Bush wants death for 'spy who offered secrets to Iraq'

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The Bush administration is seeking the execution of a former Air Force master sergeant accused of selling secrets to Iraq and Libya. If the death penalty is carried out ,it will be the first time the US has executed anyone for spying since the 1950s.

Prosecutors have argued that Brian Regan, 39, should be executed for allegedly writing to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, offering to sell them US intelligence reports about their countries along with satellite photographs for $13m.

"The defendant intended to give to Iraq, a hostile country that has regularly attempted to shoot down US and allied aircraft flying in the no-fly zone, detailed and comprehensive information concerning US reconnaissance satellites," said US Attorney Paul McNulty in a statement filed before a federal court late on Friday. "The disclosure of this information would make it more difficult to protect the lives of our servicemen."

Mr Regan, a retired Air Force sergeant who worked with US spy satellites, was arrested last August as he attempted to board a plane to Zurich at Washington's Dulles airport. Agents said his bags contained five pages of secret documents relating to an intelligence computer system, plus encrypted notes and a handheld global positioning system device.

A 19-page FBI affidavit filed at the time described two trips Mr Regan made abroad, allegedly to pass information he gathered at his last military posting at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in Chantilly, Virginia. After he retired, Mr Regan returned to the NRO as an employee of TRW, a government contractor.

The statement filed on Friday contains a letter Mr Regan allegedly wrote to Libyan intelligence agents. It reads: "This letter contains sensitive information. This letter is confidential and directed to your President, Muammar Gaddafi, or Intelligence Chief, General Al-Khuwaylidi Al Humaydi. Please pass this letter via diplomatic pouch and do not discuss the existence of this letter either in your offices or homes or via any electronic means (phone, telex, fax). If you do not follow these instructions the existence of this letter and its contents may be detected and collected by US intelligence agencies."

Mr Regan is charged with three counts of attempted espionage and one of gathering defence information. While it is not clear whether prosecutors believe he actually sold information, they have alleged that his behaviour "created a grave risk to national security" and created a "grave risk of death".

Mr Regan's lawyers say the seeking of the death penalty is politically motivated. America has not executed anyone for espionage since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to the electric chair in 1953 for selling atomic secrets to the USSR.

"It is outrageous that the United States would try to execute a guy who never hurt the US when death was not even an issue for the likes of [convicted spies] Robert Hanssen, James Nicholson and Earl Pitts," said Jonathan Shapiro, one of Mr Regan's legal team.