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The following article was posted on November 15th, 2012, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 16

Sensitive information

Identity data taken from Camp San Luis Obispo sits for months until an investigation begins

BY NICK POWELL

He wasn’t supposed to have the names, dates of birth, electronic signatures, and social security numbers of every single person associated with a paramilitary group for California’s youth at his fingertips, but he apparently did. According to legal documents, investigators seized a San Bernadino-based captain’s laptop and a USB drive on Aug. 23 and found the private information, which they believe was acquired during a California Cadet Corps training session at Camp San Luis Obispo almost a year earlier.


HOME BASE
Military officials learned that private information about members of the California Cadet Corps—whose local office is pictured—had been stolen in October 2011, but it took five months for an internal investigation to begin.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

According to California Highway Patrol Investigator Peter Phurchpean, the suspect had private information on more than 10,000 officers and young cadets for roughly 10 months.

The investigation remains ongoing, and no charges have been filed. For now, investigators believe most of the sensitive data landed in the suspect’s lap by mistake. According to information listed in a warrant, he’s suspected of attempting to download his supervisor’s “order stamp,” and the rest of the information came along with it. An “order stamp” is a document that can verify military enlistment and grant immediate authorization for things like vacation time and travel pay. The suspect was not authorized to have the order stamp.

A ranking officer was notified just two weeks after the corps’ security was breached sometime during the weekend of Oct. 8 and 9 of 2011, according to a search warrant. The suspect’s relationship with the corps ended in February, it indicates, and an internal investigation into the information theft wasn’t initiated until March.

“I have no idea why it took them so long,” Phurchpean said.

The corps is similar to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but it’s more regimented, with monthly drill sessions that take place at military bases. The cadet program falls under the purview of the California National Guard’s Youth and Community Programs Task Force, but it’s mostly operated through school districts for grades six through 12. Though it’s headquartered at Camp SLO, it remains somewhat independent from the National Guard, whose local community affairs director knew little about the program or its personnel. No local schools include the corps curriculum, and the suspect’s brigade was based out of San Bernardino.

California Cadet Corps officials didn’t provide a comment to New Times as of press time. A National Guard spokesman, however, said that the California State Military Reserve directly oversees corps operations and that the reserve held off its investigation until the CHP, which had criminal jurisdiction, had a chance to look into the matter. The CHP investigator wrote in his report that he didn’t become aware of the breach until late March.

Although the names of witnesses were redacted from the report, investigators included testimony from several witnesses in the search warrant’s summary of probable cause. In it, the suspect’s supervisor, a major in the corps, said he had persistently asked for her order stamp in the months leading up to their October drill sessions at Camp SLO. He needed the document to prove his status with the military in order to collect unemployment benefits and would sometimes ask for it two or three times a day, the major reported. After Oct. 9, the suspect abruptly quit bugging her, but otherwise his behavior seemed normal, she said.

The major admitted in the report that she left her thumb drive unattended on her desk during drill sessions. Other than herself, no one had permission to access it, but anyone could have taken it. She surmised that it would have been quicker for someone to copy the entire thumb drive than to search through files for the specific document they wanted.

A second lieutenant later reported, according to the documents, that the suspect had approached him during the October drills and bragged about copying the contents of the major’s thumb drive to his personal laptop.

Around that same time, three boxes containing physical files with private information on cadets, officers, and volunteers also went missing. The suspect worked in the administrative department and would have had access to the files, but wasn’t authorized to remove them from the premises.

In late October, the suspect’s wife (a second lieutenant in the corps) contacted her supervisor and informed her that the suspect had the boxes and had copied the thumb drive, according to the search warrant; the wife and major then concocted a scheme that would allow the wife to get her husband to give her the files so she could return them to the base.

She told the suspect she needed to do research for a historical project, the report reads, and the ruse apparently worked: She got the files and handed them over to another second lieutenant on March 10. According to the warrant, this second lieutenant was the military’s lead investigator on the case, which he began working on March 5.

The lieutenant commander who opened the case for investigation believed someone had tried to use his identity for unknown reasons. He had been attempting to apply for a credit union account but was denied in January because there were too many inquiries on his credit report. To his knowledge, his credit was in good standing.

Investigative duties were handed over to the CHP on March 28, after the United States Judge Advocate General’s Corps advised the California Cadet Corps that the suspect wasn’t subject to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice since the information went missing on a portion of Camp SLO owned by the state.

CHP Investigator Phurchpean said he’s found no evidence directly linking the suspect to any attempts at identity theft, nor has he used the order stamp.

The suspect has no prior criminal history, and New Times was unable to reach him for comment.

Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at npowell@newtimesslo.com.