In a startling reversal of fortune for retired U.S. Navy Admiral (SEAL) Brian Losey, a little-heralded Navy office, alongside former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, together defied Congress and reversed a ruling by the Department of Defense inspector general in stating that Losey was unfairly treated in an IG investigation that concluded that he had punished whistleblowers under his command.
As a result, Losey will receive back pay and a higher pension, calculated based on his higher retirement rank. He will not re-enter the Navy, but will remain retired as a two-star Admiral.
Here is a review of how we got here, based on reports in the Washington Post, which also first reported on the reversal:
In June 2011, Losey was assigned to head U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, which was located in Stuttgart, Germany (I know, that’s illogical, but whatever).
Shortly afterward, an anonymous complaint was made to the inspector general regarding Losey and a “suspect” travel claim, meaning that someone suspected that Losey was possibly defrauding the Navy in the process of filing a claim for reimbursement of travel. Losey had reportedly sought to have the cost of a plane ticket for his adult daughter reimbursed, according to the Washington Post.
All told, five members of Losey’s command were involved in the filing of the complaint, and the aftermath, during the investigation of Losey. Losey would ultimately fire his chief of staff and two other staff members following these anonymous complaints. Losey claimed he fired them for poor performance. The three claimed they were the victims of retaliation.
The Washington Post reported that a “toxic atmosphere” settled on the command, as Losey reportedly became enraged at what he perceived as attempts to undermine his authority. He allegedly sought retribution against those he believed had reported him to the IG.
Five members of the command then filed whistleblower retaliation complaints against Losey, which kicked off a separate inspector general investigation of possible violations of whistleblower protection laws.
The investigation into the “suspect” travel claim found no wrongdoing on Losey’s part. Losey had paid for the plane ticket himself.
The investigation of Losey’s alleged reprisals against whistleblowers would take roughly four years to complete.
Meanwhile, in December of 2011, Losey was by then a Rear Admiral (lower half), meaning that he was a one-star flag-officer. He had been put forward for promotion to a second star, as he was due to assume command of Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) in June of 2013. NSWC is the parent command of all Navy SEALs.
The Senate confirmed Losey’s nomination, but the promotion was put on hold pending the results of the inspector general’s investigation into Losey for the alleged retaliation. After four years, the IG’s office determined that Losey had in-fact violated whistleblower protection laws in three of the five cases put forward.
The Navy, meanwhile, decided that Losey had acted “within reason” when he fired the subordinates, and that none of the allegations rose to the level of misconduct. The Navy essentially ignored the IG’s conclusions, and approved Losey for his second star anyway.
Then politics intervened. A bipartisan group of senators demanded that Losey be ousted as a consequence of the IG investigation determining that he had violated whistleblower protection laws.
In effect, Congress forced then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ hand by holding up the confirmation of an assistant secretary of the Navy until Losey was forced out. Mabus reluctantly pulled Losey’s promotion, and effectively forced his retirement in November of 2016.
That could have been the end of the matter, but fast forward to the waning days of the Obama administration, and Mabus effectively reversed his decision, and re-opened Losey’s case in January of 2017, right before leaving office.
How and why did that happen?
Losey, as it turns out, did not go quietly into that good night. Instead, upon retiring, he appealed to the Navy’s Board for Correction of Naval Records, “a quasi-judicial panel that fields requests from veterans to review potential errors in their personnel files,” according to the Post.
Losey argued that he had been “unfairly denied promotion because the inspector general and his critics in Congress were biased against him,” again according to the Post.
The Board ruled in Losey’s favor, as it turned out, and stated that there was insufficient evidence that Losey had violated whistleblower protection laws. The Board then recommended that Mabus grant Losey’s request for higher rank and back pay.
Mabus agreed and signed the order right before he left office in January.
Losey consequently received a check for back pay, and his retirement pay was increased, based on the pay of a two-star admiral.
Essentially, it appears that Mabus and Losey together did an end run around Congress using the Board for Correction of Naval Records. It seems doubtful that there is much the Congress will do at this point to reverse the reversal.
As far as the rightness or wrongness of any of these decisions along the way, this author cannot make a judgement, not knowing all of the details of what transpired at SOCAFRICA. While a number of senior officers in the Special Operations community publicly backed Losey throughout the ordeal — including retired Admiral Bill McRaven — clearly some saw wrongdoing on Losey’s part and thought he should be punished.
In the end, what turned from an unfortunate series of events within a small special operations command in Europe into a feud between Navy civilian leadership and Congress resulted in the U.S. Navy losing a seasoned SEAL flag-officer from its ranks. Seems like a pretty sordid deal all around to me.
(Photo by MC1 John R. Fischer/U.S. Navy).