According to US Army records, released recently, Michael T Flynn, the retired Army general who US President-Elect Donald Trump has tapped to serve as national security adviser, “inappropriately shared” classified information with Pakistani officials back in 2010 when he was appointed in Afghanistan.
Although Flynn lacked authorisation to share the classified material, he was not disciplined or reprimanded after the investigation concluded that he did not act “knowingly” and that “there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result”, according to Army records, published in a US daily The Washington Post.
Former US officials said that Flynn had disclosed sensitive information to Pakistan in late 2009 or early 2010 about secret US intelligence capabilities being used to monitor the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group accused of repeated attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.
The US military opened the investigation into Flynn in 2010 after receiving a complaint from an unnamed Navy intelligence specialist, according to the documents. The intelligence officer charged that Flynn violated rules by “inappropriately” sharing secrets with “various foreign military officers and/or officials in Afghanistan”.
The documents do not reveal the nature of the information. But former US officials familiar with the case said it centered on slides and other materials containing classified information about CIA operations in Afghanistan.
The newly disclosed Army documents state that the 2010 investigation was ordered by the head of US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Although the records do not say exactly when the case was opened, the commander at the time would have been Marine Gen James Mattis.
Flynn exposed the capabilities during meetings with Pakistani officials in Islamabad. The former US intelligence official said a CIA officer who accompanied Flynn reported the disclosures to CIA headquarters, which then relayed the complaint to the Defense Department. Flynn was verbally reprimanded by the Pentagon’s top intelligence official at the time, James R Clapper Jr.
Clapper subsequently became director of national intelligence and endorsed Flynn to become his successor as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. In 2014, however, Clapper forced Flynn out of that job over concerns with his temperament and management.
Flynn has previously acknowledged that he was investigated while serving as the US military intelligence chief in Afghanistan for sharing secrets with British and Australian allies there. But he has dismissed the case as insignificant and has given few details.
The Army documents provide the first official account of the case, but they are limited in scope because the investigation itself remains classified. Former US officials familiar with the matter said that Flynn was accused of telling allies about the activities of other agencies in Afghanistan, including the CIA.
The Army files call into question Flynn’s prior assertion that he had permission to share the sensitive information.
During the presidential race, Flynn campaigned vigorously for Republican nominee Donald Trump and drew attention for his scalding attacks against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified material. Clinton was investigated by the FBI for allowing classified information to be transmitted on her private email server when she ran the State Department. No charges were filed against the former secretary of state, but the issue dogged her for more than a year.
Flynn was highly regarded within the Army for the key role he played in shaping US counterterrorism strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials had intended to promote Flynn in 2010 to the rank of lieutenant general and to make him assistant director of national intelligence, a job that would place him in charge of improving ties with foreign intelligence agencies.
The Central Command investigation delayed his career advancement for a full year. He received his promotion and new assignment in September 2011.
After being forced to retire from the military in 2014, Flynn became a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s policies regarding Iran and al-Qaeda. At the same time, he gained a reputation for floating conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Some Democratic lawmakers have criticized his selection as Trump’s national security adviser. The position, however, is not subject to Senate confirmation.