CIA officer pleads not guilty to espionage charges
Judge denies bond due to risk of flightDecember 20, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former CIA officer Harold Nicholson pleaded not guilty Friday to espionage charges during a detention hearing in Virginia. Meanwhile, the government said it may seek the death penalty against the former Central Intelligence Agency station chief, who is accused of selling classified information to Russia.
A federal judge has denied a defense appeal to have Nicholson released on bond, citing the government's contention that he represents an extraordinary risk of flight and a danger to the community. Nicholson, the highest ranking CIA officer ever to face espionage charges, is charged with espionage, attempted espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage.
Federal Judge James Cacheris also ordered Nicholson to stand trial on April 14, 1997.
Nicholson was arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on November 16. Federal prosecutors revealed in court that 10 rolls of film of classified documents and still-uncracked coded messages on a computer disk were found on Nicholson as he attempted to leave for Switzerland.
According to the prosecuting attorneys, he was on his way to meet with Russian spymasters, who paid him more than $180,000. According to the indictment, one of his two pieces of luggage contained two empty money belts.
U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey, who is leading the prosecution, acknowledged that with the information uncovered so far, they cannot meet the burden to request the death penalty if he is convicted. Under U.S. espionage statutes, the death penalty may only be imposed if death resulted from the crime, or if the defendant gave away the most sensitive types of national security secrets.
Nevertheless, Cacheris said that the fact that Nicholson faces possible execution for a conviction would give him even stronger incentive to flee.
Nicholson attorneys Liam O'Grady and Rob Shapiro had argued that since their client had access in the Alexandria City Jail to telephones, visitors and mail, and had not abused them or tried to pass classified information, his actions demonstrated he had no intention of fleeing. They wanted him to be released to his home in Burke, Virginia, which they said would provide a more suitable place for them to work on his case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Chesnut said the Alexandria City Jail was not secure enough, and said federal prosecutors are arranging for him to be transferred to a more secure local facility, which he did not name.
Among those currently being held at the Alexandria jail with Nicholson was Earl Edwin Pitts, an FBI supervisor arrested on Wednesday on charges of selling spy-catching secrets to Moscow for at least $224,000. His attorney, Nina Ginsberg, said he will plead innocent at his detention hearing, scheduled for Monday.
CNN producer Terry Frieden and Reuters contributed to this report.
Related site:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.