A U.S. Naval petty officer entrusted with highly classified data has been charged with passing secrets to Russia in 1994, long after the Cold War ended, U.S. military officials said Monday.
Petty Officer First Class Daniel King, a 40-year-old code expert, was in military custody in Quantico, Va., awaiting a military hearing, said Cmdr. Greg Smith.
Officials said King had admitted passing some classified information to Russia, but they believed it was “a very narrowly defined” incident.
Smith said King, an 18-year veteran of the Navy, could face the death penalty if convicted of espionage. In previous espionage cases, military prosecutors have chosen to seek life sentences instead.
Military officials said King is also charged with disclosing classified information to a co-worker.
At the time of the alleged espionage, King was assigned to the Navy’s espionage decoding unit, based at the Ft. Meade, Md., office of the National Security Agency, which oversees surveillance of communications around the globe.
Smith had no details on the precise circumstances surrounding King’s alleged espionage and said the matter was still being investigated.
But military officials said the alleged disclosure was not as serious as the breach of security in previous Navy espionage cases, such as that of Jonathan Pollard, who began serving a life sentence in 1986 for handing highly sensitive information to Israel.
Nor did this case rival the security breach when Navy Warrant Officer John A. Walker sold Russia critical Navy secrets and codes, officials said.
CBS News reported that King had told investigators earlier this year that “he mailed a disk full of data to the Russian embassy in 1994" that included information about the Pentagon’s use of U.S. submarines to eavesdrop on Russian undersea communications cables.
At the time, King worked in the office that received reports from the submarines, which sneaked into shallow water to tap into Russia’s undersea cables, CBS reported.
U.S. military officials said charges were brought after King failed a lie detector test administered during a routine security clearance investigation.
Confronted with the results of the lie detector test, King admitted passing secret information to Russia, but he later retracted some details about how he did it, military officials said.
The officials said they did not know of any payments King might have received for the information.
They described King, who is in the middle of divorce proceedings, as “a very confused individual.”
King was charged on Nov. 5 and was awaiting a Navy Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a grand jury hearing in civilian courts.