Crime - Sacto 911

Illegal transfer of classified data gets Folsom engineer a fine, probation

A Folsom engineer and retired Navy commander was fined $7,500 and placed on two years of probation on Wednesday in Sacramento federal court for transferring classified data from a government computer to a personal computer.

Bryan Nishimura, 50, turned over personal media containing classified materials and was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman to surrender any currently held security clearance and to never again seek such clearance.

The maximum he could have received was a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Nishimura admitted to FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents that he had transferred approximately 200 megabytes of classified data and satellite imagery to his personal electronic equipment while in Afghanistan, had traveled within that country carrying the equipment containing the data and had returned to the United States with the data in May 2008, the court papers say.

He also told agents that he had “destroyed and disposed of personal electronic devices and storage media containing ... classified data between approximately February and April 2012,” immediately after his initial statement to Navy personnel. He “admitted that he knew that the manner in which he had destroyed these United States classified records was not a method approved or sanctioned by the U.S. Navy,” according to the court papers.

“He threw the stuff in the middle of Folsom Lake, but that didn’t count,” an exasperated defense lawyer William Portanova said. “Apparently the government has its own special way of throwing things away.”

“This is a nothing ... of a nothing,” Portanova said when he learned the U.S. attorney’s office had issued a press release on Wednesday’s action that ended the case. “The innocent mishandling of classified data is apparently something the government cares about so long as you’re not a candidate for the presidency,” he said in reference to the furor over potentially classified emails to and from Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her personal server. She has not been charged with a crime.

Justice was swift for Nishimura. The U.S. attorney’s office charged him Friday with “unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents and material,” a misdemeanor. He made his first and only court appearance Wednesday, when he pleaded guilty and was sentenced.

A consensual search by federal agents of Nishimura’s Folsom property in May 2012 turned up “classified and unclassified military records, stored both digitally and in hard copy,” according to court papers. Included in the material were “at least four digitally stored classified U.S. Army records dating from (Nishimura’s) 2007-2008 Afghanistan tour.”

The press release says investigation “did not reveal evidence that Nishimura intended to distribute classified information to unauthorized personnel.” He was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Hobler, who handles national security cases.

In his role as a regional engineer for the military in Afghanistan, Nishimura had access to classified briefings and digital records that could only be retained and viewed on authorized government computers, the court papers say. Through spokeswoman Lauren Horwood, the U.S. attorney’s office would not be more specific regarding the nature of the records.

Portanova said his client’s garage “also contained everything he had ever done, dating back to grade school – report cards, pop quizzes and drawings. He’s just a man who stores things. There was no malicious intent, no sharing of the information.”

Portanova said his client is now retired after 22 years of active and reserve duty in the Navy, and works as an engineer in the private sector.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189