A former Pentagon analyst who passed highly classified intelligence to two Chinese military officers was sentenced to three months in prison yesterday — far shy of four to five years called for in sentencing guidelines.
Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said that despite the “very serious charge” against Ronald Montaperto, he was swayed to reduce the sentence based on letters of support from current and former intelligence and military officials.
Montaperto, 67, who pleaded guilty in June to unlawful retention of classified documents he obtained while working at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he was trying to get intelligence for the United States from the Chinese officials.
“I never meant to hurt my country in any way,” Mr. Montaperto said during his hearing at U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He worked at the Pentagon from 1981 until his dismissal in 2003.
Neil Hammerstrom, the assistant U.S. attorney, told the court that Montaperto met 60 times with two Chinese military intelligence officers and provided both secret and top secret information during the meetings.
Mr. Hammerstrom asked for at least a two-year sentence, arguing a tough prison term was needed because Montaperto “repeatedly placed in jeopardy sensitive sources and methods pertaining to our national security.”
Montaperto told investigators he could not remember the specifics of the classified information he passed to Chinese intelligence, lapses that prevented prosecutors from charging him with more serious spy charges.
U.S. officials said a major U.S. electronic eavesdropping operation against China went silent around the time Montaperto admitted passing the highly classified data to the Chinese in 1988.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he is concerned by the apparent support for Montaperto from the U.S. intelligence community and promised a committee probe.
“You would think that the intel community would set the standard for holding people accountable for mishandling and passing of classified information to our enemies,” Mr. Hoekstra said.
Among the officials who wrote letters of support were Lonnie Henley, currently the deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia in the office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte. Mr. Henley said he has been “close friends” with Montaperto since the 1980s.
Another supporter was retired Rear Adm. Eric McVadon, who currently holds a security clearance as a consultant on China to the CIA and Pentagon. Adm. McVadon said he would not second guess the case against his friend but could only “recoil at characterizations of him in the press as a spy.”
Judge Lee said he also considered Montaperto’s “extraordinary” voluntary confessions in the light sentence, which includes three months of home detention and five years’ probation.
However, investigators said Montaperto did not reveal or admit the passing of secrets until fooled into making the admissions in a 2003 sting operation while he worked at the U.S. Pacific Command think tank in Hawaii.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Montaperto was first investigated in the late 1980s after a Chinese defector said Beijing considered him one of their “dear friends,” or informal supporters of China.
The light sentence contrasts with the 12-year prison term given in January to another former Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, who was convicted of providing classified information to two officials of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee.