Lies, Nuclear Secrets And Romantic Texts To "Luba": A Story Unfolds In Court
- Written by Paul Bibeau
- Category: Local News
- Published: 07 December 2020
Charles Timothy Briggs’ second marriage was failing in 2017 when he started looking at online dating sites and found L.S., a Russian woman with “trust issues,” according to the former naval Chief Petty Officer.
And those issues, Briggs told a judge at a court-martial this week, led him to break security protocol and earned him 31 months in confinement and a demotion in rank.
Briggs pled guilty to sharing classified information with a foreign national -- known only as “L.S.” or “Luba” in court statements -- and making false statements about his relationship.
"I am truly and sincerely sorry for what I have done," he said during his trial on Tuesday. "It's my job to protect all the Navy entrusted me with, and I failed."
Charles Briggs enlisted in 1998 and served in the Navy at posts all over the country and overseas. He specialized in information technology, telecommunications and related fields. He served in Afghanistan, at Pearl Harbor and aboard the USS Shiloh, a guided missile cruiser.
A counterintelligence investigator testified that Briggs and Luba communicated while Briggs was at work at the Global Operations Center at the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. USSTRATCOM helps oversee American operations in the event of a nuclear war, and the operations center, or GOC, is the "nerve center" of that command.
Briggs was most recently assigned to the medical command center in Portsmouth. He was arrested in 2019, about two weeks after he started there. He is currently at Navy Consolidated Brig Chesapeake.
The trial was held in the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Court in Norfolk. WHRO sent requests to Briggs' civilian defense attorney, who did not reply. The Navy said it was denying all media requests to speak with prosecutors or the accused.
In court, Briggs said becoming a Chief Petty Officer was one of the best moments of his life, but his military career played a role in ending his two marriages.
Prosecutors argued his high rank as an E-7 officer meant he should’ve known better. In his sentencing, he was demoted to an E-4 rank.
"This isn't a junior sailor," one of the prosecutors said in court. "These are deliberate choices that Chief Briggs was making."
The Secret Document
On January 9, 2019, Charles Briggs went into a secure room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).
A SCIF has features that protect it against surveillance technology; it's used to store classified materials.
Briggs printed out an email containing secret material. That wasn’t a crime, and Briggs said he wanted to use the email as a checklist he needed to accomplish before going on an upcoming work trip.
He took it home with him, which he knew was a violation of protocol. According to prosecutors, Briggs hid the email in his lunchbox.
Luba, the woman in Russia he was dating, didn’t believe his upcoming work trip was legitimate. The couple fought over it and to prove the work trip was honest, Briggs said, he took out his cell phone, took a picture of the document and sent it to her.
Briggs said he didn’t intend to send the email to Luba when he walked it out of the secure facility.
Special Agent Steven Lewis of the U.S. Air Force Office Of Special Investigations testified by phone on a speaker in the courtroom. He described how Briggs' position made him a ripe target for foreign nations.
"I'm not the morality police," Lewis said, and told the court he gave Briggs "every opportunity" to say if he was having a relationship with someone who might be a security concern.
Such a conflict should have been noted in Briggs’ hiring paperwork at USSSTRATCOM in Nebraska. He filled out a security questionnaire that asked whether he had a "close and continuing relationship" with a foreign citizen.
He didn’t disclose his relationship with Luba.
Briggs told the judge that he knew Luba was Russian, where she lived and had seen her passport. He said he lied on the statements because he knew his relationship with her would put his career in jeopardy.
He later made another false statement on a security form in September 2018, disguising his ties to Luba. In November of that year, he submitted a false leave request, stating that he would be in Nebraska, when he had already bought tickets to be with Luba in Belgrade, Serbia.
Special Agent Lewis discovered another trip Briggs made to Macedonia and talked to Briggs about it. According to Lewis, Briggs said he was considering living there and did not admit he was travelling to the country to see someone.
Lewis said he received reports of Briggs' travel to Belgrade later, and he learned of Briggs' contact with Luba. He described how sensitive information about Briggs' job could be exposed, calling the danger a "perfect storm."
Under cross-examination by Briggs' attorney, Lewis said he did not have evidence that a foreign government targeted Briggs for espionage.
Pleas For Mercy
Briggs’ family and friends spoke on behalf of him during the trial, saying he was a hard-working son of a Wisconsin dairy farmer.
"We drove 1,200 miles to get here, [because we] wanted you to know Tim is a good man," his mother, Margaret "Peggy" Briggs, said to the judge.
At some point during her testimony, Peggy Briggs said she was in contact with Luba, saying the Russian woman seemed to love her son. The judge asked her when she last had contact with Luba.
Yesterday, Peggy Briggs told him.
Steven Briggs, his father, corroborated his wife’s statement. He said the family talked to Luba three or four times a week.
"Is that a true relationship?" he said about his son and Luba, "I have to say yes.”
After he is released, Briggs left no doubt that he intends to continue his relationship with Luba and her children.
"I do know that L.S. is waiting for me with two little ones," he said, adding that the couple already call each other husband and wife, because they are engaged.