Spy suspect Lipka suggested killing witness, U.S. says Prosecutors say Pa. man should be denied bail

March 06, 1996|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN STAFF

Robert S. Lipka, the former National Security Agency clerk charged with selling secrets to Soviet agents, once suggested that a witness against him be killed with cyanide -- proving he is too dangerous to be allowed bail, federal prosecutors will argue in a Philadelphia courtroom today.

"If this is how he reacts to a threat, this is not a guy we want on the street," said Barbara J. Cohan, assistant United States attorney.

Mr. Lipka, 50, was arrested at his home in Millersville, Pa., Feb. 23 and charged with stealing NSA documents while he was an Army enlisted man in the late 1960s. The papers allegedly included U.S. troop movements in Vietnam and White House summaries.

Federal investigators tracked Mr. Lipka down in 1993, and an FBI agent posing as a Russian military intelligence official began recording their conversations.

Ms. Cohan said the agent, who was trying to win Mr. Lipka's confidence, warned at one meeting that he knew of a person who could reveal Mr. Lipka's espionage to the FBI. There was no such person at the time, Ms. Cohan said, but Mr. Lipka didn't know that.

Mr. Lipka allegedly asked the agent if he had "equipment" that could be used to "sanction" the witness. "You mean to kill him?" the FBI agent asked. "Yeah," Mr. Lipka replied, according to court papers.

Then, Mr. Lipka allegedly suggested a "Bandera-style sanction." Stephan Bandera, a Ukrainian anti-Communist leader, was found dead of cyanide poisoning in 1959.

Prosecutors say they later contacted Mr. Lipka's first wife, the former Patricia Davis of Baltimore, and gave her immunity from prosecution. In exchange, they say, she provided details of her husband's activities during their marriage.

Ms. Cohan said Mr. Lipka could be dangerous. "If he's talking this way about this hypothetical witness, what's he going to do to his ex-wife if he's released?" she asked. Other witnesses also will be identified as the trial nears, she said.

Prosecutors also allege that Mr. Lipka, who could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on espionage charges, could easily defect to Russia if freed on bail.

Ms. Cohan said the trial will be complicated by the nature of the documents that Mr. Lipka allegedly sold, many of which remain classified 30 years later. "We will have to declassify some things, but some can't be declassified," Ms. Cohan said.

"There will be some closed hearings. There may be some things that the jury will see that you won't see."

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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