An American soldier has been charged with espionage for allegedly handing over U.S. defense secrets to communist East Germany, the Army announced today.
American military authorities said they filed the charges against Spec. 4 Michael A. Peri, 21, of Laguna Niguel, who recently disappeared for 11 days near the East German border. He turned himself in to military authorities last week.
He also brought back a lap-top computer he took from his unit, where he worked as an electronics warfare signal specialist, officials have said.
One Army officer said the East Germans notified U.S. officials that Peri had contacted them, but it was not immediately clear why the communist country would have done that.
The Army said in a statement that Peri “has been charged with espionage--communicating documents and/or information relating to national defense to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).”
The statement said Peri was charged with “moving classified documents to the GDR and transferring classified information to unauthorized persons.”
No date has been set for the soldier’s trial.
A 5th Corps spokesman, Lt. Col. Jake Dye, said, “He gave them information. We’re just not in a position to say what it was.”
A deputy spokesman, Maj. Samuel Taylor, said in an interview: “It is U.S. national defense information as far as it pertains to our NATO mission and to the general defense plan as a NATO force.”
“The evidence we have that he crossed the border was given to us by the GDR Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Taylor said. “We were told by the (East German) ministry that Peri made contact with them.”
Peri disappeared Feb. 21 from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, 65 miles northeast of Frankfurt.
Some officials speculated that he defected because a military vehicle he signed out was found Feb. 23 near the town of Obersuhl, a remote rural area northeast of Fulda and near the East German border.
U.S. officials said Peri worked as an electronics warfare signal specialist. He was responsible for operating equipment that detects enemy radar and other signals. He has been stationed in West Germany since March, 1988.
The Army communique said Peri also was charged with “failure to obey the lawful regulations that require him to get permission to travel to the German Democratic Republic.” The regulations also require soldiers to check with their security officer “before going into a communist-controlled country.”
The statement did not say where Peri went inside East Germany or how he crossed the heavily guarded border.
Peri, who was being held in pretrial confinement in Mannheim, West Germany, already has been charged with being absent without leave and other offenses.
Before today’s announcement, Army officials described Peri as “a good clean-cut soldier” who had a “perfect record.”
“In fact, he had been promoted and nominated for ‘Soldier of the Month’ twice in the year he has been here,” an Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jake Dye, said earlier this month. “That’s what makes it so baffling.”