More Americans have been caught spying on U. S. intelligence and military services—particularly the Navy—in the 1980s than in any other decade. Though many of these spies are now behind bars, counterintelligence officials are certain that more are still active. Who are they?
U. S. counterintelligence officials who thought that they had seen the worst in 1985—labeled “the year of the spy”—now realize that the Soviets still have a large espionage network in the West. Considering the number of spies and would-be spies still being unearthed, the 1980s have become “the Decade of the Spy.” Counterintelligence officials have discovered more penetrations of U. S. military and intelligence services than in any previous decade.
Robert M. Gates, a former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence and now President George Bush’s Deputy National Security Advisor, believes that there are three main causes for this epidemic of espionage:
“First, I think there is a certain social change taking place, a breakdown of discipline. Nearly all of the people who have been caught in recent years have been motivated primarily by money and, some of them, by revenge. These tend not to be the kinds of things that we focus on in our security investigations. Second, there is a serious problem of over-classification of documents and the lack of stringent use of compartmentation. . . . There’s too much classified stuff floating around out there. Third, we are not paying enough attention to countermeasures and prevention— security.”1
Another incentive for becoming a spy is the perceived adventure. Jonathan Jay Pollard, now serving a life term for having spied for Israel (his wife is serving five years for being his accomplice), suggested to a senior Navy intelligence official that his motivation was “kicks ... the thrill, the risk,” as well as money.
The Navy’s most notorious spy of this decade, John A. Walker, Jr., set up a private investigator business after leaving the Navy. Brazenly operating Counterspy, Inc., Walker took time out from his spying for the Soviets to appear on the syndicated television show PM Magazine to demonstrate the tradecraft of a “PI” and—unknown to the viewing audience—a spy. Walker reveled in this dual life of adventure.2
Despite the similarity of motives for the spies of the 1980s—money, revenge, and adventure—they do not appear to have a common method of operation. Therefore, most government experts agree that the only recourse at this time is to strengthen counterintelligence and security- Counterintelligence is knowing what the other side is doing to you and applying the countermeasures necessary to stop the enemy’s efforts. Security is the way you prevent his intelligence services from working against you- According to Gates, “The government’s record to counterintelligence is improving. All you have to do is look at the number of spies that have been caught in the last three or four years compared to prior periods to see the success we’ve had at uncovering them.” However, Gates added, “Are there more out there? Almost certainly-' Gates is less sanguine about U. S. intelligence security- In this respect he is in a strange agreement with convicted Navy spy John Walker, who is serving a life sentence for running an espionage operation for at least 17 years- “K Mart protects their toothpaste better than the Navy protects their top secrets,” Walker gloated in a television interview.3 As an example of lax military security. Walker told how he gave himself a security update by using 3 rubber stamp that he had made up in a local store.
Current U. S. defense budget constraints mean that there is little money available for security upgrades- Therefore, according to Gates, significant improvements in U. S. intelligence security will be difficult. He said1
“Security is a very big budget item. Agencies have different standards, often for the same clearance. And you don’t have the same highly integrated approach to dealing with the problem that you do, say, in counterintelligence in the last three years or so. Security is always early up on the chopping block in periods of budgetary stringency.
“Even when the budgets were growing in DoD [Department of Defense] and in the intelligence community in the early 1980s, security was slow to get it together and make significant proposals for new investments and processes. By the time they got their act together the big budget increases were over. And so now they have to compete with everything else.”
Cryptographic systems are among the most expensive items in the intelligence-security budget. That cost is what helped to make John Walker a star among U. S. traitors. The Navy and the other services knew that the KW-7 code machine—the most widely used by U. S. forces—had been compromised to the Soviets in the capture of the U. S. spy ship Pueblo (AGER-2) by the North Koreans in January 1968. Other compromises came about owing to National Security Agency (NSA) defectors, the loss of equipment in Vietnam, and the sale until last year of code machine details to the Soviets by Army Warrant Officer Joseph G. Helmich beginning in 1963.
What security officials did not then know was that beginning in January 1968 Navy communications specialist John Walker was providing the Soviets with key-list cards, which permitted them to unlock U. S. codes. The services had always assumed that, even with the code machines compromised, without the key-lists the Soviets could not gain access to our encoded transmissions.
‘‘We knew the KW-7 was vulnerable,” a retired senior Navy communications officer told the authors. “We never heard that NSA said there was a [security] problem with the key-list, except for some being lost once. We heard that they had been lost in [aircraft] crashes. And 30 machines had been lost in Vietnam. But having the machines was not enough. The Soviets did not have computers that could calculate fast enough to understand the algorithm.” The algorithm is the mathematical logic that translates a message’s number groups into electronic signals that can be read by the machine’s teletype system.
The KW-7 was carrying “top secret” message traffic through the period of this vulnerability. But, the officer continued, “A Navy directive put out by NSA said that by 1982 we should drop the KW-7 to confidential by 1987. The KW-84 was to be the replacement. All the services said to NSA, ‘Go pound sand! We know you won’t be able to deliver the KW-84.’” So the KW-7 continued to carry the nation’s most vital messages.
In an attempt to solve the problem of code machine compromise, the DoD tried to update military code machines through the cryptographic utilization program, inevitably called by its acronym CUP. The idea was to pass the cup among the Pentagon’s users of cryptography, asking each one to contribute a share of the conversion cost. The services balked; they all had other bills to pay. The CUP was never filled.
Gates and other government officials have criticized over-classification. “I think that we’re trying to protect too much stuff. We just have this mountain of material, and the more you have, the more thinly spread your effort to protect it. So if we can cut down on the amount of classified documents, then we can concentrate our resources more carefully. And similarly, if we can have tighter compartmentation then you can really focus the maximum efforts on those categories of information or knowledge that are the most sensitive,” Gates said.
These views confirmed a landmark 1985 DoD study directed by General Richard G. Stilwell, U. S. Army (Retired), that stated, “ ... it is clear that the volume of classified documents is enormous. Obviously, the Department [DoD] needs to protect much of what it is doing with classification controls. Nonetheless, too much information appears to be classified and at much higher levels than is warranted.”4
Gates observed, “I think that where you run into the biggest problem is probably people stamping ‘top secret' on something that really is ‘secret.’ You spend an awful lot of money and effort protecting ‘top secret’ information compared to the ‘secret.’ And it’s just because, ‘Maybe I can get the general or my boss to look at this paper if it’s top secret, where he’ll just think it’s routine if it’s secret.’ They use it almost as a precedence for action instead of a classification.”
Jonathan Jay Pollard “is an example of the breakdown of the compartmentation process,” said Gates. Pollard was an analyst for the Anti-Terrorism Alert Center, which was established by the Navy and Marine Corps to alert forces at sea and overseas of terrorist threats—an effort to avoid a repeat of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut. While analyzing terrorist information relating to Central and South America, Pollard broke into numerous other compartments to provide Israeli intelligence with more than 1,000 classified documents totaling about 500,000 pages, or “360 cubic feet” of material. Some documents were several hundred pages in length: most were classified as “top secret.” “He gathered so much he didn’t know what he gave,” said one senior naval intelligence officer.
According to that official, Pollard would sit down at a computer with access to classified files, browse the files, and, using a search program, look for specific items such as “Iraq” and “Chemical.” The computer would quickly scan its memory banks for everything with that combination of key words. He would then print out page after page of classified reports on the subject, bundle up the printout. : put a rubber band around it, and carry it out of the building for later delivery to the Israelis. His principal interests were “oriented toward [U. S.] capabilities to obtain information [intelligence],” said the official.
Pollard easily violated a number of compartmented programs. Discussing the attitudes that have allowed Pollard and others to steal America’s secrets by simply breaking some rules. Gates said, “There is a general view among awide range of people with clearances that security on a day-to-day basis is a pain in the neck, is an obstacle to getting the job done, and it has to be tolerated, but too often it’s tolerated only in principle.”
The Defense Department has tightened security. Some actions have been meaningful, such as developing key-lists for code-machine key-lists that cannot be reproduced on copying machines. But some actions have been ridiculous, such as reducing the number of security clearances given. The latter does nothing to root out would-be spies: it is merely an exercise in bean counting. Sometimes the beans are even counted twice, as when a defense consultant holding clearances with two organizations could have one clearance taken away but not the other.
Trading Secrets for Money and Vengeance
The Navy has suffered the pain of having more spies and traitors during the decade of the spy than any other U. S. government organization. Since 1979, about 20 sailors, Marines, and civilian employees of the Navy Department have been sentenced to prison or discharged for espionage-related offenses, and one defected to Moscow.
Besides these Navy spies, U. S. secrets have been sold by officers and enlisted men from the Army and Air Force, FBI and CIA agents, and employees of defense contractors. According to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, “Business [for Soviet intelligence] is so good, there is so much to steal, that the Soviets had to split the country at the Mississippi River.” The eastern area’s spy activities are directed from the Soviet embassy in Washington, and the western sector from the embassy in Mexico City.5
The Navy’s contributions to the decade of the spy have ranged from Samuel L. Morison, an analyst at the Naval Intelligence Support Center (NISC) in the Washington suburb of Suitland, Maryland, who provided satellite photographs to a British magazine, to John Walker, who said, “If I had access, color it gone.” U. S. Attorney William S. Farmer, who prosecuted Walker accomplice Jerry Whitworth, said of the Walker-Whitworth espionage effort, “The loss was absolutely enormous…[and]…probably altered the strategic balance of pwer.”6 Morison received a two-year prison term. The government was hard pressed to prove that the stolen satellite photos of the Soviet’s Nikolayev south shipyard revealed US. Satellite technology; the Soviets certainly knew what their unfinished aircraft carrier Tblisi looked like. (Pollard, incidentally, served on the damage-assessment committee that investigated Morison’s theft of classified material; Pollard worked at the same Suitland complex.)
Most convicted spies receive life imprisonment: John Walker, brother Arthur, and “best friend” Whitworth; Pollard, who spied for the Israelis; and Ronald Pelton, an NSA analyst who gave the Soviets details of U. S. submarine intelligence collection activities. In a special deal, in return for his guilty plea and being the star government witness against ex-Navy radioman Whitworth, Walker was able to obtain a 25-year prison sentence for his son, Michael, then age 22. Serving a 30-year sentence is Marine Corps Sergeant Clayton J. Lonetree, a guard at U. S. embassies in Moscow and Vienna, who was accused of giving KGB agents top secret information about embassy layouts and procedures.
One Navy spy got away. Glenn M. Souther, an active reserve petty officer assigned to the naval intelligence center in Norfolk, worked on satellite reconnaissance projects, an area of considerable KGB interest. In 1986, when Souther learned that he was the subject of a joint FBI- Naval Investigative Service inquiry, he disappeared. “We screwed up on that one,” then-Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, Jr., told the authors.7 Lehman explained that there were sufficient indications of Souther’s treachery to take more drastic action than to merely question him. The same situation almost occurred when Jay Pollard was questioned. Upon learning how much government investigators knew about his activities, Pollard fled with his wife to the Israeli embassy in Washington. The Pollards were turned away and immediately arrested by the FBI. Souther escaped to Moscow where, in July 1988, he was unveiled on television as someone who sought political asylum because “he had to hide from the U. S. special services, which were pursuing him groundlessly.”8
The typical Navyman involved in espionage, however, has been a disgruntled or greedy sailor who made a telephone call to the Soviet embassy or Soviet military office in Washington, attempting to sell a few secrets for a few dollars. In some cases, FBI monitors picked up the telephone conversations and tracked down the would-be spies. Recently, former chief petty officer Craig D. Kunkle allegedly tried to sell data on antisubmarine warfare to the Soviets. However, the would-be recipients were actually FBI agents posing as Soviet intelligence officials. In the encounter, photographed by hidden FBI cameras, Kunkle reportedly told the “Soviets” that he wanted to be a spy, just like John Walker.
Indeed, the glamorization of spies has become a major concern of U. S. intelligence officials. Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, Director of Naval Intelligence, has deplored John Walker’s agreeing to appear on the Frontline television show only if he were not shown in handcuffs, leg irons, or a prison uniform.9 Walker appeared on camera in a shirt and tie. Grinning, sometimes giggling, and sucking on an unlit pipe, Walker showed no remorse for his more than 17 years of spying.
Similarly, Jay and Anne Pollard have each appeared on 60 Minutes television shows to plead their cases, Jay contending that he was not a spy, but rather worked for an allied country entitled to the secret information he sold. Anne expressed their reluctance to take money from the Israelis. Yet when caught, Jay Pollard was asking his Israeli handlers for more up-front cash, in addition to the money, jewels, and first-class European travel funds he had already received.
Also paraded on Soviet television was Edward Lee Howard, a vengeful CIA officer who was dismissed from the agency in 1983 and later fled to Moscow. Earlier Moscow television appearances had been made by NSA and British intelligence defectors.
Why So Many Navy Traitors?
Throughout the assessments of the damage these spies have inflicted on the United States, this question predominates. There is no simple answer. A senior Navy intelligence official rhetorically asked the authors, “Do we hire our people differently?” Continuing, more to himself than to the authors, he said, “No one seems to join [the Navy] in order to penetrate. If there is one thing in common it is that they all seem to be weak people.”
One intelligence official postulated that possibly “because of the strategic role of the Navy [the Soviets] have more unanswered questions with respect to Navy operations. I just don’t know.”
Other factors may be the independent operations of naval forces and units, which lead to a greater reliance on radio communications than in the Army and Air Force. Similarly, several months’ supply of key lists are carried in replenishment ships owing to the nature of naval deployments. Thus, the Niagara Falls (AFS-3) served as a rich vein of key lists and other secrets for John Walker and, years later, Whitworth.
All Americans involved with codes—including Navy 1 radio specialists Walker and Whitworth—have been the top targets of Soviet espionage. According to a CIA manual on Soviet espionage, “It is this broad category of code clerks, secretaries. Marine guards, etc., which the Soviets regard as particularly vulnerable since (in the words of one KGB directive) ‘they do not belong to the privileged class and are worse off financially.’ ”10 The last point is critical: Most of the Americans who have betrayed their country to the Soviet Union and other countries during the past 30 years have done so for money.
The Soviets also try to introduce “class wars” in their spy recruiting. This was evident in the KGB’s special attempt to recruit a black Marine and a Marine who was a full-blooded American Indian among the guards at the U. S. embassy in Moscow in 1985-86. However, one Marine officer who served in the embassy during this period (without direct responsibility for the guards) pointed out that the Soviet efforts to turn embassy staff as well as guards into spies “is a blanket operation.” “These [American] people are in Moscow for a short time—two years,” he told the authors. “The Soviets go after them all; certainly some appear more vulnerable to their attempts than others, but almost everyone at the embassy, especially the junior people and enlisted Marine guards, are the subject of KGB attention.”
The CIA manual’s discussion of the KGB’s interest in Marine guards was amazingly prophetic. It accurately noted the potential personality weakness of typical young Marines and, in describing what damage a recruited Marine can do, the report reads like a scenario for events that investigators say actually happened:
“U. S. Marine enlisted men, assigned as guards at diplomatic installations abroad, are especially interesting targets to Soviet Intelligence because of their frequent access to safe combinations, their presence (sometimes alone) in embassies while on night duty and their obvious capability—in the event of recruitment—to emplace microphone and transmitter listening devices.
“Although handpicked for their protective duty assignments abroad and given special training and security indoctrination, Marine guard personnel are, for the most part, young and unmarried and often “on the town” in their off-duty hours. They are inevitably exposed to temptations which the Soviets can put in their paths. They are approachable by local nationals who are recruited agents of Soviet Intelligence and often by Soviets themselves. There have been repeated approaches of both types in every part of the world and also attempts at recruitment.”11
The manual also described an Austrian agent of the KGB who “was told to cultivate persons of two categories within the [U. S.] embassy—local citizens working as switchboard operators and Marine guard personnel.” Soviet intelligence officers began this cultivation soon after Marine guards were assigned to embassy duty in 1949. The traditionalist KGB was still issuing the same orders in Vienna in 1986, when the KGB approached a Marine guard who had already been recruited in Moscow.
Belatedly recognizing the vulnerability of Marines, especially young, unmarried enlisted men at the 140 embassy and consulate guard detachments around the world, the Marine Corps has initiated active prevention measures. This includes adding counterintelligence personnel to the security guard organization.12
Thwarting future espionage efforts will require us to change how we handle personnel, according to several government and private experts on counterintelligence and security. There is general agreement that security investigations are aimed primarily at people coming into government service and the defense industry. Thus, these investigations are conducted before anyone has access to highly classified material—or a motive for spying. The acceptance rate for persons applying for security clearances in the military and industry is about 99%., According to a recent congressional study, “Denial and revocation rates for the DOD on confidential, secret, and top secret clearances in fiscal years 1986 and 1987 were one percent. For sensitive compartmented information clearances the revocation rate has actually dropped from 5.1 percent in fiscal year 1983 to 1.4 percent in fiscal year 1987.”13
In terms of espionage detection, the critical period is not the time of one’s entry into government service or the military, but rather after several years of exposure to classified material. At that time, the access to significant secrets as well as a greater need for money may produce the right conditions for spying. According to Gates,
“These [situations] tend not to be the kinds of things that we focus on in our security investigations. We drive people around the bend on a variety of issues of personal vulnerability, but have not paid enough attention to people’s personal finances because that’s regarded as too intrusive. [We] ask them the most searching questions about their personal lives and morals and everything else. But, for some reason, asking them about their bank accounts is considered inappropriate.
“How people are monitored by their supervisors, how they’re supervised, and—once a problem is identified—how people are dealt with who have had access to extremely sensitive information, is a lesson that has been learned late by the CIA. And my guess is that CIA is out in front of the rest of the government.”
What is the backbone of the U. S. counterintelligence effort? “Getting guys from the other side to work for us,” said Gates, referring to the fact that a substantial number of spy cases have been broken using information from Soviet informants rather than U. S. counterintelligence sleuthing; Pelton and Howard were uncovered this way. Most of the other spies caught during the decade of the spy have been brought down by irate wives (Walker, Souther) or were victims of their own stupidity (Pollard, Morison).
During this period of Soviet glasnost, counterespionage seems destined to receive even less attention than it did earlier in the decade of the spy. But, according to Gates, “Since Gorbachev’s accession to power, the hostile intelligence threat against us has grown. The number of operations against us has certainly increased. Over the past three years [1985-88], we have discovered more penetrations of the U. S. defense and intelligence communities than at any time in our history.”14
The naval intelligence official put it very succinctly: “We haven’t caught the last American selling secrets to foreign powers. ...”
1. Interview with Dr. Robert M. Gates, Headquarters, Central Intelligence Agency, 17 January 1989.
2. For a detailed description of the Walter-Whitworth spy ring, see James Bamford, “The Walker Espionage Case,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review issue, May 1986, pp. 110-119.
3. Walker on Public Broadcasting System television documentary “Frontline: The Spy Who Broke the Code,” 24 January 1989.
4. Office of the Secretary of Defense, DOD Security Review Commission, Keeping The Nation's Secrets, 19 November 1985, p. 49.
5. Quoted in Gerhardt Thamm, “Security is Everybody’s Business,” Periscope (journal of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers), Fall 1988, p. 53.
6. Farmer appeared on “Frontline: The Spy Who Broke the Code." Farmer was “read in” to several highly classified programs during his participation in the Whitworth trial.
7. Interview with John F. Lehman, Jr., Pentagon, 25 February 1987.
8. Izvestia, 17 July 1988.
9. Interview with RAdm. Thomas A. Brooks, USN, 28 February 1989.
10. Central Intelligence Agency, Soviet Intelligence Operations Against Americans and U. S. Installations Abroad, July 1986, p. 13.
11. Ibid., p. 22.
12. “The Highest-Quality Force,” interview with Gen. A. M. Gray, USMC, Sea Power, November 1988, p. 20.
13. House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, U. S. Counterintelligence and Security Concerns: A Status Report, Personnel and Information Security, 19 October 1988, p. 7.
14. Gates speech before the 14th annual convention of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, McLean, VA, 15 October 1988.