Local News

Two Versions Emerge of Soldier Charged with Computer Spying

Posted August 21, 1996

— August 22, 1996 - 8:14 a.m. EDT

Related AP Audio Files Courtesy ofWRAL-FM:

  • Eric Jenott's father talks to WRAL-TV5 photographer/reporter Richard Adkins about the charges against his son. Listen toauorReal Audiofile.
  • Jenott's father says his son is well-respected and was a good soldier. Listen toauorReal Audiofile. FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP)-- A Fort Bragg soldier charged with espionage had an interest in China and visited the country, but he was not a spy, his stepmother said.

    The Pentagon on Wednesday confirmed that charges have been filed against Pfc. Eric Jenott. Jenott was charged with espionage, damaging military property, larceny and breaking into government computer systems, according to Army documents.

    The Army documents said that Jenott gave secret passwords to ``a citizen of a foreign nation.''

    ``As a younger teen, he was just fascinated with the Chinese culture, just interested in it,'' his stepmother, Kelly Jenott, of Graham, Wash., told the Fayetteville Observer-Times.

    About three years ago, Eric Jenott visited friends in China for two or three months, Mrs. Jenott told the newspaper. The next year, he went back to China for at least a month with his mother and brother, she said.

    Jenott attended a Chinese church in Vancouver. He taught himself Chinese and speaks the language fluently.

    ``This Chinese thing is really taking the focus off of what should be the issue,'' she said. ``Just because he had Chinese friends, they're making him out to be a spy.''

    Other than confirming that charges have been filed against Jenott, the Pentagon was not saying very much about Jenott's arrest.

    Jenott, whose job at Fort Bragg involves high-tech computers and satellite communications, has been jailed since June 26.

    ``There is an ongoing investigation,'' Lt. Col. Ray Whitehead, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday. ``The individual named in the story has been charged. He is in pretrial confinement at a Camp Lejeune jail.''

    Whitehead said he could not discuss the charges detailed in the story.

    In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Kelly Jenott said her stepson was ``devastated'' as he sat in a military jail cell in North Carolina. She said she the family spoke with him last week.

    ``He (Eric) felt like he was helping by showing up weaknesses in the system,'' she said. ``If he was working for spies, why would he be the one to bring it out?''

    John Jenott told the Observer-Times his son discovered an apparent weakness in the military's communications system several months ago, and persuaded his superiors to watch him break into the system to prove a point.

    Jenott, a member of Fort Bragg's 35th Signal Brigade, also told investigators that he gave a friend from China an Internet access code that is not classified, his father said.

    ``What he gave to his friend was not even classified,'' said Mrs. Jenott. ``They are blowing it out of proportion.''

    She could not explain what kind of code Jennott had shared.

    But she suggested a reason why her stepson was being treated like a criminal. ``Maybe they are embarrassed because the system is not as foolproof as they thought it was.''

    Jenott, of Seattle could be sentenced to life in a military prison if he is convicted in a court-martial.

    ``He is not a criminal, just a computer hacker who happened to access a very important and expensive, supposedly impenetrable system,'' his lawyer, Timothy Dunn, told the paper.

    Dunn did not immediately return telephone messages left Wednesday at his law office in Fayetteville. His secretary said he was at Fort Bragg.

    The ordeal has left Jenott confused and frightened, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

    ``This is, beyond a doubt, the most horrible experience of my life,'' he wrote to his father. ``Nothing comes close to comparing ... It's very scary, terrifying in fact. I can never get used to this terror.''

    ``Please pray that I will be released, released soon,'' he continued. ``That if possible I won't have to serve prison time after my trial.''

    But, his stepmother says, the imprisonment and upcoming court-martial have not shaken Jenott's respect for the Army.

    He closed the letter, she says, with the words, ``I love the Army.''

    A court-martial could decide next month if Jenott will remain in jail

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