Navy Espionage Case May Be Dropped

March 9, 2001 -- The espionage case against former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Daniel King may be dropped to avoid revealing new secrets in open court, sources tell ABCNEWS.

The Pentagon came to the decision after realizing that in order to win a conviction, it would have to declassify even more information than King would have had access to, officials said.

However, they added, the final decision has not yet been made.

Confession Under Duress?

The revelation comes after a military judge overseeing the case recommended that all charges in the case be dismissed and that a review of the Navy's handling of the case be convened.

Cmdr. James Winthrop, acting in the military equivalent of a pretrial judge, said he had doubts about the validity of a confession King gave to investigators that was central to the government's case.

"I don't believe the government evidence on any of the charges is strong," wrote Winthrop, and that the charge "is based exclusively on a confession that the accused subsequently contradicted on several occasions."

King's defense attorney, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, had said King's confessions were coerced and involuntary. Turley says King was interrogated in sessions that lasted 19 hours at a time, and that he was denied a lawyer during these sessions.

Winthrop supported Turley's claims, saying King's mental state at the time of the confession raises doubt over the confession's validity.

A series of procedural errors also hampered the case. In December, more than one year after King was initially detained, a military appeals court ordered the Navy to scrap its previous efforts and start its prosecution from the beginning.

Valuable Communications Information

King, 41, was charged Nov. 5, 1999, with passing highly classified information on U.S. eavesdropping operations against Russia to the Russian embassy in Washington.

He was first investigated after he failed a routine polygraph test. Turley told The Associated Press, "The Navy took a routine polygraph glitch and mutated it into a full-fledged espionage investigation."

The Pentagon says King confessed to passing secrets on the use of U.S. submarines to listen in on Russian undersea communications cables in 1994 shortly after he was arrested in Washington on Oct. 28, 1999.

King, a former cryptologist at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., has been detained at Quantico Marine Corps Base since October 1999.