According to a Fox News report, former senior Department of Energy (DOE) official Sam Brinton committed one of his thefts of baggage while on an official government trip to the Nevada National Security Site. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is asking the Biden Administration why the security and vetting process missed Brinton’s apparent theft compulsion before any appointment. The concern is that Brinton’s luggage may have been checked, but Brinton was not as a high-ranking Energy Department official.
Brinton’s appointment as a nonbinary individual was heralded by President Joe Biden and DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm as a trailblazing move by the Administration. The Administration then went largely into radio silence after Brinton’s arrest for multiple thefts last year of women’s bags. Brinton appeared in public wearing some of the stolen dresses.
One such theft occurred in early July 2022 on a trip to the DOE-operated Nevada National Security Site, according to watchdog group Functional Government Initiative (FGI). Brinton arrived at Harry Reid International Airport on a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. on July 6, 2022. Brinton proceeded to steal a suitcase with an total estimated worth of $3,670, including jewelry valued at $1,700, clothing worth $850 and makeup valued at $500.
Brinton was later charged with another theft at another airport. A plea avoided jail time in the grand larceny case, resulting in a 180-day suspended jail sentence and an order by Clark County Judge Ann Zimmerman to simply “stay out of trouble.”
Brinton also avoided jail time in the separate theft of $2,325 from the luggage carousel at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Sept. 16.
Barrasso is asking a still unanswered question of how Brinton made it through the security clearance and vetting process. This is a highly sensitive position as reflected in a trip to the Nevada National Security Site which is described as “a preferred location for experiments supporting the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship Programs, national defense programs, and national security research, development and training programs, as well as vital programs of other federal agencies.”
I have held Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance since the Reagan Administration. I can attest to how they come with extensive field interviews and polygraph examinations.
What is curious about the Brinton case is that it is unlikely that these were the only two such crimes. This has the markings of an individual who is so mentally unstable or delusional that the compulsion could not even be resisted on an official national security related trip.
Of course, it is possible that this is not an irresistible compulsion but a criminal calculation that the chances of suspicion or detection is reduced for a high-ranking government official on official travel. Deterrence is a combination of the likelihood of detection and the severity of punishment. Criminals make a calculated decision that is often reinforced by low detection rates and relatively low penalties for property offenses. Indeed, we have seen cities virtually abandon shoplifting crimes as a priority while others have reduced charges overall for many offenses as in New York. In that environment, a criminal may make a rational choice that crime does pay.
Yet, there should be answers on whether there were any indicators missed in the background investigation. Brinton was in a sensitive position and could have been targeted for blackmail or coercive measures by foreign intelligence or criminal elements. It is not clear if Brinton was asked about criminal conduct or theft in the course of these pre-clearance interviews — or whether a polygraph examination was performed. Those seem legitimate questions for Secretary Granholm and the DOE to answer.