- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

A U.S. Navy intelligence officer is set for trial in a case that seeks to prove that someone on a Russian merchant ship fired a laser that permanently damaged his eyes during a 1997 surveillance mission.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly is suing the Far Eastern Shipping Co., known as FESCO, for battery and negligence as a result of his April 4, 1997, encounter with the Russian merchant ship Kapitan Man in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Washington state's Puget Sound.
The trial is set to begin today in federal court in Seattle.
Cmdr. Daly was on board a Canadian military helicopter that flew around the Kapitan Man several times as part of a photographic-surveillance mission.
Hours after the helicopter returned to its base near Victoria, British Columbia, Cmdr. Daly, then a lieutenant, and helicopter pilot Capt. Pat Barnes showed signs that their eyes had been exposed to a laser.
The Kapitan Man was searched by a Coast Guard team, but not until several days after the incident and after the State Department had taken the unusual step of notifying the Russian government that the ship would be searched.
The search team did not find a laser, although it did not conduct a complete search of the ship.
The incident was kept secret from the public by the Clinton administration, which was worried that a laser attack on a Navy intelligence officer would upset relations with Russia.
The laser attack was first disclosed by The Washington Times, which obtained classified documents indicating the State Department had sought to cover up the incident.
Cmdr. Daly declined to comment through a spokesman about the lawsuit and referred questions to his attorneys. He represented by lawyers at the public interest law firm Judicial Watch.
The lead attorney for FESCO, Marc Warner, could not be reached for comment.
Judicial Watch director Larry Klayman said the case will present new information. "We have very hard evidence that Jack was hit with a laser weapon and the only source of that could have been the Russians," Mr. Klayman said in an interview.
Mr. Klayman said it was unfortunate that his organization had to "do the job of the U.S. government in taking up Cmdr. Daly's case."
"Neither the Clinton nor Bush administrations came to the aid of Jack Daly, and he is going to get his day in court," Mr. Klayman said.
Mr. Klayman also said the Navy did not help Cmdr. Daly with the case. "The Navy did nothing to help Jack," he said. "They tried to obstruct the proceedings, and it's a sad day when the Defense Department does not come to the aid of one of its own servicemen and ignored, for obvious diplomatic reasons, a terrorist attack on the United States."
Navy lawyers advised Cmdr. Daly not to testify in his uniform because they were concerned doing so would make it appear the Navy is supporting the lawsuit. The Navy also asked an assistant U.S. attorney to monitor the trial to prevent the release of classified information.
Mr. Klayman said that while the casualties were far fewer and less severe, the 1997 laser exposure was a "terrorist attack no less than 9/11."
Attorneys for Cmdr. Daly will disclose in court that a red light emanating from the bridge of the ship that was photographed by Cmdr. Daly during the mission was not a running light, as the Russian company and U.S. Navy have contended.
Pretrial testimony in the case revealed that the ship's green running light on the opposite of the red running light was not operating at the time of the photograph, a sign that both running lights were turned off.
A former Pentagon laser expert, Terrance. J. Kessler, is expected to testify that it is more likely that the red light in the Navy photograph was a laser than a running light.
Lawyers close to the case said the Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) did not support Cmdr. Daly and was more helpful to FESCO, which is partially owned by the Russian government.
"They've done everything they could to restrict the testimony that's helpful to us," one lawyer said. The lawyer said the intelligence office considered Cmdr. Daly "persona non grata."
Navy witnesses who testified in pretrial hearings also were prohibited from answering all questions and could not express opinions or discuss internal communications about the incident.
In one case during pretrial testimony, ONI official Raymond Elliott said the Navy intelligence service did not regard the laser incident as serious. "It was not considered that serious an event at the time," Mr. Elliott said. He told attorneys for Cmdr. Daly that the investigation into the laser attack was "as complicated as a high school science project."


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