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Former linguist for Navy pleads guilty to taking classified reports in Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain — A linguist who worked for the U.S. Navy in Bahrain has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a misdemeanor charge of taking classified reports without permission in April of 2012, including one that reportedly revealed gaps in U.S. intelligence on the political situation in Bahrain.

James Hitselberger, 57, was employed by Global Linguist Solutions at the time, and working for Naval Special Warfare Unit Three, which conducts unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, and counter terrorism missions.

“Multiple forces” relied on Hitselberger’s expertise in the Arabic language, according to the criminal complaint filed in 2012. He had a secret level security clearance and was routinely sent raw data, which contained sensitive information about operations and sources.

A courts blog on the Politico website reported earlier this week that the charge Hitselberger pleaded guilty to related to two documents, but said initial charges accused him of taking others. Politico reported he was accused of sending classified documents to a public archive at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Politico reported that Hitselberger was originally charged with six felony counts, three under the Espionage Act.

According to the complaint — obtained via the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy — on April 11, 2012, Hitselberger was observed printing multiple pages of classified situation reports and leaving the building with the documents hidden in a dictionary in his backpack. One of Hitselberger’s supervisors and his commanding officer followed and stopped him outside the building, according to the complaint.

Politico reported, citing prosecutors in court filings, that one of the documents marked “secret,” discussed “gaps in U.S. intelligence” with respect to the political situation in Bahrain. According to the complaint, it was part of a Navy Central Command Regional Analysis report, dated April 9, 2012.

Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet and some 7,000 U.S. personnel and families, has been the site of sporadic — sometimes violent — demonstrations, especially since February 2011 when citizens gathered in massive protests to demand political and economic reforms.

While no violence has been directed at Americans to date, Navy officials keep a close watch on developments and routinely notify U.S. personnel via text message and email alerts about potential violent activity, which sometimes includes the use of Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices.

Hitselberger is scheduled to be sentenced July 17. Politico, citing the judge in Washington, D.C. district court, reported that he could face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and fine of up to $100,000.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com
Twitter: @hendricksimoes

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