Trial begins in Russian-laser case

By Jon Dougherty

Attorneys for a decorated U.S. Navy intelligence officer have told a federal court in Seattle that the crew of a Russian vessel believed on a spying mission intentionally fired a laser at a Canadian air force helicopter sent to photograph the ship, permanently injuring the officer and the pilot.

Larry Klayman, president and chief general counsel for the nonprofit legal group Judicial Watch, said Cmdr. Jack Daly, then a lieutenant, was injured when the crew of the Kapitan Man allegedly fired a laser at him as the ship laid off Puget Sound near Washington state five years ago.

Daly is suing the Far Eastern Shipping Company, known by the acronym FESCO, in U.S. district court. FESCO is a Russian company headquartered in Vladivostok and owned in part by the Russian government. Two other defendants – FESCO Agencies N.A. Inc. and FESCO Intermodal Inc. – are companies wholly owned by FESCO. The company is represented by attorney Marc Warner.

The April 4, 1997, incident occurred when Daly was a passenger in a Canadian military CH-124 “Sea King” helicopter piloted by Canadian Capt. Patrick Barnes.

Around noon, Klayman said, the Russian vessel was in U.S. territorial waters, five nautical miles north of Port Angeles, Wash., and was proceeding east in the inbound lane of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Port of Tacoma.

“Not coincidentally, the USS Ohio, a U.S. nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, had left the Bangor, Wash., submarine base and was heading out to sea through the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the same vicinity as the Kapitan Man,” Klayman told the jury of seven women and three men on Monday.

The Russian ship passed within 1,000 yards of the surfaced submarine, he said.

The Kapitan Man had a history of languishing in the narrow straits, usually when nuclear subs were traversing the area. The ship’s actions raised suspicions and prompted the Navy to investigate. Daly’s mission was to photograph the vessel for later inspection by intelligence teams.

Daly and Barnes made several passes at the ship. Within hours after the helicopter returned to its base near Victoria, British Columbia, both men exhibited signs that their eyes had been exposed to a laser. The next morning, both awoke with blood in the whites of their eyes.

The officers eventually were examined by Dr. David Scales, a now-retired Air Force ophthalmologist and retinologist, at the U.S. Army Medical Research Detachment, or USMRD, in San Antonio, Texas, the Pentagon’s center of expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of laser injuries.

Scales is considered an expert in the field and one of only a few doctors in the world who have studied the effect of weapons-grade laser injuries. He found lesions in the right eye of Daly but none in Barnes’, though he believes the beam of the laser may have been amplified as it entered the lens of Daly’s camera.

While manuvering the helicopter, Barnes also looked directly at the ship, but because he was flying – and not taking photographs – the sun visor on his helmet was down, which may have blunted the laser beam. His injury was such that he said yesterday during testimony the Canadian government gave him a 15 percent increase in his pension.

Tests showed the men were most likely hit with a Neodymium YAG laser, according to a USMRD analysis.

In late 1998, Daly followed up with Dr. Howard Cohen, an ophthalmologist specializing in laser eye injuries. Cohen, who had previously helped found the USMRD’s laser trauma center in the early 1990s in San Francisco, found six to seven threshold lesions on the retina of Daly’s right eye and another two threshold lesions on the retina of his left eye. These lesions are permanent, Cohen believes, and are characteristic of laser scars.

Shortly after the incident, Coast Guard teams were given two hours to search the vessel but did not locate a laser. Teams were not given full access to the ship, however, and the Clinton administration had warned the Russian government in advance the ship would be searched.

FESCO’s position is that regardless of what may have happened to Daly and Barnes, it wasn’t the result of a laser.

Klayman told WorldNetDaily he was confident of victory.

“The trial is going extremely well,” he said in an interview. “We’re confident of success.”

He said the case would be a “great victory” not only for Daly, but also “for [other] servicemen and the American people.”

“They can’t be given short shrift, particularly since they’re being asked to possibly go into battle” against Iraq in coming weeks, Klayman said.

U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour is presiding in the case.

The attack was first reported by The Washington Times after the paper obtained classified documents showing the State Department had sought to cover up the incident. The Clinton White House also did not publicly discuss the incident out of fear it would upset relations with Moscow, the paper said Monday.

Added Klayman, “To have the United States protect a foreign power … at the expense of its own serviceman, obviously, is untenable.”

The Navy asked an assistant U.S. attorney to monitor the trial to ensure that no classified information is released in court. Sources from the Office of Naval Intelligence told WND that a pair of representatives were sent to the trial.

The Times reported that the Office of Naval Intelligence did not support Daly and that, at one point in pretrial testimony, ONI official Raymond Elliott said naval intelligence did not even regard the laser incident as grave.

“It was not considered that serious an event at the time,” said Elliot, who also told Daly’s attorneys that the investigation into the laser incident was “as complicated as a high-school science project.”

Editor’s note: Talk-show host and WND columnist Jane Chastain is in Seattle and contributed to this report.

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