Congressman Demands Explanation from Air Force on Leaked Investigation

Gen Welsh

In a comment exchange that unfolded on this blog over the last few days, Maj. Gen. Mike Keltz represented that he was familiar with the contents of an Inspector General (IG) investigation that recently cleared three Laughlin pilots of drug use — charges pursued by Keltz and his deputies before the general retired in disgrace after making a discriminatory comment at a public hearing related to the matter.

Now, one of the legislators who requested the investigation wants answers on why and how the retired general — whose actions were part of the inquiry — has apparently been made privy to the report before the impacted officers or members of Congress have had a chance to review it.

Commenting on a story about Rep. Duncan Hunter’s push for an explanation from Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF) Gen. Mark Welsh as to why a Laughlin Air Force Base instructor pilot cleared of false drug charges was still prevented from returning to work, Keltz remarked definitively (though incorrectly) that “[t]he IG inquiry did not exonerate the three instructors,” adding “it’s painfully obvious that you didn’t even see the report.”

In a subsequent email exchange, Keltz told me “the IG [i]nquiry report does show that all investigations and administrative actions were within the command’s authority and followed due process of the law.”

These statements by Keltz support the inference that he has viewed the report of the IG investigation — of which he was a subject (meaning others complained about his conduct) — before the legislators who demanded it or the airmen whose maltreatment gave rise to it.

If true, this is certainly inappropriate and probably a violation of federal law. As I wrote in analyzing the wayward Keltz comments:

“Giving an IG report to someone not entitled to see it is a potential violation of a host of privacy and privilege safeguards the Air Force usually protects to a fault. Why someone seemingly made an exception for a retired general who has since taken to social media to employ the resulting knowledge to publicly advance the Air Force’s official position is a curious — and indeed serious — question.”

It wasn’t idle speculation.

Air Force Instruction (AFI) 90-301 provides, in para. 13.5.1, that:

“IG reports are protected documents. Only [the Secretary of the Air Force Office of the Inspector General], or designated representatives, can approve release of IG documents outside of IG channels.”

It also provides in para. 13.6.3, which falls under the heading “Protecting Privacy Interests”:

“Generally, do not release the complaint, materials or information provided by the complainant, or the response to the complainant to a third-party requester or the subject, without the complainant’s written consent…”

The Air Force Judge Advocate General Guide to IG Investigations provides in para. 6.6 that:

“IG records contain protected information. As such, they may not be released, reproduced, or disseminated in whole or in part … without the express permission of the Secretary of the Air Force, Inspector General.”

Keltz is either a subject of the investigation or, if it didn’t implicate any of his decisions, a third party. Either way, release to him would have been unlawful. Whoever forwarded it to Keltz has some explaining to do.

In a letter sent to Gen. Welsh earlier today, Rep. Hunter (R-CA) pressed for answers on how an out-to-pasture 2-star got his hands on a report Hunter’s staff has been unable to pry loose despite persistent requests.

The full letter:

[scribd id=296022383 key=key-ElQ1fUGDwFYjrFz7Wmew mode=scroll]

This is serious business. It’s one thing to engage in standard bureaucratic resistance, which is annoying. It’s another to openly and flagrantly ignore valid Congressional oversight, which is a temptation to disaster.

Gen. Welsh tended a proper impulse when he responded to Congressional pressure and opened an investigation into the Laughlin witch hunt. Without follow-through, that impulse will be made hollow. Unless he can effectively compel his juniors to do the right thing and refrain from doing the wrong thing, none of it will matter. The Air Force will be swallowed by its failure to effectively calibrate the exertion of legal authority unless Gen. Welsh fully and unswervingly commits himself to this issue.

Gen. Welsh owes Congress a bunch of answers this week. Those answers will be important. Unless they’re swift and transparent, Congress should call for an investigation into the improper release of an IG report to a retired general officer. Since release could only have been authorized by the Secretary of the Air Force’s representatives, the investigation would have to be conducted above her level.

How unfortunate that an issue involving text messages sent on private cellphones among law-abiding Air Force officers would eventually become an issue capable of embroiling the entire department in a publicly damaging scandal that keeps growing with each day that the service refuses to decisively and forthrightly deal with it.

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