Nu­clear reg­u­la­tors find ways to view pornog­ra­phy Mis­use of Fed­eral prop­erty per­sists

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

It’s be­come tougher to surf porn on gov­ern­ment com­put­ers af­ter scan­dals, but some work­ers at the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion man­aged to find ways to by­pass de­tec­tion soft­ware and fire­walls to get the il­licit con­tent, records show.

One con­tract em­ployee watched, in his words, two “porn type” Net­flix movies dur­ing “down­time” on his 12-hour shift at the com­mis­sion’s of­fice of in­for­ma­tion ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to case records re­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Another em­ployee re­peat­edly used the photo-shar­ing site Flickr to search for pornog­ra­phy while at the of­fice.

And for years, a res­i­dent in­spec­tor at the agency scoured eBay look­ing for porno­graphic im­ages.

The case memos don’t sug­gest as per­va­sive of a prob­lem as the porn-surf­ing scan­dal that em­broiled the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion a few years ago. But the records in­di­cate that the prob­lem hasn’t been elim­i­nated, ei­ther.

Joseph McMil­lian, as­sis­tant in­spec­tor gen­eral for in­ves­ti­ga­tions, said agents hadn’t been tipped off to any broader prob­lems when they opened the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It wasn’t any­thing spe­cific; it was just be­ing proac­tive,” he said.

From May 2011 to Septem­ber 2012, agents with the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s cy­ber­crimes unit opened seven cases in­volv­ing com­puter mis­use, records show. Among the ex­am­ples cited in a case memo, all in­volved pornog­ra­phy.

In one in­ves­ti­ga­tion, agents ap­proached an em­ployee about 100 ex­plicit im­ages and videos traced to his com­puter. The em­ployee de­nied look­ing at the ma­te­rial, and what might have seemed like an ex­cuse turned out to be true.

Investigators later learned that a co-worker filched that em­ployee’s lo­gin cre­den­tials to search for porn us­ing terms such as “busty women.”

The records re­viewed by The Times con­tain redac­tions that make it im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine the names or de­tailed job ti­tles of em­ploy­ees or con­trac­tors caught pe­rus­ing pornog­ra­phy.

The Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion is charged with over­see­ing the na­tion’s nu­clear in­dus­try. Many of its 2,800 staff mem­bers work at the agency’s head­quar­ters in sub­ur­ban Mary­land.

Mr. McMil­lian re­ferred ques­tions about dis­ci­pline to the agency but said the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice was sat­is­fied with ac­tions taken af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

In six cases that The Times in­quired about, the agency pro­posed dis­ci­plinary penal­ties rang­ing from a three-day sus­pen­sion to re­moval from the job, com­mis­sion spokes­woman Holly Har­ring­ton said.

“When de­ter­min­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate penalty the NRC con­sid­ers a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to the na­ture and se­ri­ous­ness of the ac­tion and fre­quency of the ac­tion; the em­ployee’s job level; the em­ployee’s past dis­ci­plinary record; the em­ployee’s work record, in­clud­ing length of ser­vice; and con­sis­tency with other like or sim­i­lar cases,” she wrote in an email.

Ms. Har­ring­ton also noted that the

“When de­ter­min­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate penalty the NRC con­sid­ers a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to the na­ture and se­ri­ous­ness of the ac­tion and fre­quency of the ac­tion; the em­ployee’s job level; the em­ployee’s past dis­ci­plinary record; the em­ployee’s work record, in­clud­ing length of ser­vice; and con­sis­tency with other

like or sim­i­lar cases.”

com­mis­sion pre­vents and de­tects com­puter mis­use in sev­eral ways, in­clud­ing mon­i­tor­ing Web traf­fic and block­ing “spe­cific in­ap­pro­pri­ate sites based on rep­u­ta­tion.”

The Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion is hardly the only agency to en­counter the prob­lem. In 2010, The Times re­ported on more than two dozen em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors at the SEC whose porn-surf­ing habits were bared af­ter an open-records re­quest.

The en­su­ing pub­lic­ity prompted one Colorado lawyer to file what turned out to be an un­suc­cess­ful fed­eral law­suit to pry loose the names of of­fend­ing em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors.

Also that year, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, wrote to the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion over con­cerns about porn-view­ing in­side that agency.

At the time, both agen­cies said they had tight­ened online mon­i­tor­ing and cracked down on the prob­lem.

The Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion’s in­spec­tor gen­eral also plans to con­tinue mon­i­tor­ing em­ploy­ees’ online habits.

Com­puter investigators at the agency par­tic­i­pated in meet­ings held by cy­ber­crime task forces look­ing into the is­sue of com­puter mis­use by fed­eral em­ploy­ees, case records show.

Meet­ing par­tic­i­pants in­cluded the Se­cret Ser­vice’s elec­tronic crimes task force, the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s com­puter crime sec­tion and the High Tech­nol­ogy Crimes In­ves­ti­ga­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

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