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Federal court to probe 'improper communications' with reporter

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A federal court plans to investigate whether government officials illegally supplied grand jury information in a U.S. military secrets case to a Washington Times reporter.

Court papers show the investigation seeks to uncover a possible source and content of “improper communications” with Times reporter William Gertz for a story he wrote in May.

The order, entered Wednesday by a federal judge in Orange County, comes at the request of a defense attorney for Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, one of five family members indicted in an alleged scheme to send sensitive information about Navy warships to China. The request was joined by the other defendants.

The defense argued Gertz received information about a then-pending grand jury indictment of Chiu and the others on additional charges in violation of grand jury secrecy rules. Some of the charges cited in Gertz’s May 16 story are contained in an indictment returned last month.

The story was sourced to “senior Justice Department officials (who) have approved the new charges,” court papers said.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney said in court papers the alleged violation “triggers the duty of the court to investigate further.”

Carney ordered the government to submit a status report by early January on “the investigation it has undertaken to determine whether any government official had improper communications with Mr. Gertz,” according to court papers.

The government was also told to report measures it’s taking to prevent such communications with the public.

A Justice Department spokesman for the Central District of California did not immediately return a phone message left late Friday. A message left with a The Washington Times communications manager also was not immediately returned.

Chiu is married to Chi Mak, who allegedly took computer disks from an Anaheim defense contractor where he was lead engineer on a sensitive research project involving propulsion systems for Navy warships. Also charged in the case are Mak’s brother, Tai Wang Mak, his wife, Fuk Heung Li, and their son, Yui “Billy” Mak.

A federal indictment alleges counts of conspiracy to export U.S. defense articles to China; possession of property in aid of a foreign government; making false statements to federal investigators; and acting as agents of a foreign government, namely China, without prior notification to the U.S. attorney general.

Not all five face the same charges. All have entered not-guilty pleas.

Chiu’s attorney, Stanley Greenberg, said he was “pleased to see the court recognizes its duty to investigate.” At the same time, he questioned the court’s reliance on the government in the investigation.

“I don’t think the government has the same motivation that the court should,” he said.

The government claims that Chi Mak passed information about U.S. naval technology from his employer to his brother and that his nephew, Billy Mak, then helped encrypt the files onto a CD-ROM computer disk. That disk was found hidden the luggage of Tai Mak and his wife after they were arrested in October 2005 at Los Angeles International Airport as they prepared to travel to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China, authorities said.

According to the FBI, Chi Mak told investigators his brother was giving the information to a researcher at a Chinese university center that conducts operations research for and receives funding from the People’s Liberation Army.

Prosecutors have said previously that authorities recovered from the disk restricted documents on the DDX Destroyer, an advanced technology warship. They also allege that they found lists in Chinese asking Chi Mak to get documents about submarine torpedo technology, electromagnetic artillery systems, weapon standardization, early warning technology used to detect incoming missiles, and defenses used against nuclear attack.

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