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Judge denies bail to suspect in espionage case

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A federal judge denied bail today to a civilian defense contractor accused of giving military secrets to a Chinese girlfriend half his age, saying he poses a danger to national security.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi ordered Benjamin Bishop, 59, to remain in custody while he awaits trial.

Puglisi cited a declaration made to the court by the U.S. Pacific Command’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, in making his decision.

The judge said Crutchfield made the case that Bishop would almost certainly be able to recall substantial amounts of classified information from memory and could divulge classified information that could harm national security.

Bishop is charged with one count of communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans.

Federal investigators say he gave his girlfriend, a 27-year-old Chinese national studying in the U.S., classified information about war plans, nuclear weapons, missile defenses and other topics through emails and telephone calls.

The Army Reserve lieutenant colonel was working at the U.S. Pacific Command as a contractor when he was arrested March 15.

Puglisi had asked prosecutors to explain how Bishop, if released on bail, might disclose military secrets when he’s been fired from his contractor’s position and no longer has access to classified information.

The prosecution responded with a declaration from Crutchfield that outlined Bishop’s work in cyber defense, a position he held from May 2011 until his arrest, and his previous job helping develop Pacific Command strategy and policy.

Bishop, through the course of his work, was familiar with the Pacific Command’s highest priority capability gaps, the declaration said.

Bishop is also familiar with the way Pacific Command conducts operations, including how it uses cyber security, Crutchfield said.

In a previous position that Bishop held from May 2010 to April 2012, Bishop had access to “top secret” information on the command’s efforts to defend against a ballistic missile attack from North Korea, Crutchfield said.

“Unauthorized release of this highly sensitive, classified information could cause exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security, undermining the value of this huge investment of national treasure,” Crutchfield said.

Bishop’s attorney, Birney Bervar, said he was frustrated by the ruling. He said his client is considering appealing.

“He’s being detained without bail based upon what’s in his mind, based upon his knowledge and what he knows,” Bervar said. “There’s no authority, case law, statutory or otherwise, to lock people up because of what they know, what’s in their mind.”

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