NSA police suspected in agency thefts 50,000 rounds of ammunition reported stolen; 'An active investigation'; 2 officers allowed to resign; at least 9 others targeted


WASHINGTON -- Nearly a dozen members of the police force that guards the top-secret National Security Agency are suspected of stealing ammunition from the Fort Meade-based agency, sources and federal officials said yesterday.

The thefts, which included up to 50,000 rounds of ammunition, represent an embarrassing incident for the NSA, an intelligence agency that eavesdrops on foreign communications and makes and breaks codes. Besides NSA officials, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the thefts.

While no arrests have been made, several police officers have been implicated, officials said. But details about the thefts and the progress of the investigation remained sketchy yesterday.

Larry Stewart, special agent in charge of the bureau's Baltimore office, declined to comment on the amount of ammunition stolen or the number of officers from the NSA's Security Protective Officer force who are under investigation.

"That I can't share with you," Stewart said. "The only thing I can tell you is it's an active investigation, and we can't comment on that."

NSA officials also declined to discuss the investigation. The agency released a brief statement yesterday saying it was "nearing completion on an investigation involving Security Protective Officers."

Agency sources said two sergeants on the force have been allowed to resign as a result of the investigation, including one who oversaw the force's ammunition and weapons. At least nine other officers are under investigation.

The sergeant who was in charge of ammunition, William R. Fabus, said he had resigned voluntarily on May 1 after he was questioned by agents.

"I was not aware that anything was missing," said Fabus, 36, of Catonsville, adding that he expects no further inquiries or criminal charges. "I was told there was nothing criminal that I did."Fabus, a 10-year veteran of the force, declined to say why he had abruptly resigned. "I don't know where I'm stepping," he said. "If I give out any information considered national security stuff, it would be adverse toward me."

Officer named others

Officials would not say when they believe the thefts began or how they were detected, though one former agency employee said the thefts had been occurring for at least two months. The source said one officer was caught and began implicating others.

The thefts have resulted in new security procedures at the agency, sources said, and employees have been warned not to talk about the investigation. The NSA, which employs about 23,000 people at Fort Meade, is the largest employer in Maryland.

As part of the inquiry, investigators found grenades and assault rifles, although neither were NSA property, sources said.

"It shocked a lot of people," the former employee, who requested anonymity, said of the thefts. "[The officers] are not kids; they've been working there a long time."

The uniformed police force includes several hundred officers and provides security at NSA's sprawling complex off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and its satellite locations throughout Maryland.

Top-security clearance

The officers, whose average salary is about $30,000, undergo two months of training at a facility in Georgia with other federal police officers, and carry either 9 mm or 38-caliber handguns, former members of the force said.

They also possess the government's top-security clearance, known as SCI for Sensitive Compartmented Information, the eavesdropping product that is among the nation's most guarded secrets.

Officials would not say whether they suspect that the officers were using the ammunition for their own use or were selling it. FBI spokesmen and staffers on the congressional intelligence oversight committees said they were unaware of the investigation.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Larry Foust, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, said when called by a reporter. One top FBI official in Washington privately expressed surprise that the bureau had not been notified, considering the possible extent of the theft.

Morale problems

Besides the thefts, agency officials have pointed to administrative and morale troubles among the force. In a recent report, portions of which were obtained by The Sun, the agency noted tensions among the uniformed police supervisors, many of whom are high school graduates, and a rising number of college-educated officers who are being hired.

"The supervisors may feel threatened by subordinates who may be brighter and more willing to empower themselves to make independent decisions," the report said.

Moreover, the report said, newly hired officers have not been given a "realistic job preview."

"It was widely believed that applicants may have been misled to believe that the job entailed more sophisticated and responsible police functions than actually take place," according to the report. "Boredom and lower levels of job satisfaction are believed to be widespread amongst the more educated [officers]."

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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