An Air Force contractor in Tennessee is the subject of a federal investigation into a “critical compromise” of military communication networks used by Air Force training units at 17 bases, plus other state and federal agencies, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
The man allegedly stole nearly $90,000 in military and state government radio equipment and the software that powers it, an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a June 29 request for a search warrant.
He had gained “unauthorized administrator access” to the radio network used by Air Education and Training Command, and could access from home the entire radio system of Tennessee’s Arnold Air Force Base, where he worked, the affidavit said.
Investigators also found that he could enter the communications systems of the FBI; the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally run utility company that provides electricity to 10 million people; and other state agencies, according to public court documents.
It’s unclear whether the man did anything to eavesdrop on or harm those networks or their users, or if he shared sensitive information with others.
Air Force Times is withholding the man’s name because he has not been charged with a crime in the federal investigation. Forbes first reported on the inquiry on Monday.
Air Force spokesperson Rose Riley said the situation is not an active security concern.
The Air Force acted immediately in February to “mitigate any potential compromise and safeguard our networks,” Riley said, after local law enforcement first searched the man’s home for radios, laptops and related equipment on Jan. 27.
The probe comes amid the high-profile federal trial of Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira, an IT specialist in the Massachusetts Air National Guardsman who was arrested in April and charged with leaking scores of classified documents online. That incident is among the most serious U.S. national security breaches in recent history, prompting multiple reviews of the military’s security protocols.
The investigation into the Tennessee man began in August 2022, when colleagues at Arnold AFB reported that military communications equipment had gone missing.
The man had worked at Arnold — an aerospace research and development site focused on missile, rocket and engine testing — as a radio technician, administrator and analyst, according to his public LinkedIn profile.
Coworkers knew the man kept government radio equipment in his car and at home, court records said.
And they were suspicious of him for other reasons: The man “worked odd hours, was arrogant, frequently lied, displayed inappropriate workplace behavior and sexual harassment, [and] had financial problems,” the affidavit said.
One coworker said he had watched the man “conduct unauthorized communications” using Air Force equipment and twice reported him as a potential insider threat.
When asked in October 2022 about three radios that had disappeared from his workplace at Arnold, the man confirmed he had them at home, court documents said.
His manager at the contractor, a firm hired to work on radio systems at Arnold, issued a memo barring employees from taking equipment off-base.
Another inventory review in November 2022 revealed that more than 100 items of land mobile radio equipment, valued at around $150,000, had been lost or stolen. The affidavit did not specify whether the man is suspected of taking the entire haul.
Local law enforcement and Air Force agents searched the man’s addresses in late January for push-to-talk radios, laptops and other equipment and programs.
“I witnessed an active computer screen … which contained the entire [Arnold AFB] communications system on [the man’s] home network,” one Air Force agent said in the affidavit. “Multiple other agencies in the state of Tennessee were identified on the home network, to include FBI, Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Vanderbilt Hospital, Tennessee Highway Patrol, as well as a plethora of other trunk systems.”
Trunk systems spread groups of radio users across multiple frequencies so they can talk at the same time without being interrupted.
In another search over two weeks in June and July, authorities seized a trove of at least three dozen hard drives, flash drives and memory cards, two cell phones, eight computers and other hardware like hard drive readers and compact discs, according to the warrant.
Several thumb drives held programming software for the two-way radio network used by Arnold AFB’s security forces, maintainers and others who run the installation, as well as software used in the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network, the statewide radio system for first responders, according to the warrant.
Investigators also found blueprints of buildings on base, programming for Arnold’s “Giant Voice” announcement system, and information on 17 installations that use radio communications across Air Education and Training Command.
That included digital files for the “talk groups” that radios at a particular base can tune into at any given time, and passwords for the radio network at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, home to Air Force boot camp and technical training for tens of thousands of airmen each year.
Many of the items seized were sent to a forensic lab to extract their contents.
“These devices were used in furtherance of criminal conduct, and in violation of communications security and information security … policies,” the Air Force agent said in the June 29 affidavit.
The agent argued the man could be charged with theft of public property, which can result in a fine or up to 10 years in prison.
He may already face prosecution at the state level: A person of the same name was charged with one count of property theft valued between $60,000 and $250,000 in Coffee County Circuit Court on July 11, online court records show.
It’s unclear whether that charge stemmed from the investigation into stolen federal and state communications equipment.
The Justice Department declined to comment. The Air Force referred further questions to the local district attorney’s office, which did not respond to questions by press time.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.