U.S. Sailor Held for Russian Spy Attempt

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Navy machinist mate who served on nuclear missile submarines has been arrested by the FBI and navy investigators after trying to sell top-secret information to a U.S. agent posing as a Russian spy, the FBI and navy said.


"No classified defense information was successfully provided ... to any foreign interest or government," the FBI said Tuesday.


The FBI identified the man as Machinist Mate First Class Kurt Lessenthien, currently on active duty as an instructor at the Navy Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Florida, where submarine crews are trained. He was arrested Monday.


The case appeared to be a classic version of what spy-hunters call a "dangle operation."


"We got information from a confidential source that he was in the market to make money by selling secrets, but he never hooked up with a real foreign agent," said navy Commander Stephen Pietropaoli.


"An FBI agent posing as a foreign representative approached him and met with him at an Orlando, Florida motel," Pietropaoli said. "The agent paid him cash; he handed over what he said were classified documents and then they arrested him. He was dealing the entire time with U.S. agents."


Pietropaoli said the documents turned over related to nuclear submarine operations. The FBI said the most sensitive papers were classified top secret.


Lessenthien, 29, of Orlando, had clearance to see secret-level classified information, said Lieutenant Darren Morton, another navy spokesman. It could not be learned immediately for what country the FBI agent was pretending to spy or how much money he gave to Lessenthien.


He faces multiple charges of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including the espionage article, the FBI said. Lessenthien is now confined at the Consolidated Naval Brig at the Norfolk, Virginia Naval Station.


The case was investigated by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The Navy has assumed control of the prosecution.