Former National Archives official said to have stolen recordings

Posted Sept. 30, 2011, at 5:52 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The former chief of the National Archives’ audiovisual holdings has been charged with stealing nearly 1,000 sound recordings over a decade.

Tuesday’s charges against Leslie Charles Waffen come a year after federal agents raided his home, in suburban Rockville, Md., seizing dozens of boxes from the basement.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Greenbelt, Md., charged Waffen with theft of federal property, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a possible fine. Waffen had retired after 40 years from the Archives shortly before last year’s raid.

Charging documents say agents seized 955 “sound recording items”during the raid, although the items were not specified.

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Waffen’s attorney, Michael Fayad, said he was “not in a position” to comment on the charges.

The audiovisual holdings contain more than 90,000 film, sound and video recordings made by government agencies and private sources. Many are presidential recordings, kept at presidential libraries and museums. Many more are kept at the Archives’ facility in suburban College Park, Md.

The government’s sound archives date to 1896. In 2004, a New York Times article described Waffen’s efforts to preserve the only known audio recording of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. His department also had custody of the famous 8mm color home movie of the assassination known as the Zapruder film.

The Archives’ inspector general and government auditors have criticized the agency for lax security and failure to safeguard sensitive information. Lawmakers criticized the Archives two years ago after a hard drive with sensitive data from the Clinton administration disappeared. It contained national security information, more than 100,000 Social Security numbers, contact information for Clinton administration officials and other sensitive data.

Waffen, 66, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for a plea hearing.

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