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Soldier A Computer Hacker, But Not Spy

Mon., Dec. 23, 1996

A soldier accused of passing a secret computer code to a Chinese citizen was found innocent Sunday of espionage, the most serious charge he faced at his court-martial.

But Pfc. Eric Jenott, 21, was guilty of damaging government property and computer fraud, the military jury found after lawyers presented closing arguments behind closed doors.

Jenott was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to forfeit all his benefits. The court-martial panel on Sunday also gave Jenott a bad-conduct discharge. The sentence will be appealed automatically.

Jenott, of Graham, Wash., near Tacoma, had access to the password in his job as a switch operator for the telephone system. He had faced up to life in prison if convicted of spying, breaking into government computers and damaging government property.

Prosecutors said Jenott broke into Pentagon computers and gave a secret computer password to Chinese citizen Qihang Liu, who has since returned to China. Prosecutors contended Jenott was trying to gain favor with the Chinese government because he wanted to defect to China.

Defense attorneys argued the password was not classified and that Jenott was fascinated with China because he had grown up in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his mother in a Chinese neighborhood.

During the proceedings, much of the testimony was closed to the public because of concerns over classified information.

Jenott said he learned about computer hacking from a friend, Tim Edgley, who testified that the two started hacking into computers four or five years ago.

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