Alleged Spy for South Korea to Plead Guilty on Lesser Charges, Sources Say

May 6, 1997 - Brooke A. Masters - The Washington Post

Robert C. Kim, the former naval computer specialist charged with spying for South Korea, is scheduled to change his plea to guilty tomorrow, federal court and FBI officials said.

Prosecutors and Kim's attorneys would not comment on details of the plea agreement they'd reached.

But sources close to the case said Kim, who in March pleaded not guilty to three counts of giving defense information to a foreign government, is scheduled to plead guilty to lesser espionage charges of gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.

Under the original indictment, Kim, 57, faced the possibility of life in prison. The lesser charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Though Kim is scheduled to enter a guilty plea tomorrow, officials cautioned that he has the right to change his mind until U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepts the plea at the hearing.

Kim, of Sterling, was charged with using a computer system at the Office of Naval Intelligence to gather classified information on North and South Korea, China and a computer maritime tracking system.

Prosecutors allege that Kim, who was arrested in September, gave seven "secret" and "confidential" documents related to national defense to a South Korean navy officer.

A guilty plea would let prosecutors claim victory in the most serious rash of U.S. spying cases since Soviet spy Aldrich Ames was convicted in 1994.

In a four-month span last year, officials arrested Kim, ex-CIA case officer Harold James Nicholson and former FBI counterintelligence agent Earl Edwin Pitts. Nicholson and Pitts have pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow and face sentencing next month.

"We're happy," said Chris Murray, spokesman for the FBI's Washington field office, which investigated Kim. "We're always pleased when a criminal case is resolved and the defendant admits what he did."

Plea agreements often represent the best possible outcome for the government in spying cases, analysts said. Usually the defendant agrees to tell the government what secrets got away, and the plea protects the intelligence agencies from having to disclose classified information in open court during a trial.

Most recent U.S. espionage cases, including those of Ames and Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, have ended in guilty pleas.

Although Kim was indicted on the same charges as Pitts and Nicholson, government officials have said his alleged activities were far less serious. Not only was Kim working for an ally but -- unlike the other two -- he received no money, and he passed lower-level information than Nicholson did, the indictment said.

Pitts and Nicholson both face maximum sentences of life, but Pitts could get as little as 15 to 20 years if prosecutors are satisfied by his efforts to cooperate, his lawyer said.

Nicholson, who pleaded guilty to handing over "top secret" information, may face 22 to 27 years, officials said.

Lawyers for Kim, who was born in Seoul and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he never intended to hurt his adopted country.

"He is a patriotic and loyal American. Whatever he did was only to assist the Republic of South Korea in defending itself from possible invasion from the north," said Jamie Gore, one of Kim's lawyers. "Kim is extremely contrite. He has been a . . . perfect citizen up until this time.

"The documents he passed contained nothing harmful to the national defense of the United States," Gore said. "He made one horrible error."

According to the indictment, Kim removed the classified markings from documents and mailed them to the Falls Church home of South Korean naval attache Baek Dong-Il. Baek was recalled to South Korea soon after Kim's arrest.

Kim, who worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence for 19 years, is the father of three grown children. He has been held in the Alexandria jail since his Sept. 24 arrest.

  1. It is astounding to note the efforts being made by American officials to ensure that South Korea is spared from any further embarrassment, and that her agent Robert Kim receives the minimum punishment possible.

    Compare and contrast this kid glove treatment of the Kim case with the American's handling of the Israeli ally and the Pollard case where every effort was made to castigate Israel publicly and to ensure that Pollard received the maximum sentence possible in spite of his plea agreement with the government.

  2. While Kim did not receive money for his activities, he spied in return for a job that the South Korean Government promised him in lieu of remuneration.

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