Lonetree Lawyers Assail Inquiry as Trial Opens

Times Staff Writer

The espionage court-martial of Marine Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree opened Wednesday with defense lawyers attacking as “incompetent and corrupt” the military’s investigation of the spy scandal involving the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Lonetree’s trial is the first to result from allegations that Soviet agents penetrated the nation’s most sensitive diplomatic installation by compromising members of the elite unit of Marine embassy guards.

He faces 13 counts in the sex-for-secrets case, including espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage and disclosure of classified information, such as the identities of U.S. intelligence operatives and embassy floor plans and office assignments.


The scandal was described by Administration officials as one of the most serious security breaches in years when it surfaced eight months ago. But that assessment has been diminished by the dismissal of the most serious charges--that Lonetree allowed KGB agents to roam the embassy--and the dropping of all charges against his alleged accomplice, Cpl. Arnold Bracy.

The 25-year-old Lonetree, wearing his uniform, was led in handcuffs to the spartan courtroom at the Marine base here, south of Washington. Virtually all of the first day’s session was closed to the media and public, but Lonetree’s lawyers said they lodged motions seeking dismissal of the charges on grounds of misconduct by agents of the Naval Investigative Service, which has conducted the military probe.

The NIS is an “incompetent and corrupt agency,” Lonetree lawyer William M. Kunstler said, and has “tried to make a mountain out of a molehill.”

Kunstler, talking with reporters during a recess, acknowledged that Lonetree had admitted having a relationship with an attractive Soviet woman who worked at the embassy as a translator but said the documents Lonetree gave the Soviets were “unclassified junk, like phone books”--not the names of U.S. intelligence contacts as the government charges.

‘He Did Love Her’

Lonetree’s father, Spencer, also said of his son’s affair with the Soviet woman: “He did love her. He was a victim of being a human being. He fell in love with a woman who shouldn’t have been there.”

Spencer Lonetree joined a small group of American Indians who staged a brief demonstration at the base’s main gate as the trial began. The protesters claimed the Marine is being persecuted because he is an Indian.


Clutching eagle feathers they described as symbols of peace, Lonetree’s mother, grandmother and aunt also spoke with reporters outside the courtroom. “He is a patriot and he loves his country,” said the grandmother, Alice Bernnally, her words translated from Navajo by one of her daughters. “He was thrown in jail for being honest.”

In the only part of Wednesday’s proceedings open to the media, Lonetree asked to be tried by a panel of up to 10 officers rather than by the presiding judge, Navy Capt. Philip F. Roberts.

Roberts granted the request, then began hearing defense motions behind closed doors.