Judge delays bail decision in defense secrets case

Published On: Mar 22 2013 11:11:44 AM HST
Updated On: Mar 22 2013 06:12:34 PM HST

Benjamin Bishop

HONOLULU -

A federal judge is delaying a decision on granting bail to a civilian defense contractor accused of giving military secrets from U.S. Pacific Command to a Chinese girlfriend.

Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi said during a detention hearing Friday he wants to hear more arguments before deciding whether Benjamin Bishop, 59, of Makakilo, should be released while he awaits trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson argued Bishop still poses a risk to community and country because of sensitive information contained in the suspect's mind. However, Puglisi rebuked the claim, saying the government must show how Bishop could still pass sensitive information to others, without some sort of clandestine device, such as a secret computer or thumb drive.

"What I don't understand is why he is a danger to the community," said Puglisi, while addressing Sorenson.

Bishop's defense attorney, Birney Bervar, said there was no legal precedence for keeping his client in custody for knowledge he may have gained since receiving top secret security clearance in July, 2002.

"There's no authority, statutory or case law, to lock somebody up because of their thoughts, or what may be in their minds," said Bervar. "I agree with the judge."

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.

An FBI affidavit alleges Bishop gave his 27-year-old girlfriend classified information about war plans, nuclear weapons and other topics. Sorenson said investigators found "volumes" of classified documents at Bishop's home on Makakilo Drive.

However, Bervar said Bishop's relationship with the younger Chinese woman was based on romance, not espionage.  The two met during a military conference in Honolulu in 2011.

"I believe the two were in love," said Bervar. "He said he was in love with her, and she led me to believe she was in love with him. So, it's not an espionage case, it's a case about love."

Court records in Utah show Bishop divorced his wife, Siriporn Amornsuwan, last year. The couple had lived in the town of Ogden with their daughter before Bishop moved to Hawaii for defense work. Bervar described Bishop as a patriot.

"He's been in the U.S. Army Reserve for the last 30 years, and risen from an enlisted man to the rank of lieutenant colonel. "He's a loyal patriotic American, and he believes in the system. He told me that today."

Puglisi continued the detention hearing until Monday at 3 p.m.  He said he'll consider whether it would be appropriate to release Bishop to a third-party custodian, a member of the clergy from Bishop's church, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew at Queen Emma Square.

Bervar proposed placing restrictions on Bishop should he be released. That includes remaining at his home on Makakilo Drive, wearing an electronic monitoring device and denying access to the internet. Bervar even suggested the government could wire tap his client's phone if they felt the need to do so.

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