The Complex

Civilian Busted for Trying to Bring Nearly an Ounce of Weed into the Pentagon

The person must have been high.

The Pentagon's police force conducted a dragnet last month for employees entering the building. They found a number of unauthorized items and at least one illegal one, allegedly: 25 grams of marijuana, close to an ounce, on an Army civilian just trying to enter the building to get to work.

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency on Nov. 19 conducted what it called an "enhanced screening" of all the Pentagon's employees at three of the building's major entrances as part of a routine security check. Pentagon police found four "prohibited" knives, pepper spray and what was only described as "drug paraphernalia." In other such screenings, they have found employees with "expandable batons," a defense official said.

But police also found an unnamed individual who allegedly was holding at least 25 grams of marijuana, just shy of an ounce. Despite the fact that possession of an illegal substance like marijuana is prohibited at the Pentagon and there were no clear national security issues at play, officials declined to provide any further details of the case. A Pentagon official cited the Privacy Act of 1974 which defense officials interpret as preventing the Defense Department from having to disclose the age or name of the person charged. Nor would defense officials comment on the amount of marijuana allegedly found. But a source familiar with the matter indicated that the amount was 25 grams or more.

Officials would only say that individuals who bring controlled substances into the building are subject to criminal prosecution and to penalties imposed by federal law for the commission of a Class B misdemeanor offense.

Typically, someone possessing drugs or a gun would be prosecuted through the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District Court of Virginia. But a check of the "Pentagon docket" there did not contain any hearings for recent possession charges.

Why anyone would bring that much marijuana into the Pentagon is anyone's guess. 25 grams would be considered by most people to be more than what an average marijuana user might consume for personal use. And that could open the door to the individual being prosecuted for possession with an intent to distribute. In some cases, that much could be considered a felony charge.

Under Pentagon screening rules, however, an individual can refuse to have their bags and person checked and simply not be admitted into the building. It's possible that the individual in question simply forgot they had a container of marijuana on their person. According to the crowd-sourcing Web site Price of Weed, an ounce of high-quality marijuana in the Washington, D.C. area could be worth as much as $400.

(The site also rates enforcement and social acceptance of marijuana. Virginia gets four "bags" for enforcement and three for social acceptance, with one bag meaning "accepting" and five "highly intolerant.)"

If a Pentagon employee is found to have an unauthorized weapon like pepper spray, prohibited under "Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Conduct on the Pentagon Reservation," he or she can be fined as much as $1,000 and the item can be confiscated.

Such screenings have become more commonplace at the Pentagon. Officials said that the one Nov. 19 was not conducted because of any specific security threat but as a matter of routine. But the Pentagon police force also checks some bags as Pentagon employees exit the building, potentially checking for stolen items or classified documents. If narcotics have been found on these checks, defense officials have kept that information to themselves.

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Complex

This U.S. Colonel Was Sure He Was About To Get Involved in Syria's War

When a U.S. Marine Corps task force sent nearly all of its 2,400 personnel ashore in Jordan in June, Marine officials said it had nothing to do with the horrific civil war in neighboring Syria. Turns out, that's half right: While the Marines were in Jordan for long-planned training exercise with the Jordanian military, their commander on the ground expected to be call on to intervene in the crisis by assisting the tens of thousands of refugees who had flooded across the border into Jordan.

Col. Matthew St. Clair, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, acknowledged that point during an appearance Thursday at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Arlington, Va. The colonel admitted it was a surprise his Marines were not called on to assist the refugees -- just one more sign of how close the United States was earlier this year to intervening in the Syrian civil war.

"I thought that exercise would turn into something else, but it did not," St. Clair said. "The exercise stayed focused on the exercise's objectives, and continuing to expand and build our partnership with the Jordanian armed forces."

The training exercise, known as Eager Lion, occurred from June 9 to 20 in Jordan, as the war in Syria continued to push thousands of refugees out of the country and into Jordan, Lebanon and other nearby nations. More than 100,000 of them settled in Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the region. St. Clair's unit deployed in March deployed in March along with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, and were well aware of the carnage before they left.

"During our pre-deployment training, we looked very closely at the refugee and humanitarian crisis that was occurring in Jordan based off the conditions in Syria," St. Clair said. "We put a lot of time and effort into how we would do a humanitarian assistance-type operation."

The colonel did not say why they didn't get involved. Eager Lion incorporated some 8,000 troops from about 19 countries, including the U.S. Marines and sailors. At the time, the U.S. military tamped down on the possibility of U.S. forces getting involved in any operation involving Syrian refugees, while acknowledging they had unloaded a large portion of the unit's equipment to conduct bilateral training with the Jordanians.

"Our participation is not related to anything in Syria, as we've been planning our participation since the last [training exercise] ended with the 24th MEU," Capt. Lucas Burke, a Marine Corps spokesman for the unit, said at the time.

The U.S. forces returned to their ships late in June, and were quickly pulled into a variety of other missions, including embassy reinforcement operations in Egypt and Yemen, St. Clair said. Still, questions about Syria continued to loom large for the unit as U.S. officials in Washington openly discussed the possibility of strikes on military targets in Syria in August, after evidence emerged that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons on civilians.

The widely held assumption was that if President Obama approved an attack, it would be limited to cruise missiles fired from Navy ships or air strikes. Still, if air operations were approved, it raised the possibility that St. Clair's Marines would be needed to rescue a downed pilot or his aircraft. The skill, known as the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, or TRAP, was used in 2011 to collect an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pilot who ejected over Libya before his jet crashed. St. Clair said he could have flown CH-53 helicopters off the amphibious ship San Antonio or MV-22 Ospreys off the larger Kearsarge to do the mission if needed.

"We looked at that, as well other regional reactions to those strikes, if the strikes were to occur," St. Clair said. "Would that require embassy reinforcement for different countries throughout the region? We weren't just focused on Syria, but other countries and the regional reaction."

That became unnecessary, of course, when Obama backpedaled about the need for strikes in Syria in September. The Marines and sailors returned to the United States in November.

Defense Department photo