The US Navy has categorically denied that Petty Officer Ariel J. Weinmann was spying for Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to a Navy official, reports that Weinmann was an Israeli spy are "absolutely not true."
Weinmann was apprehended on March 26 after being listed as "a deserter by his command," according to the US Navy.
On Monday, the Saudi daily Al-Watan wrote that Weinmann had recently returned from Israel and implied that he may have been working for the Mossad.
"I can tell you definitively that is not true," the Navy official said in a phone interview with the Post on Tuesday. "This is not a case of an individual spying for Israel...The Al-Watan report is erroneous," he continued.
The official said he had no idea where the Saudi paper got their information from, and that his sources at the Pentagon also knew that Weinmann, suspected of spying, was not a spy for Israel.
To date, the navy has completed an initial investigation and brought a set of initial charges, called preferred charges, against Weinmann. The preferred charges include desertion, larceny, destroying US military property, failure to obey orders or regulations, and espionage.
Specifically, it is alleged that while serving at or near Bahrain, Mexico, and Austria, Weinmann "with intent or reason to believe it would be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, [attempted] to communicate, deliver or transmit classified CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET information relating to the national defense, to a representative, officer, agent or employee of a foreign government."
The preferred charges also include stealing a military laptop "of a value of more than $500.00," and "willfully [destroying] a laptop computer hard drive, of some value, by smashing it with a mallet and cutting off the pins," the Navy charge sheet states.
However these charges are only the first step in a complex legal process. The preferred charges are not necessarily the charges that will be referred to the court martial. If another round of charges is brought forth, it will occur "in a matter of weeks, not months" according to Ted Brown, a media relations officer at the US Fleet Forces Command. It is only then that the public would learn which country Weinmann is suspected of spying for.
The decision of what charges to refer to the court martial - if any - falls under the jurisdiction of the convening authority. In this case, that is the commander of US Fleet Forces Command.
One potentially disturbing oversight in the Navy's report is that in its official biographical summary of the officer in question, Weinmann's middle name appears as "Jonathan," where as in the preferred charges, it is listed as "Joseph."
As for the Saudi allegation of Israeli involvement, if the US Defense Department did not leak the accusation, then it may have been fabricated by Al-Watan. Saudi Arabia does not enjoy freedom of press and all major media outlets are closely monitored by the government.