An attorney for a defense contractor accused of giving military secrets to his Chinese girlfriend said Friday there was no evidence that classified information was given to China or to any other foreign country.
Benjamin Bishop, 59, was in love with the 27-year-old woman, who is a student, his attorney Birney Bervar said.
“He says he was in love with her and she led me to believe she was in love with him. It’s not an espionage case, it’s a case about love,” Bervar told reporters after a detention hearing for Bishop.
Bishop is charged with one count of communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it, and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans.
An FBI affidavit alleges Bishop gave his girlfriend classified information about war plans, nuclear weapons, missile defenses and other topics through emails and telephone calls.
Asked if there was any proof that Bishop provided classified documents to the girlfriend, Bervar said he had not yet been given access to the evidence in the case. He said the evidence he has seen so far — the criminal complaint and FBI’s affidavit — don’t allege the woman was working for the Chinese government or that the information Bishop gave her was passed to the Chinese government.
But the affidavit alleges the woman may have attended an international defense conference in Hawaii, where she initially met Bishop, specifically to target people like him with access to classified information.
Bervar said he spoke to the girlfriend, who hasn’t been named by authorities. Officials say she’s living in the U.S. on a student visa.
The woman told Bervar agents went to her home on March 15 and seized computers but have since returned one computer and another laptop. She hasn’t been arrested.
She also told Bervar she passed a government polygraph test, but the lawyer didn’t say what questions she was asked.
FBI spokesman Tom Simon declined to comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson said he wouldn’t discuss the girlfriend, who is identified in court documents only as “Person 1.”
The charge of unlawfully retaining national defense documents charge stems from allegations that Bishop improperly kept some classified information at home, authorities said.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi heard arguments Friday about whether Bishop should be released on bail.
Sorenson told Puglisi there was a risk Bishop would disclose classified information if he were released.
He said Bishop violated security oaths he signed when he failed to tell the government about his contact with the woman, as his security clearance required him to do because she’s a foreign national. These claims, along with a 2003 arrest for prostitution, show Bishop can’t be trusted with national security information, Sorenson said.
“He cannot be trusted to be out in the community with information that he has,” he said.
But Puglisi said he was having difficulty understanding why Bishop posed a danger, because Bishop has been fired and no longer has access to classified information.
“If there’s specific information related to potential for disclosure, I want to hear it,” Puglisi said.
The judge brought up the example of Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the center of a federal probe into nuclear secrets theft at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lee wound up pleading guilty to a single count of downloading sensitive material after the government’s case collapsed.
Puglisi noted that a judge ordered Lee to be held after finding he was a danger to the community because there were missing tapes that Lee could have disclosed if he were released.
Puglisi said there’s no evidence Bishop has a secret thumb drive or hidden files containing classified information that he could leak if he were released before trial.
The judge set another hearing for Monday to give the prosecution more time to present more evidence about why Bishop might pose a danger to the community.
The judge said he also wants to give court officials an opportunity to interview a potential third-party custodian for Bishop if he is released.
The Army Reserve lieutenant colonel was working at the U.S. Pacific Command as a contractor when he was arrested a week ago. Officials haven’t disclosed the name of the contractor employing him.
The affidavit says Bishop met the woman at an international military conference in Hawaii. They began an intimate relationship in June 2011, when Bishop was working at a Pacific Command office that develops plans to deter potential U.S. adversaries, according to the affidavit and Bishop’s LinkedIn profile online.
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