Ex-Navy SEAL Receives Probation for Classified Information Breach
This article, written by Michael L Owens, appeared in “The Daily Progress” newspaper following the conclusion of a case presented by Gentry Locke attorneys Thomas J. Bondurant, Jr. and Justin M. Lugar in federal court.
Years of combat service and a Bronze Star saved a retired Navy SEAL from prison despite his previous guilty plea to loading classified information onto a thumb drive and sending it to a defense contractor in 2010.
Bruce Schliemann, 50, of Virginia Beach, walked out of federal court Friday in Charlottesville with a sentence of three years’ unsupervised probation, a $10,000 fine and a ban against profiting from his specialized knowledge of classified material.
“I just want to put this behind me so that I can get on with my life and serve my country again in the commercial sector,” he said moments before hearing the sentence.
Before declaring a punishment, federal Judge Glen E. Conrad noted that Schliemann was a man who had proved his love for his country in battle, unlike many of the other defendants who have stood in the courtroom.
At the same time, the judge said, a punishment of some sort had to be meted out because there was the single misdemeanor count of unauthorized removal of classified material to consider.
“You knew better and you violated the rule of law,” Conrad said. “And you did that to further your own interests.”
Schliemann pleaded guilty in December to downloading sensitive government information from a defense contractor’s secure computer in San Diego. He then sent the information to a Virginia-based contractor he had hoped to impress for a job.
The Virginia contractor triggered the investigation when it applied with the State Department for a license to provide “refresher” training to NATO allies using the classified materials. Schliemann had removed the “classified markings” before sending the information to the contractor, according to court testimony. Still, the military recognized the training information as its own and rejected the application.
After learning in September 2010 that he was under investigation, Schliemann had a friend erase all the information from a laptop and then destroyed both the hard drive and the thumb drive, according to court testimony.
When investigators interviewed him later that month, Schliemann told them he obtained the classified information by digging around on the Internet and denied removing the “classified” tags from the material and taking it from the San Diego contractor. He later confessed, saying he had hoped to impress his new employer.
Because Schliemann was charged with a misdemeanor, the harshest punishment he faced was a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. Sentencing guidelines suggested that someone with his history face at most six months in jail and at most a fine of $5,000.
Defense attorney Thomas Bondurant argued that his client, a decorated combat veteran, should walk out of court a free man.
“If there’s true justice in the world, we ought to shake his hand and thank him at the end of this hearing,” the attorney said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Pfleger argued for as harsh a penalty as the judge could muster.
“This is a very, very serious case,” he said. “The fact that we resolved this as a misdemeanor is not a reflection of how serious the government takes this case.”
Prosecutors agreed not to pursue additional charges against Schliemann in the Western District of Virginia in exchange for his plea.
But Conrad argued that any chance of using Schliemann as a deterrent against stealing state secrets had vanished simply because of the low-priority charge.
“If you wanted to deter others, [a felony] would have been the way to do it,” the judge said.