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Navy Officer Blames Russian Laser

February 12, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. naval intelligence officer says he may be losing sight in his right eye because of a laser beam that hit him as he flew over a Russian cargo ship. Russia denies the provocation and the Pentagon cannot verify it.

Lt. Jack Daly told a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday that he and the pilot of a Canadian surveillance helicopter suffered ``irreparable eye damage.″

Daly said he remains convinced that the Russian vessel, the Kapitan Man, directed a laser beam at their helicopter on April 4, 1997, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca north of Washington state’s Puget Sound.

He also told lawmakers he is not surprised a U.S. Coast Guard and naval intelligence team could not find any laser device when it boarded the ship three days later in Tacoma, Wash. He said the Russian captain was given 24 hours warning of the search.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services procurement subcommittee, accused the Clinton administration of bureaucratic bungling in allowing the Russian captain to have so much advance notice.

Hunter called for banning all Russian ships from Puget Sound and other waters close to submarine bases.

Daly, wearing glasses, testified that he had perfect vision before the incident. Now, he has 24-hour pain in his right eye, cannot drive at night and cannot go to the movies or night ball games in stadiums with bright lights.

The only relief he gets is sitting in the dark with his eyes closed, ``yet lately even that does not seem to help much,″ he said.

Daly said he was photographing the Russian ship, which he suspected of spying on U.S. submarines, when the episode occurred.

The Pentagon investigated Daly’s claims and concluded from medical examinations that the injuries to his eye were consistent with retinal damage from a low-power laser device.

But it said there was ``no evidence″ to prove it was a laser. No laser was found on the ship and the Russian captain denied having any such equipment.

Daly cited documents showing that the State Department and the National Security Council had notified the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., about the episode _ and of the plan to board and search the ship at its dock in Tacoma.

The Russian Embassy notified its consulate office in Seattle, which in turn notified the ship’s captain, Daly said, ``providing almost 24 hours advance warning of the impending boarding and search.″

Hunter disclosed that the same Russian freighter had been boarded in 1993 by the Coast Guard _ and submarine surveillance equipment confiscated from it.

That should have been enough evidence that the cargo ship was engaged in spying as well as legitimate commerce, Hunter said.

Rear Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, director of naval intelligence, did not dispute Daly’s account of the alleged laser incident in his own testimony to the panel.

``He’s described the problem,″ Jacoby testified, noting that the Kapitan Man ``was being watched closely. It was a suspicious ship.″

He said it and other Russian merchant ships had had ``numerous close encounters″ with Navy submarines in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Daly said that, on one frame of his film, a red light could be seen emanating from the ship.

He said that it has an orange rim within it, with a white spot at the center _ which he said was consistent with a laser beam rather than a ship’s red navigation light

The testimony before the procurement subcommittee came at a hearing on what the military services are doing to protect the military from unconventional warfare, including laser attacks.

NATO pilots and crew members were ordered to wear protective glasses in October after two American helicopter crew members sustained minor corneal burns, apparently from a laser pointed at them.

Army Lt. Gen. Paul Kern told the subcommittee that protective eyewear is being issued to those who might be exposed to laser attacks, including pilots.

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