SAN DIEGO -- The admiral in charge of the Navy's information warfare community has a message for the public: He is not a threat to U.S. national security and never has been.
Vice Adm. Ted "Twig" Branch spoke out Wednesday for the first time since The Washington Post reported last month that he has been without any security clearance since November 2013, telling Military.com the implication that he represented a threat was outrageous.
"The shortest version of the story is, it's frustrating in the extreme," Branch said. "Probably the most important point is, I am not a danger to national security, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be, and the idea that I would be is insulting."
Branch, whose official title is deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare and director of naval intelligence, had his clearance pulled after his name was mentioned in a far-ranging investigation into the infamous "Fat Leonard" bribery and corruption scandal.
Branch and Navy Director of Intelligence Operations Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless were both investigated for possible connections to Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based contractor that allegedly bribed Navy officials in exchange for lucrative contracts. Three other admirals were censured last July and forced into early retirement.
Speaking at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego, Branch noted that he wears multiple hats, serving as the Navy's chief information officer, information warfare community leader, director of cyber security and director of Navy intelligence.
"In that last one, I haven't had a lot of work in the last two years from a practical day-to-day standpoint. Organizationally, I still have input there," he said. "I have two [Senior Executive Service] Level 3 deputies that run that on a day to day basis. And we have [the Office of Naval Intelligence]."
Ultimately, Branch said, Naval intelligence was not suffering due to his lack of clearance.
"Naval intelligence is OK. The whole situation is less than optimal and frustrating, but we are where we are," he said. "And we will persevere. And I will lead in this capacity until somebody tells me to go home."
That call may come before long.
Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train was nominated to replace Branch as director of naval intelligence on Sept. 17, 2015. Pressed about the irregular situation by Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus avoided defending Branch, saying he was as frustrated as Ernst was about "this particular individual."
Mabus said, "There have been, there is an investigation ongoing, we have no information one way or the other as to whether anything improper happened, but because of the sensitive place that he occupied, I felt that I had to withdraw [Branch's] access to classified information until the investigation was finished."
He added, "The investigation has drug on and on and on, and we are in the process of putting up another officer to take that person's place."