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 the 21-year-old soldier from Orange County had illegally entered East Germany.
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, but turned himself into 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 late Monday.
“Mr. Peri, on the advice of his lawyers, has refused to say anything to the investigators,” Dye said, adding that the soldier has been moved to a military detention center in Mannheim, West Germany.
The charge dealing with security is for allegedly violating a kilometer-wide military buffer zone along the East German border, Dye said. Peri had checked out a military jeep that was later found close to the border.
In addition to Monday’s charges, Peri faces charges involving the theft of a portable computer and a friend’s compact disk player, Dye said.
Dye said that investigators are trying to find out why Peri took the computer and why his jeep was found so near the East German border.
“Our investigation is not over yet. 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,” Dye said.
Still troubling investigators is why the portable computer was taken from the soldier’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment office.
“That’s the sticking point. All I can say is that we have plenty of questions that need answers,” Dye said.
Border Buffer Zone
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. The location of the jeep, which was found by military officials two 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, referring all questions to investigators on the scene.