Family of Spies: The John Walker Jr. Spy Case
The Story: Page 3
The KGB told John not to spend his money conspicuously, but he moved Barbara and their children into a rented apartment in Norfolks swankiest complex, hired a manager in Charleston to run their money-losing bar, and treated himself to a new MGB sports car and 24-foot sailboat. He also began a sexual fling with a college coed that included weekend jaunts to the Caribbean. Curious about her husbands newfound wealth, Barbara broke into a metal box John kept hidden at home in a desk. Inside it were rolls of film for a miniature camera, photographs of dead drop sites, and instructions from the KGB. She confronted him when he got home that night.
Im a spy, he admitted.
Even though Barbara would claim later that she had been horrified, she agreed to accompany him on his next dead drop. Our marriage was falling apart, she recalled. I thought that if I showed him I cared, that would help things to change. With John driving, Barbara leaped from the MGB and grabbed a grocery bag left by the KGB. In it were soft drink cans filled with fifty-dollar bills rolled up like cigarettes. Barbara ironed the bills when they got home to make them flat.
John continued to loot the Atlantic fleet of its keylists and any other classified documents that he could steal. His motto became KISS, an acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid. He copied most and simply walked out with them tucked in his briefcase. Among the secrets were codes being used by ground troops fighting in Vietnam and details about the Navys most sophisticated nuclear submarines. Without explanation, the Navy transferred him in 1969 to San Diego, California, to teach at a school for radio operators. As soon as he lost his access to keylists, the KGB cut his pay from $4,000 to $2,000 per month. John and Barbara immediately started having financial problems. John had to find some way to steal documents.
One of his students, Jerry Alfred Whitworth, seemed an easy mark. He was a pipe-smoking, slightly bald sailor who liked to think of himself as being an intellectual. But John recognized that Whitworth lacked self-confidence and felt a strong need to have people like him. John offered to teach him how to sail and they soon began spending most weekends on Johns boat, aptly named the Dirty Old Man. One night while they were sailing together, John mentioned the movie, Easy Rider. It is about two hippies who go on a motorcycle trip across America financed by cash they earned selling drugs. I might do something like that if I only had to do it once, Whitworth volunteered. You know, make one big score and end up with money so I could do whatever I wanted. John knew then that Whitworth had larceny in his heart, but he held off recruiting him as a spy.
The Navy had transferred John again, this time to a Navy supply ship, a job that once again gave him easy access to keylists. The KGB again bumped up his salary. Just as important, John got to spend months at sea, away from Barbara and their children. He was happy to be gone. The kids were becoming incorrigible and Barbara had developed a drinking problem. Much to his surprise, when he returned from a long cruise in early 1973, Barbara said she wanted a divorce. Although John despised her, he begged her to reconsider. It wasnt love, but fear. The FBI was required to perform a background check of every government employee with a Top Security clearance every five years and Johns was due. He was terrified that Barbara would turn him in if they were divorced. A gullible and desperate Barbara fell for his new round of promises, which he quickly broke as soon as he passed the background check.
He was safe, but the episode had frightened him. As long as Barbara knew he was spying, she could threaten him. He decided it was time to recruit Whitworth. John could then retire from the navy and serve as a courier between him and the KGB. Once he was out of the Navy, he would be able to tell Barbara that he was no longer spying. Then he could get rid of her. John made his pitch to Whitworth over lunch in their favorite restaurant near the San Diego International Airport. He began by casually asking Whitworth if he would like to earn a couple thousand dollars each month, completely tax-free. Whitworth took the bait.
We can sell intelligence in the international arena, John said.
You mean sell classified information? Whitworth asked.
John nodded and then added that their main customer would be Israel, an ally. That made espionage sound more palatable. By the time their desserts arrived, Whitworth had signed up.
John couldnt have picked a better time to recruit him. Having graduated from radio school, Whitworth was now being sent for advance training at the navys satellite communications school. The Pentagon was in the midst of retooling the U.S. militarys entire communications network and the navy was being put in charge of overseeing its satellites. Not only would Whitworth have access to keylists and sensitive cryptographic messages, he would be able to steal instruction manuals that would explain how the communications satellite system worked. John suggested that Whitworth use scuba diving terminology to discuss spying once he was assigned to a remote satellite listening post in the Pacific. In his first letter, Whitworth wrote: I made my first dive. It was real good.
The Navy transferred John back to Norfolk and he immediately put in for retirement. He and Barbara also divorced. Im divorcing you and the kids, he told her. Daughter Margaret, now 17, was impossible to control, Cynthia, 16, and Laura, 15, had become chronic runaways, and Michael, 12, was skipping school. Barbara and the kids moved to Maine where she had relatives. Happy to be rid of them, John became a private detective.
Whitworth photographed hundreds of classified documents for John who delivered them every few months to the KGB in Vienna. At first, the partnership went smoothly, but Whitworth soon began grumbling. The information he was stealing was worth millions, he complained, not the miserly $5,000 to $10,000 per month he was being paid. John promised to ask the KGB for more. Meanwhile, he began looking for ways to expand his spy ring in case Whitworth quit spying.
The easiest targets were his own children so he decided to reach out to them. His oldest daughter, Margaret, was thrilled when he called her, but she had no interest in joining the Navy. Nor did his second child, Cynthia. He was luckier with Laura. At his urging, she enlisted in the Army directly after high school, but she became pregnant shortly after she was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. John went to see her and suggested that she begin stealing classified information. When she told him that she was leaving the Army to have her baby, he offered to pay for an abortion. You can always have more kids later, he explained. She turned him down.
Just as John feared, Whitworth announced in 1979 that he was going to seek early retirement. John warned him that the KGB might kill them both to make certain the FBI never found out exactly what they had stolen. But his scare tactics didnt work. In a hastily called meeting in Vienna, the KGB agreed to pay Whitworth $60,000 and consider giving him a one million dollar lump sum payment. A happy Whitworth withdrew his retirement request.
John continued searching for other potential traitors. In 1973, Arthur had retired from the navy as a lieutenant commander. But in the six years since then, he had fallen on hard times. A small business that he had started had failed and he had gotten into tax trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. He was now working for VSE Corporation, a defense contractor. John used a textbook KGB method to entice him. He began by asking Arthur to bring him unclassified documents and then paid him $6,000, an intentionally extravagant payment, for the material. As soon as Arthur had seen how easy it was to smuggle documents out of VSE and how much he could earn for them, he was hooked.
Now that he had Whitworth and Arthur on board, John went after his son, Michael. He proved an easy target. Michael idolized his father. While living with his mother in Maine, Michael had become a heavy marijuana smoker and had turned to burglary to support his habit. Realizing that she had lost control of her 15-year-old son, Barbara sent him to live with his father. John, who also liked to smoke pot, gave Michael a $100 per week allowance and acted more like his best friend than a parent. They even shared joints together. There is nothing wrong with smoking marijuana, John explained There is nothing wrong with riding a Ferris Wheel, but goddamn it, if you do it twenty-four hours a day, you are f- up! What you kids dont understand is the joy of moderation. Michael agreed to cut back on his pot use and to finish high school. He also started working on weekends in his fathers private detective business. What Michael would only realize later was that John was getting him ready to become a spy. He urged him to take high school courses that would qualify him for Navy jobs with access to secrets and he used him as an undercover detective to ready him for lying. Michael obediently enlisted in the Navy as soon as he graduated.
Although he had dropped several hints, John didnt make his pitch to Michael until after the teenager was assigned to a secretarial job on a ship. John explained how Michael could now take over the family business just like the Godfather in the Mafia!
Did you groom me to be a spy? Michael asked.
Take out your Social Security Card, John replied.
Michael did. The first three numbers on it were 007, the same digits as the code name for the British agent, James Bond. Michael was stunned because he had been assigned the number when he was a child.
Wow, you were thinking ahead! he exclaimed.
John would later admit that the 007 digits were merely a coincidence. Hed remembered them because he thought they might help him convince Michael that spying was part of his destiny.
In early 1984, Michael was stationed on the U.S.S. Nimitz, an aircraft carrier, where he was put in charge of disposing of burn bags special bags that contained classified messages which needed to be destroyed. The bags were stapled shut and carried by Michael to a furnace where they were burned. But the carrier only burned them when necessary, and only after 11:30 p.m. when it was not launching aircraft. That gave Michael plenty of time to ransack them in the privacy of the storage room where they were kept. He simply tore open the bags, took whatever he wanted to steal, and then stapled them shut again. Thats how simple it was, he later gushed. Once he was caught rooting through a bag.
What the hell are you doing, Walker? one of his commanding officers demanded.
I got to get a message that the captain wanted, Michael replied quickly. Someone threw it away by mistake. He would later credit his fast thinking to the private detective training that his dad had given him. I was always cool.
He was also lucky. Michael was flipping through a Rolodex in the aircraft carriers operations room one night when he noticed a womans name written on one of the small white cards. It read Jodie and was followed by several digits, but there were too many to be a telephone number. Michael copied down the name and numbers on a pad and continued searching through the file. He found Sarah next and then Joanne. When he finished, he counted the names. There were seven, the exact same number as safes in the room. He correctly deduced that someone had been afraid they might forget a combination to the safes, so they had written them down and tried to disguise them as telephone numbers. He now had access to the ships most highly classified secrets. I set out to drain the ship of every secret it had, Michael said later. I was going to make my dad proud!