A former top State Department official pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Virginia to unlawfully removing classified U.S. government documents, including some “top secret” material, and to making false official statements.
Donald W. Keyser, former principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who scheduled sentencing for Feb. 24. Keyser faces eight years in prison, disqualification from holding any public office and $250,000 in fines.
Keyser, 62, of Fairfax, who was a highly regarded State Department official, had been extensively involved with and had responsibility for the U.S. policy in East Asia and the Pacific. He admitted to removing numerous classified documents from the State Department and transporting them to his home.
Prosecutors said the documents included those classified as top secret. They said numerous additional classified documents were found by FBI agents on a laptop computer and on floppy disks in Keyser’s home. They said Keyser had more than 3,600 documents in either hard copy or electronic form.
From 2002 to 2004, prosecutors said, Keyser, one of the nation’s leading analysts on China, had an undisclosed personal relationship with a Taiwanese national, Isabelle Cheng, who was employed by the National Security Bureau, which is the foreign-intelligence agency of the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Prosecutors said Keyser, who often advised Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on China issues, met with Ms. Cheng in Taiwan in September 2003, but on his return to the United States, submitted a Customs Declaration Form at Washington Dulles International Airport in which he falsely said he had visited only China and Japan.
They said that during an August 2004 interview with an investigator from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Keyser falsely said he had not engaged in conduct that could make him vulnerable to coercion, exploitation or pressure from a foreign government.
Court documents said Keyser was not permitted to travel to Taiwan on official business because the United States and Taiwan do not have diplomatic relations.
An FBI affidavit in the case said Keyser met with two Taiwanese agents on a number of occasions in Washington, including at Potowmack Landing restaurant, where he handed them two envelopes “that appeared to bear U.S. government printing.”
“Those who are trusted to handle classified documents must not allow such material to be compromised in any way,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose office prosecuted the case.