A secondary issue was the quality of work being received from these outside contractors. From Lovinger’s September email:
“On the issue of quality, more than once I have heard our contractor studies labeled ‘derivative,’ ‘college-level,’ and based heavily on secondary sources. One of our contractor studies was literally cut and pasted from a World Bank report that I just happened to have read the week before reading the contractor study itself. Even the font was the same.”
In October 2016, Lovinger wrote a second email to Baker, this time identifying another individual as a source of contractual concern. Lovinger wrote of “the moral hazard associated with the Washington Headquarters Services contracting with Stefan Halper.”
Lovinger’s lawyer, Sean M. Bigley, said Halper “was being used by Net Assessment to go out essentially and engage with foreign government officials. As a contractor, that’s totally illegal.”
According to USAspending.gov, Halper had been awarded $1.06 million in contracts through five payments beginning in 2012.
Halper was revealed earlier this year to be the FBI informant who helped surveil the Trump campaign through associations with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Halper paid Papadopoulos $3,000 for a policy paper in October 2016.
It appears that Lovinger’s first email to Baker had attracted someone’s attention. The following series of events is summarized from an Oct. 18, 2016, memo from the director of net assessment.
On Sept. 14, 2016, Lovinger left the ONA in preparation for travel abroad the following day. With him, he carried a stack of papers he intended to read while on the plane. Within the stack of papers was a working paper titled “Allies in Decline: Alliance Management and U.S. Strategy in an Era of Global Power Shifts.” The working paper contained marks denoting “Classification Pending.”
Lovinger would claim he does not recall how or when he received the classified document. Lovinger stated that it was his “belief that the document in question was placed within a stack of what he believed were unclassified academic research” for later reading on the plane.
The following day, on Sept. 15, 2016, Lovinger boarded a flight initially bound for Hawaii. Lovinger began to go through his papers when he noticed the “Classification Pending” markings on the document in question. Lovinger left his seat and proceeded to a more private location to examine the document. Based on his review of the document, he determined there was no classified material contained within it, and he returned to his seat, where he placed the document into his briefcase.
Sitting next to Lovinger on the flight was Lt. Cmdr. J. Austin Maxwell, who observed what had transpired and would later note, “It was obvious to me [Mr. Lovinger] recognized his mistake and attempted to secure the document.” Lovinger was unaware Maxwell had seen the document, later telling investigators that “to his knowledge, no one else had observed the document throughout its time in his possession.
The next day, Maxwell drafted a memorandum for the record and notified his superior, who brought the matter to the attention of Capt. Dale Rielage. Rielage, in turn, notified Baker, Lovinger’s boss. Baker then confronted Lovinger regarding the incident. This sequence of events occurred on the same day.
Ultimately, an investigation ensued. The investigating officer determined the classified document was improperly, but unknowingly, taken out of an authorized secure space and insecurely transported and reviewed in a public location.
The investigating officer also said, “Based on my review of the actual content of the document, to the extent it contains any actual classified information, it is extremely limited and very general in nature.”
Lovinger was noted for a security infraction—one that was inadvertent but avoidable. The investigating officer ended his report with the following:
“It is reasonable to conclude that there was no compromise given the content of the document in question and its close control either on Mr. Lovinger’s person or in his assigned lodging on a military base for a relatively short period of time. For these reasons, no violation is believed to have occurred.”
There’s one other important detail to this portion of the story. Lovinger had never met Maxwell before.
When Lovinger returned to his plane seat after determining the document contained no classified information, he and Maxwell had a “brief casual conversation,” whereupon it was discovered they both worked for the Department of Defense (DOD). Maxwell never mentioned the classified documents.
A quick recap. Lovinger left his office believing he was carrying only academic papers. He would later claim the classified document was placed within his reading material for the plane trip. The classified document was indeed marked Classification Pending, but contained no actual classified material.
Lovinger just happened to be seated next to Maxwell, who also worked at the DOD. Maxwell did not identify himself as such until after Lovinger had seen the classified document. Maxwell would write Lovinger up in a memo that would make its way up the chain of command in Hawaii and back to Lovinger’s boss in Washington, Baker, the same day.
On Jan. 12, 2017, Lovinger was invited by Flynn to serve as a senior director on the White House Security Council, along with Ezra Cohen-Watnick. On that same day, James Baker filed four separate charges against Lovinger. The counts included an “unauthorized” trip to Israel, taking home unclassified academic papers to read, reading a classified document in an airplane, and having “unauthorized” contacts with the Indian government.
On Jan. 18, 2017, two days before Lovinger was to leave for the Security Council position, he received a letter from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter citing “Lovinger’s exceptional performance on collaborative net assessment with the Government of India.” In that same review, Baker disagreed, noting, “I do not endorse the characterization set forth in the employee input (that) Adam performed successfully.”
Baker assigned two officers to investigate Lovinger: ONA Chief of Staff Cmdr. Anthony Russell (USCG) and Marine Lt. Col. Brian Bruggeman. According to The Daily Caller, Baker gave Bruggeman a Feb. 10, 2017, deadline for an initial report. On Feb. 5, five days before the report was due, Baker recommended Bruggeman for the Defense Superior Service Award. Baker also recommended Russell for the Defense Superior Service Medal following the completion of his investigation into Lovinger.
Lovinger would continue to criticize the use of outside contractors. In a March 3, 2017, memo, Lovinger noted, “There has never been an external review of these contractors’ research products. … It is now clear that over several decades, the office transferred millions of dollars to inexperienced and unqualified contractors.”
On May 1, 2017, Lovinger was notified that his TS-SCI clearance had been suspended. He was the second Trump official to lose his security clearance. The loss of a security clearance is a significant matter, as it is a requirement for many senior positions.
On July 18, 2017, Lovinger filed an ethics complaint about Baker with the Pentagon’s senior ethics official, charging that Lovinger’s superiors misused the security clearance process to punish him.
In a Sept. 13, 2017, letter to DOD officials, Lovinger’s attorney leveled whistleblower charges. “A review of the ‘case file’ in this matter illuminates a picture of intentional whistleblower retaliation against Mr. Lovinger; personal and political vendettas against Lovinger by Baker,” the letter reads.
Lovinger’s case is still ongoing. Judicial Watch recently joined the case, asking for production of records that had been demanded by Lovinger but held up within the DOD.
In April 2018, Lovinger received a memo from Washington Headquarters Services Director Barbara Westgate telling him that she had decided to suspend him from Pentagon duties without pay. Westgate is a holdover of the Obama administration.
On May 1, 2018, Lovinger’s attorney, Sean Bigley, penned an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal attempting to draw attention to the case. Bigley noted the following:
“Security clearances are being weaponized against the White House by hostile career bureaucrats, thwarting the president’s agenda by holding up or blocking appointees.
“In Mr. Lovinger’s case, those weaponizing the security-clearance process include a senior official who remains on the job despite publicly disparaging President Trump as ‘unfit’ to lead, a Pentagon attorney who instructed colleagues on the importance of concealing retaliatory motives behind their actions, and the Defense Department’s security adjudications chief, who persists in advancing false allegations.”
In total, Lovinger has four cases pending: whistleblower reprisal, criminal division, an ethics complaint, and an appeal on his security clearance revocation.
He remains suspended without pay.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the contractor who was described in Adam Lovinger’s email. The Epoch Times regrets the error.