By RYAN ABBOTT
WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge ordered home arrest for an American linguist accused of stealing national security secrets while working at a U.S. Navy base in Bahrain.
James Hitselberger, 56, is fluent in Arabic, Farsi and Russian. Global Linguist Solutions assigned him to the naval base in Bahrain in 2011, but the government said he illegally retained national defense information on two occasions during this placement.
After naval investigators interviewed him about he allegations, they told him the company wanted him to return to the United States to be officially fired.
Instead Hitselberger traveled through Europe for several months, communicating with friends through his government-monitored email account and updating his Facebook page with pictures of sightseeing.
He did not know that the government had filed a sealed warrant and complaint against him in the meantime. When he tried to retrieve his belongings from a U.S. military base in Kuwait, authorities denied him entry at the border and arrested him.
Prosecutors sought to keep Hitselberger locked up, arguing that he posed a risk to national security and that he might flee, given his recent history of traveling to avoid facing his company.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras was hesitant to go that far.
“Weighing the proffered evidence, the court acknowledges that Mr. Hitselberger presents some risk of flight,” Contreras wrote Thursday. “He has considerable linguistic skills and a demonstrated ability to live abroad. But the court does not accept the argument that he has previously fled, that he traveled abroad with the intent to escape legal consequences of his actions. Certainly the government has not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Hitselberger presents such a serious risk of flight that no condition or combination of conditions could reasonably assure his appearance for trial.”
The ruling does not indicate what sort of classified information Hitselberger retained, only that he “provided some absurd explanations concerning his treatment of the classified information.”
Hitselberger can be released to the custody of his aunt, who lives in the Washington area, according to the ruling. Contreras said Hitselberger must remain confined in the aunt’s home and monitored electronically while he awaits trial.
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