- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

A Navy intelligence officer who suffered eye injuries from a laser during an encounter with a Russian spy ship filed a lawsuit against the ships owner yesterday.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly announced the suit at a news conference. He charged the Vladivostok-based Far Eastern Shipping Co., or Fesco, with negligence because someone on a Fesco ship fired a laser device at him and a Canadian helicopter pilot as they were monitoring the ship´s passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on April 4, 1997.

"My numerous and various requests for due process under the law have been ignored, and efforts on my behalf by members … have met with constant stonewalling by the Navy," Cmdr. Daly said. "Therefore I have no choice but to take matters into my own hands and thus have filed a lawsuit against" Fesco.

During the 1997 intelligence-gathering mission, Cmdr. Daly was hit by a laser fired from someone on the Fesco ship Kapitan Man as the ship was photographed from a Canadian helicopter. The Canadian pilot, Capt. Pat Barnes, also suffered eye damage that ended his flying career.

The suit was filed with the help of the conservative group Judicial Watch. Judicial Watch President Larry Klayman said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle where Fesco has offices, was timed to President Bush´s coming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Klayman said the president should demand in his meeting with Mr. Putin that Russia provide a full accounting of the 1997 laser attack and end its spying on nuclear submarines. The suit is seeking "millions of dollars" in damages from the Russian shipping company, he said.

"President Bush ought to raise this attack on our military by a Russian ship and the continued Russian spy vessels in our ports," he said, noting that Navy officials have prohibited Cmdr. Daly from speaking the word "laser."

A U.S. intelligence report disclosed by The Washington Times in November stated that recent information had proved long-held suspicions that Russian merchant ships like the Kapitan Man and other Fesco vessels, are engaged in "intelligence collection efforts against U.S. nuclear submarine bases."

Cmdr. Daly said four years later he still suffers "constant, unrelenting pain" as a result of the laser exposure.

The incident was kept secret by the Clinton administration to avoid disrupting U.S.-Russian relations, U.S. officials said. It was disclosed by The Times weeks later based on top-secret Pentagon documents.

"Though the Kapitan Man no longer plies the waters of Puget Sound [south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca], many ships like her, owned by Fesco, still do, and to this day continue their espionage activities," Cmdr. Daly said. Cmdr. Daly said that despite the continuing Russian spying on strategic submarines, the Office of Naval Intelligence has dismissed the threat from Fesco ships as "militarily insignificant," something he called "an intelligence failure."

Cmdr. Daly said he felt "betrayed" by the Clinton administration for not supporting him and for covering up what he termed "an act of war committed in U.S. waters."

"It is my fervent hope that President Bush will stand up for one of his citizens and military officers and not allow this betrayal to continue," he said.

The naval officer showed two copies of photographs he took of the ship showing a red light coming from the bridge.

Cmdr. Daly said special analysis of the photo revealed that someone altered the Pentagon´s official photograph released in 1997 as part of an investigation into the incident. That photograph was darkened, making the red light barely visible. By contrast, the original photograph taken by Cmdr. Daly of the ship showed the red light much more clearly. He said the unaltered photo showed unusual characteristics of the light that made it unlikely it was a running light, as the Navy asserted.

The Navy has denied it altered the photograph.

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