Judge denies bail in defense secrets case
By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — A federal judge denied bail Monday to a civilian defense contractor accused of giving military secrets to a Chinese girlfriend half his age, saying he poses a danger to national security.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi ordered Benjamin Bishop, 59, to remain in custody while he awaits trial.
Puglisi cited a declaration made to the court Monday by the U.S. Pacific Command’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, in making his decision.
The judge said Crutchfield made the case that Bishop would almost certainly be able to recall substantial amounts of classified information from memory and could divulge classified information that would harm national security.
Bishop is charged with one count of communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans.
Federal investigators say he gave his girlfriend, a 27-year-old Chinese national studying in the U.S., classified information about war plans, nuclear weapons, missile defenses and other topics through emails and telephone calls.
The Army Reserve lieutenant colonel was working at the U.S. Pacific Command as a contractor when he was arrested March 15.
Puglisi had asked prosecutors to explain how Bishop, if released on bail, might disclose military secrets when he’s been fired from his contractor’s position at the U.S. Pacific Command and no longer has access to classified information.
Crutchfield’s declaration, which was submitted to the court Monday, said Bishop had access to “Top Secret” information on the command’s efforts to defend against a ballistic missile attack from North Korea.
“Unauthorized release of this highly sensitive, classified information could cause exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security, undermining the value of this huge investment of national treasure,” Crutchfield said in his declaration.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson argued in documents submitted Monday that there were no conditions that could reasonably assure Bishop won’t divulge classified information if he’s released on bail.
“Nothing short of the security of the Pacific, and U.S. forces in the Pacific, are placed at risk by the nature of the information known to this defendant,” the prosecutor said.
Sorenson said Bishop told the girlfriend military secrets off the cuff, from memory. He said this shows there would still be a risk that Bishop would divulge military secrets even though he’s been fired and no longer has access to classified documents.
Sorenson argued that electronic monitoring proposed by the defense wouldn’t be effective in an era when people can use “secret email or Twitter accounts, covert Facebook identities or disposable cellphones” to communicate.
Sorenson said Bishop has shown he can’t be trusted in part because he violated security oaths by failing to tell the government about his contact with the woman. Bishop’s security clearance required him to report contact with her because she’s a foreign national.
Bishop’s attorney, Birney Bervar, had argued Friday that prosecutors were trying to lock up Bishop’s mind.
Bishop was a contractor at the U.S. Pacific Command at the time of the alleged leaks. He was working in a department that develops plans to deter potential U.S. adversaries when the FBI alleges he and the woman started an intimate, romantic relationship in June 2011.
Most recently, he was working on procedures guiding the military’s use of cyber defense technologies, according to Crutchfield’s statement.
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