Navy veteran accused of stealing from files of famed historian grandfather

A grandson of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Samuel Eliot Morison has been charged with stealing nearly three boxes of documents that his grandfather used to write a 15-volume history of World War II commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Authorities found some of the documents when they raided the Crofton home of Samuel L. Morison in May, according to federal charges unsealed Tuesday. Others had been put up for sale. They had been missing for more than a year.


Morison, 69, appeared briefly in court following his arrest Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Morison's lawyer said the case is only in its very beginning stages.

"This has been a difficult day for Samuel Loring Morison," federal defender James Wyda said. "We look forward to addressing the allegations against Mr. Morison in court."


Morison was convicted in the 1980s on charges that he leaked classified satellite images of a Soviet aircraft carrier then under construction to a British magazine. He was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Now in poor health, according to his attorney, he again faces the prospect of federal prison.

Both Morison and his late grandfather served in the Navy. The younger Morison served in Vietnam. The elder Morison, a professor of history at Harvard and author of the two-volume "Oxford History of the United States," at the outbreak of World War II pitched the idea of writing a history of the conflict to Roosevelt, was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve and sent to fight.

Samuel Eliot Morison was eventually promoted to rear admiral. He published his history of the war at sea between 1947 and 1962.

As he worked on the project, he relied on photographs, maps and other papers his grandson is now accused of stealing, according to Paul Taylor a spokesman for the Naval History and Heritage Command.

"They're an important part of our naval history," Taylor said.

The papers were archived in Washington. Samuel L. Morison, who was involved in producing a history of the Navy's role in the war on terror, began working at the facility in 2010, authorities say in court documents.

The job gave him access to his grandfather's papers, authorities say.


Taylor said the archive has boosted its security after the alleged thefts, updating its locking system and keeping more staff on watch over a repository of photographs.

The archive first reported the documents missing in February 2013, authorities say. They say the break came more than a year later when Morison contacted a bookseller who agreed to take $5,000 worth of the papers and sell them on a consignment basis at his shop and through eBay.

The seller is not identified in the court documents. But Rockford Toews, an Annapolis book dealer who specializes in naval history, said an experienced trader would likely have noticed something amiss with the papers.

"Someone certainly wouldn't take something like this without knowing what the provenance was," he said.

Investigators from the National Archives discovered that the documents were for sale and in May worked with a retired Navy employee to confirm that they belonged to the government.

"Morison was never given permission to remove the records from the Navy Archives," an agent with the Navy Criminal Investigative Service wrote in court documents.


Later that month, the authorities raided Morison's Crofton home, turning up 34 boxes of material they say in court documents were taken from the Navy's caches.

Morison's earlier legal problems arose after Jane's Defence Weekly published pictures of the Soviet aircraft carrier. He was working at the time as a civilian analyst with Navy intelligence in Suitland.

The FBI tied Morison to the leaked images through fingerprints, and used his typewriter to reproduce his correspondence with the magazine.

His lawyers said Morison's motivation had been patriotic: He wanted to reveal the existence of the carriers so the public would support greater defense spending.

But authorities said the release of the photos tipped off the Soviets to American surveillance, and prosecutors secured the first conviction under the 1917 Espionage Act of a government official for leaking information to the press.

In 1998, then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan urged Clinton to pardon Morison.


"What is remarkable is not the crime, but that he is the only one convicted of an activity which has become a routine aspect of government life: leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question," the senator wrote.

Clinton signed the pardon on his last day in office.