Former State Official Keyser Rebuts Espionage Allegations

07.17.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Former State Department China expert Donald Keyser last week firmly disputed allegations that he had engaged in espionage on behalf of Taiwanese intelligence.

“Mr. Keyser denies that he was ever an agent of Taiwan’s intelligence agency,” his attorneys said in a statement. They further denied that he had failed to comply with the terms of his plea agreement, as the government asserted earlier this month.

“Mr. Keyser disclosed no classified information to [Taiwanese intelligence official] Ms. Cheng or her superior, Mr. Huang, and his communications were all in furtherance of U.S. Government interests, even if he was answering questions that Ms. Cheng asked him,” according to a July 14 motion (pdf) filed by the defense.

The defense argued in its latest pleading that the government was improperly using the Classified Information Procedures Act to withhold vital information from the defense.

The new defense motion features a supporting declaration by Kent Harrington, a former CIA officer (and public affairs official), who warned the court against relying on isolated, unanalyzed scraps of foreign intelligence information such as Chinese government communications to draw legal conclusions about the Keyser case.

“When we acquire the communications of any foreign government agency…, there is a tendency to assume that the contents are unvarnished facts, but experience tells us otherwise,” Mr. Harrington wrote.

“Such communications are just as prone as other forms of intelligence to manipulation and can also contain false or exaggerated statements designed to advance the career or the bureaucratic position of the author,” he wrote.

See the July 14, 2006 defense pleading in the Keyser case, with the attached Harrington declaration, here.

Time Magazine reported on Saturday that Mr. Keyser’s wife, a CIA officer detailed to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was aware that Mr. Keyser had improperly stored classified records at home and had also done so herself. See “A Steamy Spy Scandal at the State Department,” Time, July 15.

The government allegations cited in the Time story are grossly misleading, Mr. Keyser emailed friends over the weekend. The Time story, he said, “lacks only a nocturnal descent of alien spacecraft, a documented Elvis sighting, and a cameo performance by Michael Jackson to qualify for enshrinement in The National Enquirer hall of fame.” See “Official at Center of Taiwanese Spying Probe Cries Foul” by Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, July 17.

The Keyser case is before Judge T.S. Ellis, III, who also presides over the controversial case of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are accused of improperly receiving and transmitting classified information. The trial in that case, which had been set for August 7, has been postponed until a new date which is to be set by the court on July 18.