Thursday, November 30, 2006

Russia obtained valuable secrets on U.S. Navy attack submarines from a technician facing court-martial next week on espionage and other charges, U.S. officials said.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ariel J. Weinmann is expected to plead guilty Monday to several of the charges, including espionage related to the compromise, said his attorney, Phillip Stackhouse.

U.S. defense officials familiar with the case said Petty Officer Weinmann supplied Russian intelligence with a manual labeled “secret” that contained information about the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Albuquerque. He had worked as a fire control technician on the submarine before deserting in July 2005.

The manual is considered sensitive because it reveals capabilities of Los Angeles-class submarines, like the Albuquerque, that could allow the Russians to locate and track the submarines, the officials said.

“There’s a manual missing, and he’s believed to have provided it to the Russians,” one official said.

Mr. Stackhouse and Navy spokesman Ted Brown declined to comment on what information was compromised in the case.

Mr. Stackhouse said in an interview that some documents held by Petty Officer Weinmann could be discussed or made public during the court-martial, which with the penalty phase is expected to last two days.

However, most information, including the identity of the foreign government involved, is likely to be kept secret, both he and Mr. Brown said.

The case is the second major compromise of submarine secrets for the Navy.

Officials said a second damaging submarine spying case involves Los Angeles defense contractor Chi Mak, who was charged in a federal indictment with being part of a spy ring that passed sensitive weapons technology to China, including data on the Navy’s new Virginia-class attack submarine.

Officials familiar with the case said Mr. Mak gave Chinese military intelligence details of the onboard electrical systems of the Virginia-class submarine that will help China detect and track the submarines. Mr. Mak has pleaded not guilty.

Court papers in the Weinmann case state that the submarine technician provided classified defense data labeled “secret” and “confidential” to a foreign government agent on March 19, 2006, in Mexico City, and in August 2005 and on Oct. 19, 2005, in Vienna, Austria.

He also attempted to pass secrets to a foreign government agent in Bahrain in March 2005.

Officials said the submarine manual was passed to the Russians during the August meeting in Vienna, which is the basis for the espionage charge.

The court papers stated that he deserted and stole the laptop with secrets on July 1, 2005, and smashed the hard drive on the computer in Vienna in March 2006.

In all, he is charged with six counts, including espionage, desertion, failure to obey orders and larceny. It is not known which counts will be dropped as part of the plea deal.

Petty Officer Weinmann was arrested at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on March 26 after authorities found he was listed as a deserter on a government database.

He is being held in the Navy brig at Norfolk.

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