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Press Release

Naval Commander Pleads Guilty to Distributing Child Sexual Abuse Material and Retaining Classified National Defense Information

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Gregory Edward McLean, 39, of Jacksonville, Florida, today pleaded guilty to one count of distributing videos depicting the sexual assault of children and one count of unlawful retention of classified national defense information.

According to the plea agreement, state law enforcement in Rhode Island received a cyber tipline report that a user of a particular messaging application had shared videos depicting the sexual abuse of young children. The investigation identified the user as McLean, who was at that time an active-duty officer in the U.S. Navy, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and serving as the Executive Officer of a ship stationed aboard a Naval Station Mayport in Florida. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) continued the investigation and identified additional instances where McLean had distributed child sexual abuse material. On Nov. 4, 2021, agents executed a federal search warrant at McLean’s residence, during which they seized numerous electronic devices and storage media. A forensic review revealed that several of these items contained files depicting the sexual abuse of minors. 

The forensic review also identified a flash drive – which had been recovered from McLean’s kitchen counter – that contained approximately 150 documents containing national defense information classified at the Secret level and 50 documents containing national defense information classified at the Confidential level. An investigation by NCIS and the FBI revealed that throughout his service as a naval officer, McLean had access to classified information and held a Top-Secret security clearance. McLean had entered into various agreements with the United States regarding the protection and proper handling of classified information and was aware that his home was not an authorized location to store classified national defense information. In particular, the criminal information and plea agreement identify two documents McLean unlawfully retained which contained national defense information related to foreign governments and their combat aircraft and naval capabilities. Disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause damage and, in some instances, serious damage to the national security of the United States.

McLean faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years and up to 20 years in prison for the child exploitation offense and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for the retention of classified information offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida, and Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch made the announcement.

NCIS, FBI and Rhode Island State Police are investigating the case, with assistance from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David B. Mesrobian and Kirwinn Mike for the Middle District of Florida and Senior Trial Attorney Heather Schmidt of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

This is another case brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.

Updated December 6, 2023

Topics
Project Safe Childhood
Counterintelligence
Press Release Number: 23-1380