Embassy Worker Held Without Bail in Greek Spying Case
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ The government is providing a glimpse of alleged spying among allies in the post-Cold War era in its espionage case against an American employee of the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
FBI agent John J. Quattrocki testified at a federal court hearing Wednesday that Steven Lalas admitted passing secret information to a man claiming to be a Greek military official.
Lalas repeatedly shook his head from side to side during the agent’s testimony. And defense attorney John Kenneth Zwerling said Lalas is innocent and denied he had admitted guilt.
Lalas, 40, was denied bail by U.S. Magistrate Barry Poretz, who ruled the government established probable cause to hold him for trial. Government lawyers argued the defendant would flee to Greece if granted bail.
Lalas did not enter a plea.
Lalas, a communications officer assigned to the Athens embassy since December 1990, had top-secret clearance. But Zwerling said the information supposedly passed to the Greek official was low-level material of limited significance.
″We’re not talking about atom bomb secrets,″ said the lawyer, disputing government assertions the material in question could compromise U.S. national security.
Quattrocki testified that Lalas told him last week, ″I know I’ve broken the law. I know I have to be punished. I know I could get 20 years.″ The agent said Lalas admitted receiving more than $20,000 for the information over three years and also said he spied out of fear for his family.
Quattrocki also said closed-circuit TV cameras at the Athens embassy show Lalas, after his normal working hours, marking classified documents and trimming them so he could stuff them in his pocket and remove them from the building.
Zwerling said Lalas, from Dover, N.H., and of Greek extraction, was lured back to the United States from his posting in Athens by FBI officials who said they wanted his help in a counterterrorism investigation. Upon his arrest Friday, he was suspended by the State Department, his employer for the last 10 years.
In urging that Lalas be freed on bond, Zwerling said there is no reason to believe he would flee to Greece or that Greece would refuse to cooperate with the United States if he did.
Zwerling said the government’s evidence at most suggests the apparent Greek military official was a ″renegade″ acting without his government’s approval.
Quattrocki said Lalas turned over 240 documents of secret and classified information, including U.S. assessments of Greek military readiness and Greek policy on Yugoslavia and material on Turkey.
The United States, Greece and Turkey are NATO allies. But Greece and Turkey are historic rivals and would be eager to get information on behind-the-scenes U.S. policy toward the two nations.
The Greek government has denied any involvement in the case, and some Greek newspapers have called the case a frame-up.
Lalas’ brother, Kimon Lalas, was in court Wednesday and had offered to supervise his brother if he were released. Zwerling said electronic bracelets could be attached to Steven Lalas to help assure he would not flee.
But Magistrate Poretz said those conditions would not provide reasonable assurance Lalas would stay.