from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
March 30, 2001


The case of US Navy Petty Officer Daniel M. King has emerged as yet another espionage horrorshow and a cautionary tale of prosecutorial authority run amok.

King was a Navy cryptanalyst who, following an inconclusive polygraph examination in 1999, was accused of committing espionage. He was subjected to an arduous and coercive interrogation involving sessions of up to 19 hours over a three week period, culminating in a confession that he would later recant. Despite intensive efforts, Navy investigators were unable to develop any significant corroborating evidence that the alleged espionage had ever taken place.

Sometimes described as the Navy's version of Wen Ho Lee, Petty Officer King spent an extraordinary 520 days in pretrial confinement before the charges against him were finally dropped.

The decisive moment in the case came on March 9 when Commander James P. Winthrop, the military judge who served as "investigating officer," recommended that the case be dismissed.

"It has become apparent to me ... that the government has not been able to effectively prosecute this case," Winthrop wrote. "The espionage charge... is based exclusively on a confession that the accused subsequently contradicted on several occasions." Moreover, "there are several fundamental extenuating and mitigating facts relevant to the charge."

Cmdr. Winthrop's remarkable memorandum, which loosely recalls Judge James A. Parker's expression of disgust at the government's handling of the Wen Ho Lee case, is posted here:

The dismissal of the case is a credit to King's tenacious and energetic civilian attorney Jonathan Turley. Turley's peculiar strategy involved, among other things, an attempt to turn the tables on the government by relentlessly accusing the military judge and opposing counsel of security violations both large and small (such as using a cellular telephone inside a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, failing to use cover sheets on classified documents, etc.). Several of Mr. Turley's complaints, submitted to DCI George Tenet and others, are posted here:

These items provide some fascinating insights into the conduct of the case, which is otherwise mostly classified. One of Turley's complaints notes, for example, a settlement offer made by the government to drop all charges against Petty Officer King if he would agree not to pursue a lawsuit against the Navy or officials in the case. The offer was rejected.

The outcome of the King case is particularly remarkable because the government almost never loses an espionage case once a decision is made to bring it to trial. The 1986 case of former army civilian Richard Craig Smith is perhaps the only instance in the last several decades in which an espionage trial ended in an acquittal of the defendant.

If Jonathan Turley is the kind of attorney you want nearby when you are falsely accused of a hideous crime, then Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby seems like someone who should be avoided if at all possible.

Senator Shelby lashed out at the Navy, not for its cruel interrogation or its trouncing of an American sailor's constitutional rights, but because it failed to win a conviction.

"I believe it was a very strong case -- and it was bungled," Senator Shelby told the Washington Post yesterday.

A Pentagon press briefing yesterday noted that both the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Navy have begun "reviews" of the case.

A reporter asked whether any disciplinary action has been taken against the investigators who were involved in the case. "Have they been suspended from duty or anything like that?" Pentagon spokesman Adm. Craig R. Quigley replied, "Not that I'm aware of."

See excerpts from yesterday's press briefing here:


On March 8, the Senate Armed Services Committee received its annual worldwide threat briefing from DCI George Tenet and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson. Their prepared statements, presented in closed session, were almost identical to those provided at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing a month earlier.

One substantive exception is a concluding section by DIA Director Wilson captioned "The Bottom Lines." This new text includes a description of DIA's so-called "Four Thrust" initiative, designed to respond to the challenges of the day.

The four priority areas for thrusting are described as follows: "improving the quality of our military intelligence data bases, ensuring our intelligence systems 'plug and play' in the computer and decision networks of our military customers, shaping to meet the asymmetric threat, and revitalizing/reshaping the work force."

See Director Wilson's discussion of "The Bottom Lines" in his prepared statement here:


The CIA Chief of Station in Argentina was recalled to the United States after his name and photograph were published in the Buenos Aires newspaper Pagina/12 on January 7, according to Argentine press reports.

The disclosure of the CIA Station Chief's identity, blamed on Argentine officials, reflected existing tensions between the CIA and Argentine intelligence and further exacerbated them. The two services share an active interest in Islamic terrorists, the Russian mafia, and other intelligence topics. But they have also been riven by personality clashes and various petty disputes. See:

"For the first time in the history of this country, the photo of the CIA chief in Buenos Aires was published in the news media," wrote Miguel Bonasso in the muckraking Pagina/12. Bonasso, a distinguished Argentine journalist, is somewhat well known as the author of Recuerdo de la Muerte, a harrowing book on the Argentine military dictatorship.

"For 'the Company' -- the most powerful espionage agency in the world -- it is a most serious penetration of its security system," he wrote.

Bonasso reviewed the rather convoluted aftermath of the disclosure last January 14:


To subscribe to Secrecy News, send email to with this command in the body of the message:
      subscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
To unsubscribe, send email to with this command in the body of the message:
      unsubscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
Secrecy News is archived at: