A 21-year-old army electronic warfare signal specialist from California who had access to classified documents is missing and may have defected to East Germany, an Army spokesman said today.
The spokesman said Spec. Michael A. Peri of Laguna Niguel, Calif., was reported missing from his base in West Germany on Feb. 21. Two days later his jeep was found about a mile from the East German border, near the town of Oberstuhl.
His personal belongings had been left behind.
“We do not rule out the possibility that he has crossed to East Germany,” said Capt. Robert Jones, a spokesman for the 5th U.S. Army Corps in Frankfurt.
(In Laguna Niguel, Peri’s mother said she fears for her son’s safety.
(“My son is missing,” said a distraught Winnie Peri, who spoke briefly at the family’s sprawling hilltop home in an exclusive subdivision. “That’s all we know. We’re just praying to God that Michael’s safe.”
‘We Have a Missing Son’
(Retreating inside, she pleaded through an intercom: “Please, please be sympathetic. We have a missing son.”)
Jones said Peri--twice nominated for “Soldier of the Month"--was based in the central German town of Fulda with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is responsible for patrolling a section of the border that divides East and West Germany. The Pentagon said Peri has been assigned to the unit since March 4, 1988.
“Peri is an electronic warfare signal intelligence specialist, whose duties were to intercept non-communications signals, such as radar signals,” Jones said. “He had access to classified information at a certain level; he knew what he needed to know to perform his duties.”
A Pentagon spokesman declined to discuss the type of classified information to which Peri had access other than to say that “as a matter of policy, soldiers, regardless of rank, have access only to that classified information required for the performance of their duties.”
Jones said investigations are under way to find out exactly what information Peri had access to and what significance it might have for communist East Germany. The Pentagon said assistance was requested from West German authorities in the investigation.
Jones said Army investigators in Germany found that a laptop computer was missing and suspect that Peri may have taken it.
The Pentagon spokesman in Washington said: “As far as we know at this time, all the accountable documents are present. But whether or not he took any classified information with him, that’s part of the investigation.”
“We have no indication of his whereabouts,” the spokesman added.
On the day he was reported missing, Peri had signed out a jeep belonging to his section.
“He had the right to use the jeep but had no duties along the border. His job did not entail patrolling,” Jones said, adding that Peri was considered a “stable and hard worker.”