A former top U.S. diplomat pleaded guilty to concealing a relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence officer from his superiors at the State Department.
Donald W. Keyser, 62, pleaded guilty Monday to making false statements. As part of the case, he also admitted unlawfully removing classified documents from the State Department. He faces a maximum of 13 years in prison when he is sentenced February 24 in federal court.
Keyser, a 30-year State Department veteran who had previously been the second-ranking official in the department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, admitted having a relationship with Isabelle Cheng, 34, an official with Taiwan's intelligence agency.
Keyser was not charged with espionage or disclosing classified information to the Taiwanese. His lawyer, Robert Litt, denied the relationship was sexual.
But investigators who searched Keyser's home last year found thousands of State Department documents, including some marked top secret, which resulted in the mishandled documents charge.
Cheng, also known as Nain-Tzu Cheng, arrived in Washington in 2001 where she worked out of an office at The Tapei Economic Cultural and Representative Office, which represents the Taiwanese authorities in Washington.
"Keyser ... regularly communicated with her by telephone and e-mail, met with her privately on numerous occasions, and occasionally travelled with her," the statement said.
Keyser apologized during the hearing and told the judge that he wanted to keep the relationship a secret from his wife. He said "no effort to exploit me was ever made" and insisted he never provided Cheng with classified material, except for information that was cleared for release to Taiwan.
"However, I understand that my personal relationship with her might have made me vulnerable to attempted exploitation or pressure," Keyer said.
According to court documents, he did not disclose a four-day trip he took to Taiwan in 2003 to meet with Cheng, as required by law. He also failed to disclose his relationship with Cheng, also known as Cheng Nien-tse, when questioned by investigators in 2004.
Keyser also lied during a security investigation in 2004, the documents showed.
"During that interview, Keyser falsely claimed that he had not engaged in conduct which may make him vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or pressure from a foreign government when, in fact, he had done so," the Justice Department said in a statement.
FBI agents monitored Keyser in the summer of 2004 and found that he frequently met with Cheng and her boss at Taiwan's National Intelligence Bureau at Washington-area restaurants, where they would exchange papers, authorities said.
Keyser retired from the State Department in September 2004.