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Judge Keeps Scientist Jailed on Foreign Cyberattack Plot

(CN) - A former scientist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission charged with trying to help foreign entities launch cyberattacks on the U.S. government failed to secure pretrial release from a federal judge.

Charles Harvey Eccleston was arrested seven months ago in the Philippines, where he was living, after an FBI sting operation caught him offering to help a foreign country attack the electronic infrastructure of the United States, either by obtaining "engineering blueprints of modern U.S. nuclear plants," or by damaging the computer systems of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Prosecutors say Eccleston was frustrated with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he used to work, when in 2013 he entered the embassy of a foreign county in the Philippines to find a buyer for classified information.

Having held secret and top-secret security clearances with the NRC and with the U.S. Department of Energy, Eccleston eventuall told an undercover FBI agent that he had left the NRC "in frustration" and was "mad at the agency" and that he was no longer the "hardcore patriot" that he once was, according to court records.

Though Eccleston is being held without bond for a criminal trial in Washington, D.C., he recently asked the court to let him out because his brother is sick.

Though Eccleston's ailing brother James lives in Seattle, the scientist notes that the government runs a high-intensity supervision program in Yakima, Wash.

Eccleston says he has another brother named Kim living in Yakima, and that he can live there while helping to run his ailing brother's used car business.

Prosecutors resisted altering Eccleston's bond terms, however, saying no degree of noncustodial supervision will eliminate the risks associated with Eccleston's release.

"The court agrees," U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss in D.C. wrote Monday.

"Although Eccleston may have oversold the sensitivity of the information that he offered to provide to the foreign country, the evidence currently before the court suggests that he was serious about assisting a foreign country in engaging in cyberattacks and extracting sensitive information from the DOE and/or the NRC," the nine-page opinion continues.

Eccleston's schemes may not amount to "'crimes of violence' in the traditional sense," Moss said, but the judge noted that "cyberattacks of this type can present a grave risk to the security of the United States and the safety of the public."

Noncustodial supervised release would enable Eccleston to access a computer and engage in criminal activity, the court found.

Facing 10 years in prison if convicted, Eccleston also poses a flight risk because his children live in the Philippines, and he has not lived close to his siblings in Washington state for seven years, according to the ruling.

Moss also noted that Eccleston is separated from his wife, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Eccleston's federal public defender, Carlos Vanegas, did not return to a request for comment.

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