THE NAVY CALLED IT a case of national security and said whoever sabotaged its Trident nuclear submarine— cutting at least 105 power cables on the USS Alaska while it was docked at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard last fall—could get 300 years in prison. As it turned out last week, a slight, boyish-looking, drug-using Missile Technician 2nd Class, Ernesto Cimmino, 24, admitted he had stupidly cut 14 cables for the "rush" and was sentenced to less than five years at the Maramar brig near San Diego.
A New Yorker, Cimmino said he joined the Navy in 1997 to see the world. But, stationed at the Bangor sub base and living at a crewmen's Animal House in Bremerton, he lived a dark existence, doing drugs like cocaine, speed, and acid. At his trial in February ("Slicing the Sub," SW, March 1, 2001), Cimmino proved to be much less the saboteur than the Navy had advertised. He described a dreary life ashore drugging with Navy buddies and having an affair with the wife of another Navy man. Aware that he'd become a suspect, Cimmino had telephoned investigators to ask if the Navy had caught him on videotape cutting cables and wanting to know if polygraph results could be admitted in a court martial.
Cimmino plea bargained 23 counts of property destruction, conspiracy, theft, obstruction of justice, and drug use. Apparently he can do time just fine: During a break in his trial, he was asked how life was in the brig. "It's actually fun!" he said. "Food's good, too."
As for who cut those 90-some remaining cables, the Navy doesn't seem to know (Cimmino was winnowed out of a suspect list of more than 1,000). But the service can guess at a motive: A Navy chief—a national security expert—says cables had been cut on other ships in the past, such as the big aircraft carriers USS Ranger and USS Nimitz, when they were at Bremerton for refitting. "It means delays and more port time for a disgruntled sailor," he says. "Some are in no hurry to go back to sea."