OverviewPERSERECEspionage Cases1989

Return to  HOME  DATES  NAMES  ORGANIZATIONS

1989

1989 - DONALD WAYNE KING, Navy Airman and RONALD DEAN GRAF, Navy Airman Apprentice, both assigned to the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and larceny of government property following their apprehension by special agents of the Naval Investigative Service. The pair were apprehended by the NIS at a motel in New Orleans after they delivered $150,000 worth of sensitive and classified aircraft parts and technical manuals to an undercover NIS agent they believed was a foreign government representative. The stolen government property and manuals (about 30 items in total) dealt with technology pertaining to the Navy’s P-3 anti-submarine aircraft. The investigation was initiated in January 1989, after an informant notified the New Orleans NIS office that King and Graf were trying to sell aircraft parts they had stolen from the Naval Station at Belle Chasse. The airmen were also charged with the sale of cocaine. King was sentenced to 10 years, reduction in rank to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and a dishonorable discharge. Graft was sentenced to five years, reduction in rank to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and a dishonorable discharge. Their motivation for espionage is not known; however, Graf is quoted as claiming that he did it to pay off debts amounting to $1,000.

New Orleans Times-Picayune 5 Mar 1989, “2 Navy Clerks Accused of Spying”
New Orleans Times-Picayune 7 Jul 1989, “Jail Terms Given in Spy Case”
Case summary provided by Albert E. DiFerderico, US Naval Criminal Investigative Service


1989 - CRAIG DEE KUNKLE, former Chief Petty Officer who specialized in antisubmarine warfare, was arrested on 10 January 1989 as he attempted to sell classified information for $5,000 to FBI agents posing as Soviet diplomats. The arrest took place at a Williamsburg, Virginia, motel. On 9 December Kunkle mailed a packet of diagrams, photographs and information related to antisubmarine warfare tactics to an Alexandria, Virginia, post office box he believed to be a Soviet drop point. The material was collected by Federal agents who had been in communication with Kunkle on six previous occasions. An investigation by the Naval Investigative Service and FBI began in early December 1988 when Kunkle's attempt to contact the Soviet Embassy in Washington was intercepted. Kunkle had served for 12 years in the Navy in antisubmarine squadrons in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and was discharged in 1985 under less than honorable conditions, reportedly for multiple incidents including indecent exposure. Kunkle also had a history of alcohol and drug abuse in addition to marital and financial problems. During his period of active duty, he held a Secret clearance. The former Chief Petty Officer had since been employed as a security guard at a local hospital. At the time of arrest Kunkle stated that he offered to sell classified information because he was short of cash and angry with the Navy. Kunkle was indicted on one count of attempted espionage and ordered held without bond. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. On 4 May 1989 Kunkle changed his plea to guilty because, he said, he did not want to subject his family to a trial. He had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The judge imposed a 12-year sentence (agreed upon by prosecutors and Kunkle's attorneys) and, noting Kunkle's money problems, fined him $550. He was not eligible for parole and was placed on three years’ probation in addition to the sentence.

New York Times 11 Jan 1989, “Former Navy Man Is Charged As a Spy”
New York Times 19 Jan 1989, “Ex-Navyman Denies Trying to Sell Secrets”


1989 - TOMMASO MORTATI, former US Army paratrooper, was arrested in Vincenza some time in 1989 by Italian authorities on charges of having passed Top Secret documents to Hungarian military intelligence services. According to European news reports, the former Army sergeant, who was born in Italy, confessed to disclosing secrets about American and NATO bases in Italy and claimed he belonged to a still-active espionage network. He is presumed to have been a member of the same network that included the Conrad spy ring in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. Conrad was arrested in August 1988 and has since been sentenced by a German court to life imprisonment. Mortati was born in Italy but later emigrated to the US where he obtained US citizenship. He left the army in 1987 but remained in Italy as his American wife continued to work for the US Army base in Vincenza. Mortati's arrest followed that of Hungarian-born naturalized American ZOLTON SZABO who recruited Mortati in 1981, sent him for two weeks of training in Budapest, and continued to be his contact. Mortati is said to have confessed to Italian authorities that he attempted to bribe several Italian officers in 1984 and 1985, offering money for information. Press reports state that Italy's military secret service was informed about Mortati's activities by German and Austrian counterintelligence authorities. A search of Mortati's home revealed a hidden two-way radio used to transmit his reports in code. Up until the time of his arrest, he had received $500 a month from the Hungarian Intelligence Service plus a payment for every report filed, based on its importance. Mortati was convicted in an Italian court and after a period of incarceration was released.

This summary is based on European media items and an ABC Television News report.


1989 - FRANK ARNOLD NESBITT. The former Marine and Air Force communications officer was arrested by the FBI on 14 October 1989 and charged with delivering unauthorized information to the Soviet government. Nesbitt, a Memphis resident, left behind family and bewildered colleagues in June, appending a terse note to his weed trimmer ("I'm gone. Don't look for me."), and flew to Belize in Central America. Plans to settle there did not work out, so he moved on to Guatemala City where he enrolled in Spanish classes. In August while sightseeing in Sucre, Bolivia, he happened to board a bus full of Russian ballet dancers. He attended the ballet that evening and the next day bumped into a Soviet official traveling with the group. This meeting set in motion his trip to Moscow. From Sucre he went to La Paz where a Soviet Embassy official arranged for his flight to Moscow. Nesbitt claims he stayed 11 days in Moscow in a safe house, wrote from memory 32 pages detailing US defense communications, was polygraphed, toured the city, and met important KGB personnel. However, he grew upset over the Soviets' failure to grant him citizenship and provide him with an apartment and job. He returned, in a circuitous route, to Guatemala where he contacted US authorities who then accompanied him to Washington, DC. He was met by the FBI and arrested 11 days later. He offered his services as a double agent to the FBI claiming he did not give the Soviets any useful information. The National Security Agency, however, determined that information Nesbitt said he provided is still classified. The former communications officer served in the military between 1963 and 1966, and 1969 to 1979. On 8 November, he was indicted on a charge of conspiring with a Soviet agent to pass sensitive national defense information to the Soviet Union. Nesbitt initially pleaded innocent to espionage and conspiracy charges. If convicted, he faced a possible life sentence and fines up to $500,000. According to his lawyer, Nesbitt “wanted to have some excitement in his life,” but it is likely that he was also motivated by money and also a sense of disgruntlement. A Soviet foreign ministry spokesman has said that Nesbitt was denied Soviet citizenship because a check of the autobiography he gave the Soviet parliament “led to suspicion of his possible connections with the criminal underworld.” On 1 February 1990 Nesbitt changed his plea to guilty in order to receive a substantially reduced sentence. On 27 April he was sentenced in US District Court to 10 years in a psychiatric treatment facility at a Federal prison. His psychiatric evaluation states that he suffers from severe personality disorders.

Washington Post 15 Oct 1989, “Odyssey of a Suspected Spy; FBI Arrests Man in Va. After Moscow Trip”
Washington Post 17 Oct 1989, “No Bail for Alleged Spy”
Washington Post 20 Oct 1989, “Suspected Spy Sought to Defect, FBI Says”
Washington Post 2 Feb 1990, “Guilty Plea Entered in Secrets Case”
Washington Post 27 Apr 1990, “Ex-Officer Given 10 Years in Mental Hospital for Spying”


1989 - YURI N. PAKHTUSOV, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet army, arrived in the US in June 1988, as assistant military attaché with the Soviet Military Mission. Two months later he began approaching an American employee of a defense contractor to obtain documents dealing with how the US government protects classified and other sensitive information contained in its computer systems. What he did not know was that the American reported the approaches to US authorities. Pakhtusov, 35, was caught as part of a sting operation after he received classified documents from the American employee working under FBI control. On 9 March 1989, he was ordered out of the country and declared persona non grata.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11 Mar 1989, “Soviet Diplomat Ousted As Spy”


1989 - MICHAEL A. PERI, 22, an electronic warfare signals specialist for the Army, fled to East Germany with a laptop computer and military secrets 20 February 1989and voluntarily returned 4 March 1989 to plead guilty to espionage. He was sentenced to 30 years in a military prison. Even after his court-martial, authorities were at a loss to explain what happened. Peri said he made an impulsive mistake, that he felt overworked and unappreciated in his job for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, West Germany. His work involved operating equipment that detects enemy radar and other signals. Peri had been described as “a good, clean-cut soldier” with a “perfect record.” During his tour of duty in Germany he had been promoted and twice was nominated for a soldier of the month award.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 25 Jun 1989, “US Soldier Given 30 Years”
Los Angeles Times 29 Jun 1989, “From Soldier to Spy; A Baffling About-Face”


1989 - CHARLES EDWARD SCHOOF, 20, and JOHN JOSEPH HAEGER, 19, both Navy Petty Officers 3rd Class, were arrested aboard ship on 1 December 1989 on charges they conspired to commit espionage. The two sailors were stationed aboard the tank landing ship USS Fairfax County assigned to the Norfolk area. Both were operations specialists, trained in radar communications, electronic countermeasures, and navigational plotting. Although Schoof was reported to be the instigator of this scheme to make money, it was Haeger who had the combination to the document safe. Schoof called the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC, to ask if someone would come down to pick up the classified material, but Norfolk is beyond the embassy's allowed travel radius. He then visited several bars looking for a ride to the embassy. A shipmate reported Schoof's activities to the ship's commanding officer. It is believed that no information was passed to the Soviets and that all documents were retrieved. On 24 April 1990, Schoof was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, stripped of all rank, forfeited all pay and allowances, and received a dishonorable discharge. Haeger was sentenced to 19 years, also forfeited pay and allowances and received a dishonorable discharge. Under a 1987 regulation that revised parole guidelines, the two were expected to serve virtually all of their sentences.

Northern Virginia Sun 11 Dec 1989, “Two Radar Operators from Landing Ship Charged in Spying Conspiracy”
Free Lance-Star 26 Apr 1990, “Navy Men Get Prison Terms for Attempted Espionage”


1989 - JAMES R. WILMOTH, US Navy airman recruit, was a food service worker aboard the carrier USS Midway. He was arrested by Naval Investigative Service agents in Yokosuka in July 1989 for attempting to sell classified information to a Soviet agent in Japan, where the Midway is based. He was tried and convicted at a general military court-martial 24 September 1989. In addition to attempted espionage, Wilmoth was convicted of failure to report a contact with a citizen of the Soviet Union, conspiracy to unlawfully transfer classified material, and possession, use and distribution of hashish. He was sentenced to 35 years at hard labor; however, since he cooperated in the investigation, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. He also received a dishonorable discharge, and was ordered to forfeit all his pay. He had been in the Navy for over two years and had a history of disciplinary problems including unauthorized leave of absence. Wilmoth did not have a security clearance. Classified information was procured by Petty Officer Third Class RUSSELL PAUL BROWN also stationed aboard the Midway. Brown held a Secret security clearance and took classified documents obtained from the burn bag in the electronic warfare center of the Midway. He passed the documents to Wilmoth, who planned to exchange the documents for cash in an arrangement with a KGB operative in Japan. Brown was convicted in October 1989 of conspiracy to commit espionage and lying to Navy investigators. A military judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank from E-3 to E-1, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. Motivation for the attempted sale to the Soviets was money.

Los Angeles Times 5 Oct 1989, “Sailor Sentenced to 35 Years After Attempted Espionage”
Washington Times 5 Oct 1989, “Navy Convicts Spy, Stalks Another”
Washington Times 25 Oct 1989, “2nd Midway Sailor Gets Jail Term for Spying”


1989 - RONALD CRAIG WOLF, a former pilot in the Air Force from 1974 to 1981, was arrested 5 May 1989 in Dallas, Texas, for selling classified information to an FBI undercover officer posing as a Soviet agent. During his career in the Air Force, Wolf was trained as a Russian voice-processing specialist and flew intelligence missions on reconnaissance aircraft in the Far East. He held a Top Secret clearance. Discharged from the military in 1981 because of his unsuitability for service "due to financial irresponsibility,” he worked as an automobile salesman for a while, but was unemployed at the time of his arrest. The FBI's investigation began in March 1989, when information was obtained indicating Wolf's desire to sell sensitive information to the Soviet Union. Wolf talked with FBI undercover agent “Sergei Kitin” on a number of occasions thinking he was a representative of the Soviet Union assigned to the Soviet Embassy. During these conversations Wolf talked about his military experience and his desire to defect and provide Air Force secrets “for monetary gain and to get revenge for his treatment by the United States government.” He was directed to mail letters to a post office box in Maryland detailing the type of information he was capable of providing. Wolf passed along classified documents concerning Top Secret signals intelligence. The FBI says they are “confident there was no exchange of information (with foreign agents) in this case.” On 28 February 1990, Wolf pleaded guilty in Federal court. In return for his guilty plea, the government reduced the severity of the charges from life imprisonment to up to 10 years in prison. In June, Wolf was sentenced to 10 years without parole.

Dallas Times Herald 1 Mar 90, “Ex-Air Force Pilot Pleads Guilty to Espionage”
Washington Post 16 Jun 90, “Ex-Airman Get 10 Years”


Return to  HOME  DATES  NAMES  ORGANIZATIONS