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Navy Man Arrested on Spy Charge Offered Secrets to Russia

April 24, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy machinist’s mate arrested in Orlando, Fla., this week on charges of military espionage had contacted Russian officials in an attempt to sell classified submarine information, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The FBI, in announcing the arrest of Kurt G. Lessenthien, 29, of Orlando, said Tuesday that he was arrested by a federal agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. But it did not identify the country involved.

A U.S. government official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said Wednesday that federal authorities had intercepted a telephone call by Lessenthien to the Russian Embassy in Washington indicating a willingness to commit espionage.

A federal agent posing as a Russian then gave Lessenthien the name of a contact, and on March 19 he called the contact _ also a federal agent _ and made the offer to sell classified information, the official said.

Lessenthien sent an initial package of classified information to demonstrate his intent, the official said. Sometime later, Lessenthien agreed to a one-on-one meeting to make a second swap of information for money at an Orlando motel, the official said. At that meeting on Monday he was arrested.

Lessenthien offered to make a series of exchanges of classified information for payoffs totaling ``tens of thousands″ of dollars, the official said.

The case was handled jointly by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Friends and relatives expressed shock at Lessenthien’s arrest.

``I don’t believe it,″ said James Carter, a roommate of Lessenthien. ``He was real patriotic to America. ... Kurt’s not guilty of what he’s charged for. He was set up.″

``Totally shocking,″ said his brother, Eric Lessenthien. ``I’m in total amazement. It’s beyond belief to me. I believe he was set up, set up or coerced into it. I don’t feel that he was the type of person that would do this.″

At the time of his arrest, Lessenthien was an instructor at the Navy’s Nuclear Power School in Orlando. He was cleared to handle secret information.

He is being held at the Consolidated Naval Brig, a military jail, in Norfolk, Va., and is to be charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.