(NYT) A longtime Foreign Service officer at the State Department, who until recently was a ranking official on East Asian affairs, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with concealing a trip to Taiwan, and is suspected of improperly passing documents to Taiwanese intelligence agents, law enforcement and intelligence officials said.
The diplomat, Donald W. Keyser, appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Va., and was charged with making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a government background check.
A career foreign service officer, Mr. Keyser was a top advisor on China to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell before resigning abruptly several weeks ago in the face of accusations that he had passed information to the Taiwanese, officials said.
F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Washington field office are investigating the case as possible espionage, but officials would not characterize the seriousness of the investigation. “The allegation is what it is – a case of making a false statement to the F.B.I.- and that’s all we can say,” said a Justice Department official speaking on condition of anonymity.
The State Department declined comment on the case because of the ongoing criminal investigation. A spokesman noted that Mr. Keyser is currently assigned to the Foreign Service Institute, a department training branch. Mr. Keyer is alleged to have met with a Taiwanese intelligence agent in Tapei last year during an official trip to China and Japan, officials said. He did not disclose the meeting as required during a background check and was the subject of an F.B.I. surveillance operation as a result, officials said.
Because the United States does not have direct diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it is rare for diplomats to travel to the country, especially in any official capacity, without specific permission.
An F.B.I. affidavit in the case said he was seen meeting with two Taiwanese agents in a series of covert meeting around Washingtonthis summer and that he handed the Taiwanese contacts what appeared to be government material, including a document titled “discussion topics,” The Washington Post reports in Thursday’s editions. A copy of the affidavit could not be obtained independently late Wednesday.
In a separate matter, the F.B.I. is also investigating accusations that an analyst at the Pentagon may have improperly passed information to Israel through an Israeli lobbying group.
Mr. Keyser was also involved in controversy over a security breach during the Clinton administration when a laptop computer containing highly sensitive material was discovered missing.
Assigned at the time to the State Department’s intelligence and research bureau, Mr. Keyser was suspended from his job and reassigned to the office of the director general of the Foreign Service, officials said.
His boss at the time, J. Stapleton Roy, resigned in protest over the disciplinary action against Mr. Keyser and five others.
Mr. Keyser was described by colleagues at the time as a brilliant linguist with a fierce intellect and analytical ability. In March he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to highlight the need to fight terrorism in Southeast Asia.
Mr. Keyser is charged with making an undisclosed trip to Taiwan last year, but two administration officials said that charge was simply a small part of a broader investigation. For much of last year, Taiwan was engaged in a tense standoff with the Bush administration and Beijing over how far it could go in holding referendums that were clearly intended to edge the country toward independence. And on Nov. 18, 2003, a Chinese general who is in charge of Taiwan affairs warned that if necessary China would use force to stop what he called “the open promotion of Taiwan independence.”
President Bush used a November, 2003, visit to Washington by China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, to declare that he was opposed to any move by Taiwan that would change the status quo between Taiwan and China. Mr. Bush was widely criticized, even by some conservatives, for siding with authoritarians in Beijing rather than a democratic Taiwan. The Taiwanese were also angry, and Mr. Keyser was involved in managing that relationship.
Mr. Keyser was involved, officials say, in the diplomacy to get Taiwan to back down from a confrontational stance against China when Mr. Chen was re-elected in March. He was also a minor player in the diplomacy to get China to back American pressure against North Korea.
It is unclear whether the documents the indictment alleges were handed off to the Taiwanese by Mr Keyser were classified, or whether they dealt with China policy, arms sales or other issues. But one colleague of his said “there is no one else who was at the heart of so many issues.”