Every television viewer is familiar with the "good cop, bad cop" technique used by police interrogators to disarm their suspects. Some agents of the Naval Investigative Service have apparently been watching too much television.
The organization that brought you the botched investigation of Marine guards at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow also mishandled earlier, less notorious cases by trampling on the rights of suspects. One was the harassment-by-investigation of Tim Reid, a civilian Navy engineer who incurred the wrath of the brass by blowing the whistle on multimillion-dollar waste in a submarine overhaul project.
The NIS investigation involved an alleged "death threat" of comic-book proportions against Reid's Navy superior, complete with mysterious note, a broken Darth Vader cup and an ace of spades. It also involved interrogation of Reid. He declined to be buffaloed, and the Navy dropped the bizarre charge.
Reid described to our reporter Daniel Kaufman the alternate browbeating and sweet-talking that he said characterized NIS agents' attempts to wring a confession from him. They tried to win his confidence by saying repeatedly, "We are on your side," he recalled. Meanwhile, Reid said, "they refuse to tell you anything."
Reid's lawyer, John Shiposki, who has dealt with NIS agents for five years, said they routinely violate military regulations. "They put employes in pressure situations, threaten and intimidate them, and say they are not entitled to a union representative," Shiposki said. "Rules say the lawyer has a right to be part of the questioning."
We've learned of another defendant who says the NIS did a job on him: Ronald Ashley, a former Marine private at New River, N.C. He was convicted of transmitting a bomb threat in 1982.
At the time of the threat, Ashley was waiting for his requested honorable discharge to be processed. Instead, an NIS agent interrogated him, and he signed a confession. He was then court-martialed, convicted and given a dishonorable discharge.
In the agent's eyes, "I was guilty before I walked in," Ashley told us. "He said the discharge was sitting on the table for me -- if I just admit I did it."
At Ashley's court-martial, his lawyer pointed out that the NIS agent had interrogated only one suspect, had failed to ask Ashley for evidence that would corroborate his confession, and relied solely on his own recollection of the interview instead of using a tape recorder. A Navy spokesman confirmed that this last practice is common.
Louis Font, a military appeals lawyer, told us he has no doubt that one of the Moscow Marines, Cpl. Arnold Bracy, would have been court-martialed if not for the extensive publicity. "NIS is used to military juries believing them," he said. "Statements of what they say during an interrogation shade the truth." (All charges against Bracy were dropped last month.)
A Navy spokesman, Lt. Ken Ross, acknowledged that the NIS is "taking a beating" on the Moscow embassy case, but said that in some "difficult" situations the investigators must first get a confession and then "work backward" to gather substantiating evidence. "You take what you can get when you can get it," he said.
Attorney Shiposki, however, said the NIS is "management's way of getting rid of undesirables."