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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Sailor Accused of Spying

APAriel Weinmann, pictured reading children's letters in an Oregon grade school in 2003, is charged with espionage.
WASHINGTON -- A 21-year-old U.S. sailor has been charged with espionage for purportedly taking a Navy laptop loaded with classified information and peddling its contents to Russian agents, U.S. officials said.

The Navy said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ariel Weinmann was successful in giving the classified information to a foreign government before he destroyed the computer. The Navy did not identify the government, but defense officials said it was Russia.

The classified information was described by the Navy as "relating to the national defense of the United States of America."

Weinmann is confined at the brig at Norfolk Naval Air Station on six charges returned at a July 26 Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury, the Navy said in a statement.

The charges include three counts of espionage, including a March 2005 visit by Weinmann to Bahrain to "attempt to communicate, deliver or transmit" the classified information to "a representative, officer, agent or employee of a foreign government."

Months later, the Navy said, Weinmann deserted the USS Albuquerque submarine for more than eight months to travel to Austria and Mexico to transmit the information to a foreign government.

In March, near Vienna, the Navy said, Weinmann used a mallet to destroy the computer's hard drive. Weinmann was picked up at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on March 26.

Weinmann, a fire control technician previously assigned to the Connecticut-based USS Albuquerque, faces a maximum punishment of death if his fleet commander decides to press for a court martial. Weinmann's naval lawyers declined to comment. Russian officials made no public comments Thursday.

In Oregon, Ariel Weinmann's father, Rob, said FBI agents and Navy intelligence officers twice searched the family's house. "I know his values, that in a lot of ways he was very naive, gullible. I definitely don't want him to be a scapegoat," Rob Weinmann said on television.

He said his son joined the Navy in 2003 and was "really gung ho, really excited. He was going to make a career out of being in the Navy."

He said his son had become disillusioned with his mission when he disappeared in 2005.

(AP, Reuters)