The Army on Monday charged intelligence specialist Michael Peri with leaving his post without permission, a security violation and petty theft, but it would not say whether he entered East Germany illegally.
Peri, 21, a specialist fourth class whose family lives in Laguna Niguel, disappeared from the U.S. military base in Fulda, West Germany, on Feb. 20. He voluntarily turned himself in to military authorities at the base Saturday.
He has so far refused to cooperate with investigators and has said nothing about his absence or where he had been, Lt. Col. Jake Dye, an Army spokesman, said in a telephone interview from West Germany Monday.
“Mr. Peri, on the advice of his lawyers, has refused to say anything to the investigators,” Dye said. Dye added that Peri has been moved to a military detention center in Mannheim, West Germany.
The security charge stems from his alleged violation of a kilometer-wide military buffer zone on the East German border, Dye said. Peri had checked out a military jeep that was found within a mile of the border.
In addition to Monday’s charges, Peri faces charges of the theft of a portable computer taken from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment office and of a friend’s compact disc player, Dye said.
Dye said that investigators are trying to find out why Peri took the computer and why the Jeep was found so near the East German border.
“Our investigation is not over yet,” Dye said. “We still have some very serious concerns about possible breaches of security. We don’t know if he crossed into East Germany, but he came about as close as you can get.”
Still troubling investigators is the matter of why the portable computer was taken from the office.
“That’s the sticking point,” Dye said. “All I can say is that we have plenty of questions that need answers.” He added that Army investigators may file additional charges if further evidence is found.
According to Dye, Peri, who has been stationed in West Germany since March, 1988, was “well versed” in the rules governing entry into the buffer zone.
“Everyone that is stationed in West Germany knows that you must have permission to be in the buffer zone and that it isn’t often granted. It’s not likely that he erred and went in by mistake. The whole zone is clearly marked,” Dye said.
When Peri returned late Saturday afternoon, he was wearing civilian clothes and carrying the portable computer. According to Dye, Peri just “walked up to the gate, identified himself and surrendered,” saying nothing to military police as they took him into custody.
The location of the jeep, which was found by military officials 2 days after its disappearance, and the absence of the computer had prompted Pentagon and Army investigators to speculate that Peri had defected to the Communist country.
“We just don’t know. We still don’t know many of the details at this point. We still are not sure what he was doing with the computer or whether it had any sensitive information stored inside it,” Dye said.
Pentagon officials in Washington had no comment on the case Monday. They referred all questions to investigators on the scene in West Germany.
Peri’s brother, Ken, and an aunt and uncle said Saturday that they were relieved that Peri had turned himself in and that he was in good condition. Family members refused to entertain any notion that he would have anything to do with entering a Communist Bloc country.
Michael Peri’s mother, Winnie, contacted at home early Monday evening, refused to comment about the charges her son faces.
“We love our son, and we are trying to keep our lives as private as possible,” Winnie Peri said. “We don’t want to talk to a newspaper.”