Saturday, October 21, 2006

Spying for China Scandal?

By Roger Aronoff - October 20, 2006

Amazingly, Montaperto was sentenced to just three months house arrest and five years probation.

Convicted "sex teacher" Debra Lafave has been all over the news, complete with commentary about her light sentence of probation. But how many know of the lenient treatment that was given a Pentagon analyst for betraying our country to the communist Chinese?

Alone among the Washington press corps, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz has been there to bring us the horrifying details.

Gertz, who has covered national security matters for decades, regularly uncovers significant developments, such as his story that the Pentagon had activated its missile defense system in preparation for a North Korean missile launch.

But Gertz's recent story about a former Pentagon analyst pleading guilty to "unlawful retention of classified documents" also deserves coverage and comment. It seems at first glance like a relatively minor charge, but in fact the analyst had provided many classified documents and information to Chinese military intelligence officers.

According to the U.S. attorney, Neil Hammerstein, who handled the case in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Ronald Montaperto had met over 60 times with two of the Chinese officers, and had provided them with both secret and top secret information.

Hammerstein asked for at least a two-year sentence, according to Gertz, because Montaperto had "repeatedly placed in jeopardy sensitive sources and methods pertaining to our national security."

A source told Gertz that the prosecution was hampered because the FBI was unable to identify the specific documents that Montaperto had admitted turning over to the Chinese, after repeatedly being told to end his unauthorized contacts.

One of the operations that Montaperto apparently compromised was tracking Chinese missile sales to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Within weeks after he passed along information to the Chinese in 1988, they were able to determine how the U.S. was learning of their activities, and "the links were lost."

According to Gertz, officials told him that "the compromise has allowed China to counter U.S. protests about Chinese missile transfers that violated Beijing's numerous pledges not to sell weapons to rogue states and unstable regions." Montaperto was employed at the Pentagon from 1981 until 2003, when he was finally dismissed.

Amazingly, Montaperto was sentenced to just three months house arrest and five years probation.

The judge who sentenced him, Gerald Bruce Lee, said that despite the "very serious charges," he was influenced by letters of support from military and intelligence officials who wrote letters on Montaperto's behalf.

Reacting to that support, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was very concerned: "You would think that the intel community would set the standard for holding people accountable for mishandling and passing of classified information to our enemies."

Montaperto had been caught in a sting operation, after being told that he would lead a U.S.-Chinese intelligence-sharing program, but first he had to reveal his Chinese intelligence contacts, and take a polygraph exam.

Gertz put the story in perspective by comparing Montaperto's sentence to the 12-year prison sentence given earlier this year to Larry Franklin, another Pentagon official, convicted of providing classified information to officials of AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee.

They, in turn, have been accused of passing the information on to Israel, a staunch American ally.

The New York Times carried no mention of the Montaperto case, and the Washington Post carried one AP story, 170 words, upon sentencing. We found no coverage of the case on national television.

Katie Couric could bring some needed attention to her broadcast if the CBS Evening News would cover a story like this. It's far more important than what Tom Cruise's baby looks like.

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