The prosecution and defense in the trial of two men accused of espionage continued to disagree yesterday over whether the documents allegedly stolen by the defendants and delivered to communist Vietnamese officials in Paris harmed the national defense and were properly classified.
An Air Force general testified yesterday as the government's last witness in the case that the theft of the more than 100 cables and documents involved breached national security.
But the first witness for former United States Information Agency employe Ronald L. Humphrey, one of the defendants, testified that from his experience as a private security consultant and former Defense Department employe that the documents and cables were harmless and were improperly classified.
The dispute over the documents' secrecy classification and significance goes to the heart of the espionage charges against Humphrey and his co-defendant, Vietnamese expatriate David Truong. To prove espionage, a charge with a maximum penalty of life in prison, it must be shown that the documents were stolen and delivered to the Vietnamese with the intent to injure the U.S. national security.
The defense hopes to convince the jury that the documents consist of what the call "diplomatic chitchat" and are harmless.
Humphrey is accused of stealing the documents from his USIA office and delivering them to Truong. Truong is accused of passing the documents to couriers who delivered them to Vietnamese officials in Paris.
Air Force Gen. Billy B. Forsman, deputy director of current intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified for the government that although the information in the documents seemed innocuous to the defense lawyers, the documents' contents are useful to the United States in predicting possible threats and protecting the national security.
Forsman alos testified that release of the cables could "identify defense intelligence sources" abroad.
One of the defense contentions is that much of the material in the documents has already been reported in newspapers and magazines, and therefore that the information should not come as a surprise to the Vietnamese.
"The fact that the information is in the public domain does not necessarily mean it's true," Forsman said.
Mark Foster, one of Humphrey's attorneys, asked Forsman about the importance of two particular cables. One stated that the Vietnamese were having trouble making beer. The other reported that a hotel in Hanoi "has a superstereo system that belts out Frank Sinatra."
Forsman said the information cited by Foster "could be a very, very minor part of the intelligence analysis."
He added that some of the cables might show that the Vietnamese will be so preocuppied with internal economic problems during the next five years, that they will be unlikely to attack the United States.
William G. Florence, a private security consultant from New Jersey and a Defense Department employe in security policy from 1950 to 1971, testified that the cables and documents in the case "don not contain any information that pertains to the national defense."
"These cables are primarily a report of daily activity by a reporting officer of field activity, Department of State observations of a reporting officer, conversations he's had with others on economic matters, life in the area he's reporting from, political matters in the area and a report of newspaper items he's comes across," Florence testified for the defense.
Florence said he had "no basis to suggest that information would be of interest to a foreign nation."
He testified that during the Eesenhower administration he was authorized to classify documents under a presidential executive order.
Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank W. Dunham, Florence said he had never classified documents under the later executive order of President Richard M. Nixon. Florence also testified under Dunham's questioning that he is not a specialist in Southeast Asian affairs.