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 investigation."
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.