State Department official recalled

Reginald Eugene Hopson, a 30-year State Department foreign service officer, was summoned back to Washington from South Africa in October, stripped of his top-secret security clearance and questioned by federal investigators, records show.

He was an information management specialist and pouch control officer who processed classified information at U.S. embassies in Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, and South Africa. His interrogators wanted to know about a raft of classified documents found in his possession — documents they said he had no business having.

The documents included a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) file on a confidential undercover operation and eight classified State Department cables, two of which related to intelligence matters and national defense.

A search of a storage locker containing boxes he had shipped to suburban Maryland from his recent post abroad also turned up five diplomatic passports, a Bolivian passport and bank documents from Italy, Spain, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.

“I have [reason] to believe that Mr. Hopson has violated” laws prohibiting removal of classified information concerning national defense or foreign relations, Special Agent Stanwyn A. Becton of the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) wrote in a federal affidavit seeking a judge’s approval to search Mr. Hopson’s storage locker.

“None of the cables would have required Hopson to print and retain copies of them,” the affidavit said.

One of the national defense-related cables, according to the affidavit, “was an extremely sensitive document whose subject matter had no relation to Hopson’s job responsibilities and should not have been in his possession.”

The affidavit also said that when Mr. Hopson started answering their questions, federal investigators found he changed his story and offered explanations that did not make sense.

The OIG referred inquiries of the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore, which neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a criminal investigation.

Mr. Hopson, who received his first top-secret security clearance in 1981, could not be reached for comment. He has not been charged with a crime.

A State Department spokesman said Mr. Hopson, who joined the foreign service in 1979 and was listed by the department in 2005 as being among the “key officers of foreign service posts,” is now stationed in the Washington area. The spokesman said department policy prohibits comment on active investigations. He also declined to describe Mr. Hopson’s job status.

A source with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the State Department division that also is investigating the matter and determines eligibility for access to classified material, said: “Annually, there are a limited number of instances where the DSS performs investigations resulting in the curtailment of an individual’s assignment abroad which are serious enough to warrant suspension of their security clearance.”

Violations of the security laws listed in the affidavit can result in a fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Daniel Hirsch, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, the bargaining unit that represents foreign service officers, confirmed that a union representative accompanied Mr. Hopson to a Nov. 11 interview at the DSS in Arlington, Va., but declined to comment on the interview or the case.

When asked about the classified documents, Mr. Hopson told investigators that a co-worker must have put them there.

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