A linguist for the Navy in Bahrain is charged under the Espionage Act with possessing classified documents — some of which ended up in public archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
James Hitselberger, who is fluent in Arabic, had the job as a federal contractor of translating documents for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council. The council contains a unit conducting unconventional warfare, counterterrorism and special reconnaissance.
An FBI affidavit unsealed Monday says Hitselberger copied documents last spring that discussed military troop activities in the region and gaps in U.S. intelligence in Bahrain. His superiors later found the material stashed in his backpack, and investigators said they subsequently discovered additional classified material at Stanford in the "James F. Hitselberger Collection."
Hitselberger pleaded not guilty on Oct. 26.
The FBI affidavit said Hitselberger underwent extensive training instructing him on careful handling of classified information. Hitselberger told investigators that his sole purpose for running off copies was to take the material to his living quarters to read. He told investigators that he long ago established a collection at the Hoover archives so that he could store pamphlets and writings he acquired in Iran in 1978. FBI agents who visited the Hoover Institution said that a classified document dated Feb. 12, 2012, and titled Bahrain Situation Update was part of the Hitselberger collection in an area open to the public.
The deputy archivist at the Hoover Institution told Hitselberger in an email that "in light of the FBI investigation of your collection ... we will no longer accept additions to the collection, as we don't want to risk receiving more classified material." Hitselberger replied that he "was unable to locate my regular reading glasses that day over a month ago and I did not notice the 'secret' designation at the bottom."
The section of the Espionage Act that Hitselberger is charged with violating prohibits unauthorized possession of defense information that could be used to injure the United States or aid a foreign power.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered Hitselberger held without bond. "While the government concedes that defendant has no history of violence and did not disseminate the classified information to a 'foreign power,'" Robinson wrote, "defendant's retention of classified documents poses a danger to the community by potentially compromising national security."
The case against Hitselberger was first reported by the online publication Secrecy News.