LONDON — A former CIA agent and Navy commander arrested in Britain on an espionage charge was acquitted today after the prosecution said he had duped the Soviets with useless information.
The prosecution was ordered to pay $7,500 in court costs.
Lawyers for the defendant, former U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Bothwell, formerly of Narberth, Pa., said later he was considering a suit for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. The lawyers said the allegations ruined Bothwell's import-export business.
Bothwell, 59, an American who lives in Bath, England, was arrested Feb. 16 as he tried to leave for Austria. He was charged under the Official Secrets Act with arranging for the communication of information calculated to be useful to an enemy.
Tip From 'Good Source'
Prosecutor Michael Bibby told Bow Street Magistrates Court that Bothwell was charged after police received a tip "from a very good source" that he was passing North Atlantic Treaty Organization secrets to the Soviet Union.
However, Bibby said, it had been learned that Bothwell was handing over useless information which he packaged to look like top military secrets.
"He was a CIA agent with the U.S. Navy in Greece but left in 1972 to set up a shipping business,' Bibby said. "He had legitimate business with the Russians, but pressure was put on him by them to supply information."
Defense lawyers declined to say what sort of pressure was put on Bothwell, but they said it was not blackmail.
Packaged to Look Secret
Bibby said of Bothwell: "He has admitted passing information to the Russians but denied it was information of a damaging nature. It could have been obtained by anyone. But he packaged it up to make it seem authentic.
"He also admitted making dead letter drops to the Russians but it is now conceded that any information he did pass was to dupe the Russians," Bibby said.
At a hearing in March, when Bothwell was granted bail, he said he was approached by Soviet agents but only gave them information he obtained from Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper and from Newsweek.
A formal verdict of not guilty was given after Bibby offered no evidence against Bothwell.
"The prosecution have to prove he prejudiced the safety of this country, and that is a vital gap in this case," Bibby said.
At the time of Bothwell's arrest, news reports suggested it was based on disclosures by Soviet trade mission official Viktor Gudarev, who defected to the West in Greece in February. Gudarev was identified by U.S. officials as a colonel in the Soviet KGB secret police.