March 12, 2015 / 7:15 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. naval historian's grandson pleads guilty to stealing records

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Navy intelligence analyst Samuel L. Morison, who received a presidential pardon in 2001 after being convicted of passing secret ship photos to a British publication, pleaded guilty on Thursday to stealing records related to his naval historian grandfather.

Samuel L. Morison, 70, of Crofton, Maryland, entered the guilty plea in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court to theft of government property and was sentenced to two years of probation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Morison was accused in June 2014 of offering to sell to a bookstore owner U.S. records relating to the work of his late grandfather, Pulitzer Prize-winning naval historian Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, during World War Two. President Franklin Roosevelt had assigned the elder Morison to write a history of U.S. wartime naval operations.

The bookstore owner was alleged to have taken the records on consignment to sell them on eBay. Agents with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration found that the documents offered for sale online belonged to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, the prosecutor’s statement said.

A search of Morison’s residence turned up about 34 boxes of his grandfather’s papers suspected of being taken from the Navy Archives. Morison had served as a part-time researcher at the archives, the statement said.

U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. sentenced Morison to probation with two conditions: that Morison not get access to any library or archives without his probation officer’s permission, and that he help investigators identify government property in his possession.

In imposing the sentence, Quarles cited Morison’s failing health, military service and cooperation with investigators.

Morison was convicted in 1985 of illegally passing secret photographs of Soviet ships to the publication Jane’s Defence Weekly and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was the first person convicted under the U.S. Espionage Act for divulging secrets to the press.

In 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned Morison despite the opposition of the CIA.

The elder Morison wrote a 15-volume history of U.S. naval operations during World War Two. He won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of Christopher Columbus and of U.S. Revolutionary War sailor John Paul Jones.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Will Dunham

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