Saturday, July 19, 2014

“He’s one of those people that never seems to have enough money"

Last month, Samuel Loring Morison, a part-time researcher employed by the Naval Historical Foundation, was charged with stealing and attempting to sell papers created by his grandfather, Samuel Eliot Morison, who was a rear admiral in the United States Navy and a distinguished historian. I've held off on posting about this in part because my life has been a bit chaotic as of late and in part because I've been hoping that the federal criminal complaint against Morison would be unsealed. However, the complaint has remained sealed, and I don't want this story to get lost in the shuffle.

The following ought to be of interest to any security-minded archivist:
  • This isn't Morison's first brush with the law: in the mid-1980s, he gave three classified spy satellite photographs to a British magazine and was subsequently convicted of violating the Espionage Act. He was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001, but by that time his career was in tatters.
  • Relatives indicate that Samuel Loring Morison "revered his grandfather" but also has some longstanding shortcomings of character. One cousin told the Washington Post that "I just think he’s always had a slight bent toward doing things that are not quite on the level . . . . He’s one of those people that never seems to have enough money.”
In thinking about this sad episode, I can't help but reflect upon the importance of creating an appropriate operational environment. The Washington Post and other papers that covered Morison's arrest cited a 2011 Office of the Naval Inspector General audit of the Navy History and Heritage Command, which operates the archival facility that holds the papers of Samuel Eliot Morison. The audit report highlighted numerous deficiencies, among them insufficient environmental controls, woefully inadequate resources, and "the disenfranchisement of the professional historian, curator, archivist and librarian workforce due to their marginalization in decision processes and lack of advancement opportunity." The report also emphasized that the individual then serving as the command's security officer lacked the background and security clearances needed in order to perform the job properly, that the security officer had minimal interaction with archivists caring for classified records, and that additional security personnel were needed. The Navy History and Heritage Command says that it has recently upgraded its security protocols and hired additional staff, but Samuel Morison began doing research at the Navy Archives in January 2010 -- and apparently smuggled 34 boxes of material out of the facility.

I am by no means blaming front-line staff -- one of whom noticed that some Samuel Eliot Morison materials were missing and set in motion the investigation that ultimately led to the arrest of Samuel Loring Morrison -- for what happened. Morison, who has evidently signed a statement admitting his misdeeds, is responsible for his own actions.  However, the command-level officials who allowed the Navy Archives to fall into such a state made it easy for Morison to succumb to temptation. If you fail to staff a facility adequately, go out of your way to discourage and demoralize the few people you do have on your payroll, and treat your security program as an afterthought, you might as well hang a big "TAKE OUR STUFF!" sign over the front door.

As noted above, the criminal complaint against Samuel Loring Morison remains sealed as of this date. However, the document outlining the conditions of his pretrial release is publicly accessible, and you'll find it below. You'll be pleased to note that two of the conditions are: "no access to any library or archives without prior approval of [the U.S. Office of Probation and Pretrial Services]" and "no offer for sale or sale of any personal property, including papers."