Brian Patrick Regan was playing an elaborate spy game that had "absolutely no chance of success," lawyers for the former Air Force sergeant argued Monday as his trial on charges of attempted espionage opened in U.S. District Court here.
Regan, a former technical advisor at the Pentagon's top-secret National Reconnaissance Office, is accused of attempting to sell secrets about U.S. spy satellites to Iraq, Libya and China between 1999 and 2001. Prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty if he is convicted.
The case is unusual because the government does not allege that secrets were passed or that Regan benefited from his alleged betrayal. The government's main evidence includes letters found on Regan's personal computer in which he proposed to sell classified information for $13 million to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Kadafi.
"At best, this was a ridiculous fantasy with absolutely no chance of success," Jonathan Shapiro, one of Regan's attorneys, said in his opening argument.
Regan, 40, was apprehended by FBI agents as he attempted to board a Zurich, Switzerland-bound flight from Washington's Dulles International Airport on Aug. 23, 2001, carrying coded coordinates of missile sites in Iraq and China, a portable global-positioning-system device, latex gloves and a sexually explicit magazine, among other items.
Shapiro argued that the missile site information was "worthless" and would not have harmed U.S. national security because Baghdad and Beijing already knew that Washington knew where the sites were. He said Regan, whom he described as having dyslexia, a learning disability, was "playing spy with no intent to harm."
The defense has indicated in court papers that they may call psychiatric experts to testify about Regan's medical history, which may "bear on the issue of mitigation," according to court papers.
But lead prosecutor Patricia Haynes, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury in her opening statement that Regan understood what he was doing.
"Brian Regan fully appreciated the consequences of his betrayal," she said. "Brian Regan's price was $13 million -- for that he would betray his colleagues, his community, his country."
She added that Regan was under stress from $116,000 in credit card debt; in his letter to Hussein, he complained that his government pension was too small.
As its first witness, the prosecution called FBI Special Agent Steven Carr, who said the government began watching Regan in June 2001; two months later, he said, the FBI installed video monitoring devices in his office. Prosecutors played portions of a videotape that showed Regan accessing data from the Intelink, the government's classified version of the Internet. Carr also explained a secret code that Regan used to record data in notebooks in which he substituted words for digits: "skate" was a code word for "eight," for example, and "Vegas" for "seven."
Regan's last Air Force assignment was in the reconnaissance office. After his retirement in August 2000, he joined TRW Inc. as a civilian contractor and resumed work at the spy-satellite office until his arrest in August 2001.
The trial is expected to last into next month. Among the 12 jurors and four alternates who were seated Monday were an engineer for Lockheed Martin Corp.; a Fairfax County, Va., schoolteacher; and an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.