Accused CIA spy Harold James Nicholson, entering a formal plea of not guilty to charges of espionage, will face trial March 10, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Before that date, however, Nicholson’s court-appointed attorneys must be given security clearances to study hundreds of classified documents that could figure in his case.
Because granting these clearances and access to sensitive records is a slow process, some legal experts said the March court date may have to be pushed back.
U.S. District Judge James Cacheris, who accepted Nicholson’s plea in his Alexandria, Va., courtroom, also approved a gag order restricting further public statements by the government and defense.
Nicholson’s chief lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, sought the order, complaining that he was “shocked at the daily deluge of extraordinarily prejudicial comment, speculation and innuendo coming from the mouths of high law enforcement officials.”
Shapiro said CIA Director John M. Deutch and others who have given televised interviews “seem bent on putting the best spin possible on their embarrassment about alleged security breaches at the CIA so close on the heels of the (Aldrich) Ames case.”
He was referring to the agency’s most damaging mole, Ames, whose celebrated arrest and guilty plea in 1994 occurred two months before Nicholson is charged with initiating his own spying for Russia.
Ames betrayed up to a dozen valuable CIA Russian contacts, most of whom were subsequently executed by Moscow.