AP : Top Official Testifies in Navy Case

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Top Official Testifies in Navy Case

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN | February 27, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The Navy would have immediately changed plans had it known that details of ship movements had been leaked to suspected terrorism supporters, a top Navy official testified Wednesday at the trial of a former sailor on terrorism charges.

Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 32, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he provided material support to terrorists and disclosed classified national defense information.

If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

Abu-Jihaad, an American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall, is accused of leaking information that could have doomed his own ship. He was a Navy signalman and received an honorable discharge in 2002.

He is accused of leaking details that included the makeup of his Navy battle group, its planned movements and a drawing of the group's formation when it was to pass through the Straits of Hormuz on April 29, 2001.

Files found on a computer disk recovered by prosecutors from an alleged terror supporter's home also included the number and type of personnel on each ship and the ships' capabilities and ended with instructions to destroy the message.

Retired Rear Adm. David Hart Jr., who was involved in planning the deployment of the battle group, testified Wednesday that he would have immediately alerted his supervisor in 2001 if he knew that a battle group document was in the hands of suspected terrorism supporters. He said he would have sought an opportunity to change the time and nature of the operation.

"It was a very vulnerable period of time for us," said Hart, who noted earlier that naval officials had taken steps to protect sailors after the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Hart also said that sailors were typically in a heightened state of readiness through Strait of Hormuz, a busy narrow Persian Gulf waterway where they are frequently challenged by Iranian officials.

Hart confirmed that the information Abu-Jihaad is accused of leaking was sensitive and classified.

But on cross-examination, Abu-Jihaad's attorney, Dan Labelle, said the Navy wasn't shy about letting the world know when it was deploying ships to the Persian Gulf because it wanted to project strength and deter a crisis.

"I think that's fair to say," Hart responded.

Prosecutors acknowledge that they don't have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements.

He was charged in the same case that led to the 2004 arrest of Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists. Ahmad is to be extradited to the U.S.

Abu-Jihaad is being prosecuted in New Haven because the federal investigation first focused on a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.