Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The Navy has charged a sailor with spying for Russia as part of a military espionage case involving a nuclear attack submarine, defense officials said yesterday.

Petty Officer Ariel J. Weinmann was arrested by customs agents March 26 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after the Navy had listed him as a deserter in July 2005.

Military court papers said Petty Officer Weinmann passed classified defense information labeled “confidential” and “secret” to a foreign government agent in Vienna, Austria, on two occasions, once in August 2005 and again on Oct. 19, “with intent or reason to believe it would be used to the injury of the United States.”

He also is accused of supplying classified defense information to a foreign agent in Mexico City on March 19 and attempting to provide information in another instance in Manama, Bahrain, sometime that month.

The charge sheet also stated that while in Vienna, Petty Officer Weinmann stole a military laptop and illegally destroyed its hard drive.

The initial charges were released yesterday after an investigation that ended July 26. Formal charges and a court-martial may follow after a review by the commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Navy spokesman Ted Brown said.

The most serious of the several charges the enlisted sailor is facing after the preliminary Article 32 investigation is one count of espionage. Others include desertion, improperly handling classified information and destruction of government property.

No details of the secret information compromised in the case were disclosed, and the country involved in the spying was not identified in the charges.

However, defense officials said the case involved Russia and classified details about U.S. submarines.

Petty Officer Weinmann, 21, of Salem, Ore., had worked as a fire control technician on the Groton, Conn.-based nuclear attack submarine USS Albuquerque until he deserted in July 2005. He is being held in the brig at the U.S. naval base in Norfolk.

Moscow has been conducting aggressive intelligence-gathering operations against the United States and is particularly interested in Navy secrets, U.S. intelligence officials said.

David Szady, until recently the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence section, said in an interview that Russian spying against the United States has reached “Cold War levels” after a period of declining activity shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russian intelligence activity includes operations conducted by the civilian spy service known as the SVR and the military counterpart called the GRU. The spying has focused on government secrets as well as economic intelligence gathering and has used front companies and business representatives along with intelligence officers posing as diplomats.

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