U.S. Naval officer allegedly a Saudi spy

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

WASHINGTON — A U.S. naval officer has been charged with espionage after he was accused of supplying government secrets to Saudi Arabia.

The Navy has accused Lt. Cmdr. Michael Schwartz of passing information to Saudi Arabia's military from November 1992 to September 1994 while he was assigned to the U.S. Military Training Mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said Cmdr. Kevin Wensing, a public relations officer for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, which is handling the investigation.

Schwartz, 43, who is not Jewish, reputedly mishandled classified information by bringing it home with him, passed military information — in the form of computer diskettes and documents — to a foreign government without authorization and failed to disclose that he brought the documents home, Wensing said.

Espionage is a crime punishable by a maximum of life in prison, fines and, in rare cases, death, Wensing said.

An Article 32 hearing, the U.S. Navy's version of a grand jury hearing, is scheduled for July 21, Wensing said. An officer will review whether there is enough evidence to pursue further action against Schwartz, he said.

Schwartz, a 17-year Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf war, has been assigned to an administrative position at the naval base in Norfolk, Va., until the matter is resolved, Wensing said.

Schwartz's lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Julie Tinker, refused to comment on the case.

A source close to the case said the Navy discovered the alleged transgressions when one of Schwartz's fellow officers apparently noticed that classified material had been passed and reported it to a supervisor.

There was "no indication" that anyone solicited or paid for the information, said the source, who asked not to be identified.

There was also no sign others were involved, the source said.

Charges filed by the Atlantic Fleet on May 23 describe some of the information — which ran the gamut from "confidential" to "secret" classifications — as military intelligence digests, intelligence advisories and tactical intelligence summaries.

The charges said the suspect "had reason to believe" that the information could either harm U.S. interests, or further Saudi Arabia's.

Though the charges against Schwartz are serious, the information is not that damaging to U.S. security, the source said, calling the bulk of the material "information that's classified now, but in two months you might see it on CNN."