Against a background of mounting tensions over Russia’s war in Chechnya, Moscow’s opposition to U.S. efforts to develop a national missile defense system and a host of other security issues, Russia and the United States this week have found yet another theater in which to quarrel: intelligence operations aimed at one another. The latest spy wrangle began on November 29 with news reports that a U.S. naval petty officer had been arrested earlier this autumn on charges of having passed military secrets to Russia. The row deepened yesterday when Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had briefly detained a U.S. diplomat accused of trying to obtain military secrets from a Russian citizen. Russian intelligence officials denied any link between the two incidents. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it intended to lodge a formal complaint with the United States over yesterday’s arrest.
Petty Officer First Class Daniel King, the U.S. naval officer involved in the first arrest, was charged with one count of espionage and one count of unlawful disclosure of classified information. According to a CBS News report, the 40-year-old Navy cryptologist “mailed a disk full of data to the Russian embassy in 1994”–well after the demise of the Soviet Union. The disk reportedly included highly classified information about the Pentagon’s use of U.S. submarines to eavesdrop on Russian undersea communications cables. King, who is currently in military custody at Quantico, Virginia, was at that time assigned to a Navy communications decoding unit at Fort Meade, Maryland.
On November 29 military officials suggested that the disclosures which King allegedly made were not as serious a breach of security as some other recent naval espionage cases (including Jonathan Pollard, who received a life sentence in 1986 for handing information to Israel, or Navy Warrant Officer John A. Walker, who was convicted a year earlier for selling navy secrets to the Soviets). It is believed that King’s passing of secrets was a one-time affair, and there is apparently still no evidence that he accepted any money from Moscow. The navy officer is also accused of disclosing classified information to a co-worker. If convicted, King could receive a death sentence for the espionage charge.
King’s arrest by agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service came several months after he had failed a polygraph test during a routine security clearance investigation. That failure prompted King to admit that he had passed secret information to the Russians. According to intelligence sources, he subsequently recanted some of the information that he provided to naval officials. Additional details of the case were not made immediately available (Reuters, CNN, November 29; AP, November 30).
U.S. DIPLOMAT DETAINED ON ESPIONAGE CHARGES.