By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2006
A U.S. Navy petty officer has been charged with stealing classified military information from his submarine and attempting to pass it to foreign governments in an espionage scheme, Navy officials said yesterday.
Fire Control Technician 3rd Class Ariel J. Weinmann, 21, of Salem, Ore., allegedly deserted his submarine, the USS Albuquerque, in July 2005 and took electronic copies of information classified "confidential" and "secret." According to military charge sheets, Weinmann tried to pass information to foreign government officials in three countries, once while on active duty.
Military officials allege that Weinmann tried to pass secrets to foreign officials while in Bahrain in March 2005; in Vienna in October 2005; and in Mexico City in March. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Weinmann at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on March 26, and since then he has been held at the Navy brig in Norfolk, according to a Navy news release.
Defense officials said yesterday it is unclear what information Weinmann might have taken and how damaging it could be, though they said they believed it was "low-level" information possibly related to the operation of the submarine. Officials said Weinmann allegedly was trying to pass it to Russia.
Ted Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, said the Navy finished an Article 32 preliminary hearing into the alleged crimes on July 26, and commanders now must decide whether to send the case to court-martial. Weinmann is charged with desertion, failure to obey a general order, espionage, illegally copying classified information, destruction of government property and larceny.
Lt. Cmdr. Karen Somers, Weinmann's lead attorney, said in a statement that "at this point in the proceeding, it is not in my client's best interest to comment on the case."
The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot newspaper first reported on Weinmann's case last week, pointing out that the sailor had been held in the brig for several months without public knowledge.
According to charge sheets, Weinmann put electronic copies of the classified information onto a government laptop between May and July 2005, knowing that the information "was to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation." He then allegedly stole the laptop when he deserted the submarine in Connecticut on July 3, 2005. Military officials believe he destroyed the hard drive "by smashing it with a mallet" in Vienna in March.