State Department Official Accused of Pocketing Top Secret Documents

A long-time State Department official with top security clearance is under investigation by his own agency for allegedly possessing and illegally transporting classified information, including "extremely sensitive" documents related to national security, according to court documents.

Reginald Hopson, a 30-year veteran of the State Department, had been stationed overseas for the past 12 years, but he is now working in Washington, with his clearance suspended, as the investigation continues.

Most recently, Hopson was "Information Systems Officer" at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, where he helped secure and manage classified information, particularly electronic information. Until August 2009, he was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago.

Before Hopson left for his post in South Africa, State Department investigators working on an unrelated case in Trinidad and Tobago discovered that he had brought sensitive documents to unauthorized locations. Among the documents found were a Drug Enforcement Administration cable "detailing an ongoing undercover operation" and a State Department cable from April 2008 labeled "confidential," according to court documents.

State Department investigators also found that four boxes Hopson had packed for shipment to Trinidad and Tobago contained sensitive documents, including a "confidential" State Department cable written three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and two "secret" U.S. government cables related to national defense, according to court documents.

"(One cable) was an extremely sensitive document whose subject matter had no relation to Hopson's job responsibilities and should not have been in his possession," State Department Special Agent Stanwyn Becton said in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

In interviews with investigators in September 2009, Hopson gave conflicting accounts of the situation, according to court documents.

"Hopson initially stated he just dumped the contents of his personnel files into the shipping boxes," Becton wrote. "He then changed his story and said that he had, in fact, looked through the documents before putting them in the boxes, but he must have somehow overlooked the classified documents."

Hopson suggested that another State Department employee whom he "did not get along with" might have "placed classified documents in his shipment without his knowledge," according to Becton.

In a written statement, Hopson insisted he "in no way sold or gave any classified or unclassified documents to anyone not cleared to see them."

A month later, in October 2009, Hopson was informed that his clearance was being suspended. He subsequently packed some files in a box and laptop bag, including two classified documents later discovered by State Department officials, according to court documents.

Hopson said he "overlooked" the classified documents and apologized for the oversight, court documents said.

Two weeks later he was ordered back to Washington, where he is currently stationed, according to the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

"Annually, there are a limited number of instances where the (State Department) performs investigations resulting in the curtailment of an individual's assignment abroad which are serious enough to warrant suspension of their security clearance," a State Department source told The Washington Times, which first reported the story.

Before returning to Washington, Hopson packed many of his "household effects" and shipped them to Baltimore. More than 170 boxes of items and documents have been stored at Eagle Van Lines in Temple Hills, Md., ever since.

On Jan. 29, with the support of the affidavit filed by Becton, federal authorities searched those boxes looking for any sensitive materials. According to court documents, authorities confiscated disks, DVDs, photos and paper documents, but it's unclear whether any classified or other sensitive information was found.

This is not the first time Hopson has faced scrutiny for allegedly mishandling classified information. In March 1994, he was issued a security violation for faxing a classified document through an unsecure fax machine, according to court documents.

Hopson has not been charged in the recent incidents, but court documents allege he may have violated two laws, one prohibiting "unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents" and one covering "gross negligence" that allows classified information to be removed from its "proper place of custody" or delivered to someone else.

Defendants charged and convicted on both counts could face up to 11 years in prison.

A Justice Department official could not say whether federal prosecutors are conducting their own investigation and looking to bring charges.

Hopson could not be reached for comment.