On July 20, Asia Janay Lavarello, a DoD civilian employee, who had served in this capacity for more than 10 years, pleaded guilty to the unlawful retention of classified materials which she removed and retained while on temporary duty (TDY) assignment in the Philippines. When she was on TDY from Honolulu, she worked at both Camp Aguinaldo (the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City) and the Defense Attache’s Office (DAO) located within the U.S. Embassy Manila, Philippines.
Her theft of classified materials was not discovered through the DAO, Embassy, or INDOPACOM insider threat programs. Rather, it was the serendipitous discovery of classified materials during a dinner party in Lavarello’s hotel room that lead to the discovery. Thank goodness for luck. With apologies to New York Yankees all-star pitcher Lefty Gomez, the adage “I’d rather be lucky than good,” applies to the application of insider threat programs.
Asia Janay Lavarello
In her role as the executive assistant to the Commander of INDOPACOM JIOC, her access would be considered by any hostile intelligence service as privileged. Lavarello had access to Top Secret/SCI beginning as early as January 2011. In March 2018, court documents tell us she once again acknowledged her responsibilities handling, transporting, and protecting classified materials.
In January 2020, during her TDY to the Philippines, she also attended the Philippine National Intelligence University in order to work on her thesis. Her work in the Philippines gave her free access to the DAO SCIF, and required her to attend classified meetings within the SCIF at least once a week. Furthermore, her work provided her access to secure network computers and classified storage containers.
The court documents tell us, how three months into her TDY, Lavarello, printed classified documents and then secreted them out of the secure location to her hotel room. On March 20, 2020, Lavarello hosted a dinner party to which she invited five individuals – three U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Embassy Manila and two foreign nationals. During the course of the evening, one of the U.S. employee guests discovered “a stack of documents in the defendant’s (Lavarello) bedroom with U.S. Government marked classified markings on them, including documents classified at the “Secret” level.” Her guest queried as to why the classified materials were in her possession, and she told them that she needed them for her thesis.
Two days later, one of her Embassy colleagues present at the dinner party assisted her in moving the “stack of documents” back to the U.S. Embassy and placed them in the appropriate classified container, rated at the Secret level. She told her colleague that she would return the next day and pick up the documents and return them to the DAO SCIF and the safe located within the SCIF. On March 24, the classified materials were returned by others to the DAO SCIF.
Furthermore, Lavarello, is alleged to have had unreported close and continuing contact with the two Philippine citizens who attended her dinner party on March 20. Not surprisingly, Lavarello’s TDY to Manila was terminated, and she was ordered to return to Honolulu, due to her mishandling of classified materials .
She was interviewed by Honolulu FBI on January 22 about her mishandling and retention of classified materials and her close and continuing contact with foreign nationals. She is alleged to have lied to the FBI special agents during the interview. As part of her plea agreement, Lavarello is not being charged with lying to the FBI.
Insider Threat Program Failure
There is no sugar coating it. The insider program failed. Luck was the order of the day. Had Lavarello placed the stack of documents found in her bedroom within a book bag or kept them out of sight, her guest would not have noticed them in her bedroom.
She broke the trust she enjoyed from the U.S. government. The mandated rules and regulations surrounding the handling of classified materials were ignored by Lavarello, who blatantly removed the materials from the DAO SCIF within the U.S. Embassy Manila; used Gmail to email to herself classified notes; and maintained a notebook of classified meetings and information to which she became privy and declined to store the notebook appropriately.
Additionally, she hand carried the notebook from Manila to Honolulu, even though it contained classified information at the Secret level; the classified pouch was available for her use and should have been utilized by Lavarello. It was not until her return to Honolulu and the subsequent investigation that the use of Gmail for classified materials was discovered. On June 27, 2020, three months after her return, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted a surreptitious search and seizure of her work space within the JIOC in Honolulu. During this search, the “notebook” was found and copied.
NCIS sent the copied notebook pages to “U.S. Government Agency-1” (believed to be the Defense Intelligence Agency) for review and confirmation that the information within was classified. NCIS also reviewed Lavarello’s Gmail account and found that she used the web-based email service to send similar materials to her unclassified government email account – as an example, the court documents revealed, “US Embassy Pol/Mil Meeting – 15 Jan 2020.” Data recovered from her Gmail account and reviewed by the government agency revealed this information was largely duplicative to the notebook and also contained Secret level materials.
Lavarello faces up to five years in prison, three years supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing for Lavarello is scheduled for November 4, 2021 in the U.S. District Court, Honolulu, HI before Chief Judge, J. Michael Seabright. Interestingly, the sentencing parameters are similar to that which Reality Winner faced some five years ago.