Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Pentagon inspector general has asked the Navy to consider awarding a medal to an intelligence officer whose eyes were damaged by a laser fired from a Russian ship in 1997, injuries an earlier Navy probe said could not be linked definitively to the incident.

Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz stated in a Aug. 7 letter that the Navy should determine Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly’s “eye injuries were caused by ‘an act of any hostile foreign force’” and consider him for a Purple Heart. He also said the Navy did not cover up the incident, as Lt. Cmdr. Daly has claimed.

“[G]iven all the facts and circumstances of this case, we believe there is sufficient basis for the secretary of the Navy to consider Lt. Cmdr. Daly for award of the Purple Heart,” said Mr. Schmitz’s report, a portion of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

Lt. Cmdr. Daly, who has since retired, was injured while photographing the Russian merchant ship Kapitan Mann, which was gathering intelligence on a U.S. nuclear submarine in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, northwest of Washington state’s Puget Sound, on April 4, 1997.

After several passes aboard a Canadian military helicopter, the intelligence officer and the pilot, Canadian Capt. Pat Barnes, suffered injuries to their eyes that doctors found were consistent with laser illumination. The Russian military has used lasers to thwart surveillance in the past.

A Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “We are reviewing … Lt. Cmdr. Daly’s record and the information surrounding this incident to make a determination as to whether or not a Purple Heart is warranted.”

A Purple Heart is awarded to U.S. servicemen wounded by enemy combatants. It is also given posthumously to the next of kin of a servicemen killed in action or from wounds received in action.

Lt. Cmdr. Daly yesterday said, “I hope that the U.S. Navy will consider awarding Pat Barnes a Purple Heart as well, considering his wounds ended his flying career and he has made a greater sacrifice. I look forward to the Navy’s decision and hope that it is in our favor.”

An initial Navy probe concluded that Lt. Cmdr. Daly’s injuries could not be confirmed as coming from a laser on the Russian ship. A Navy superior then took punitive action against Lt. Cmdr. Daly for claiming the affair was covered up. The reprisal was disclosed by a Navy inspector general’s probe in 2000 that overturned a denial of promotion.

The Pentagon inspector general inquiry was requested in 2002 by Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, who was defeated that year for re-election. The results were sent to his successor, John E. Sununu, also a Republican.

Mr. Smith asked for the probe in a letter because the Russian ship was engaged in spying and the laser attack was “an act of aggression in U.S. waters and an assault upon an officer.”

Mr. Smith also said documents show senior officials in the Pentagon, White House and State Department “colluded in the cover-up.”

“Although nominations for military awards are usually processed through command channels, we consider it unlikely that command officials who reprised against Lt. Cmdr. Daly for his whistleblowing activities would be inclined to nominate him for a Purple Heart for the same incident,” said the inspector general’s report.

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