Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Keyser to face spy charges, US prosecutors say

ESPIONAGE? Prosecutors said that they have new classified information about a former US official who asd a relationship with a Taiwanese spy


US federal prosecutors said Friday that they plan to bring new charges that are espionage-related against Donald Keyser, a former State Department official who last year pleaded guilty to lying about having an improper relationship with a female Taiwanese intelligence officer based in Washington, and who faces up to 13 years in prison for that and other charges.

The revelation, made by federal prosecutor David Laufman in a Federal District Court in Virginia, delayed what was to have been a final action in the case for Keyser, who was to have been sentenced at the hearing.

The prosecutor's action raises the possibility that the case may be elevated to one involving state secrets and constitutional issues, which may prolong it for an extended period.

As the hearing ended, trial judge T.S., Ellis, III, seemed to express some frustration with the delay when he said, "I think we have made a tiny bit of progress in this case."

The judge has already granted the government four continuances since Keyser pleaded guilty, and earlier vowed not to grant another one.

Keyser, 63, the former principal assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was arrested by FBI agents in September 2004 after having lunch at a Washington area restaurant with Isabella Cheng Nien-tsu (程念慈), an intelligence officer with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, and her boss, Lieutenant General Huang Kuang-hsun (黃光勳).

Huang was believed to be the top Taiwanese spy in Washington at the time and Keyser had been seen meeting with the two several times before his arrest.

He was later charged with one count of unlawfully removing classified documents from the department, which were found in his home, and two counts related to Cheng.

Classified twist

* Former US State Department official Donald Keyser, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty last year to lying about a relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence officer.

* Keyser was to have been sentenced at a recent hearing, but US prosecutors said they had new information and wanted to be released from the plea agreement in order to bring new charges.

* Up until Friday, the FBI's case against Keyser had not included espionage.

Those were a failure to report to his superiors a secret trip he took to Taiwan with Chen in September 2003, and the failure to admit, in a questionnaire related to his top secret clearance, the undisclosed relationship with Cheng from 2002 to 2004, which the government claims could have left him open to blackmail.

But up until Friday, the FBI's case did not include espionage -- although FBI agents are known to have been investigating possible espionage all along, including the recent period since a plea bargain was reached, which included his guilty pleas to only the three counts.

However, Laufman told the judge on Friday that the federal government wanted to get out of the plea agreement in order to bring new charges, while continuing to hold Keyser to it.

The purpose, they said, was to present new classified information that could lead to them bringing charges in what Laufman referred to as an "espionage-related case."

He did not give an indication of the nature of the new material but said it was "not a large volume of information."

The judge agreed to put off sentencing to allow the government to pursue its new tack.

The judge set a new hearing for Aug. 9, but made it clear -- in a decision setting a timetable for the government to make its case and for Keyser's defense to respond to the government's accusations -- that the case could drag on indefinitely if the two sides disagree.

The hearing will be held in secret because of the sensitive nature of the government's case.

The case would also raise constitutional issues if the defense objects to the government's aversion to sharing with Keyser the confidential evidence it says it has. Such an objection could be on grounds of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, which assures US citizens of a fair trial and to be "informed of the nature and cause of the accusation." It also calls for speedy trials.

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