OverviewPERSERECEspionage Cases1996

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1996

1996 - ERIC O. JENOTT, Army PFC Eric O. Jenott, 20, assigned to duty as a communication switch operator at the 35th Signal Brigade at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, since 26 June 1996, was charged on 21August 1996 with espionage, damaging military property, larceny, and unauthorized access to government computer systems. Specifically, Jenott was accused of providing a classified system password to a Chinese national located at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who returned to China prior to the arrest. According to Jenott, the password was not in fact Secret and charges related to his penetration of defense computer systems stemmed from his attempt to be helpful when he discovered a weakness in an encoded Army computer system. However, he did admit to having been an active hacker for several years and to breaking into Navy, Air Force, and the Defense Secretary’s systems before he joined the Army in 1994. While at Ft. Bragg, Jenott demonstrated to his superior officers that he was able to hack into a US Army system that was supposedly secure. On 3 January 1997, a court-martial found Jenott not guilty of espionage, but guilty of lesser offenses in his original charge. He was sentenced to three years in prison, less the six months already served awaiting trial.

Fayetteville Observer-Times 21 Aug 1996, “Army Accuses Fort Bragg Soldier of Computer Espionage”
Chicago Tribune 22 Aug 1996, “GI Hacker Is Charged with Spying.”
Raleigh News & Observer 9 Dec 1996, “Court-martial to Begin in Computer Spying Case”


1996 - ROBERT CHAEGUN KIM, a Navy civilian computer specialist, working at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland, was charged on 25 September 1996 with passing classified information to a foreign country. He was arrested outside a diplomatic reception at Ft. Myer, Virginia, on 24 September as he stood beside Capt. Baek Dong-Il, a Korean Embassy naval attaché and the alleged recipient of the classified materials. Kim, a native of Korea, became a US citizen in 1974 and had lived in the United States for 30 years. He had access to classified information since 1979. According to investigators, over a five-month period, he passed dozens of classified documents (including some that were Top Secret) out of loyalty to his country of birth. An FBI affidavit states that Kim searched naval computer systems, made copies of sensitive classified intelligence reports, removed classified markings, printed them off, and mailed or passed them in manila envelopes to Baek. The documents included military assessments about North Korea and China and US intelligence assessments of South Korean government officials. In his official capacity, Kim operated a computer program that tracked global shipping movements. However, he had access to highly classified documents from other intelligence agencies. Kim came under surveillance by the Naval Investigative Service when it learned of his contact with Baek. A court-approved search of Kim’s office produced a list of classified documents he had illegally passed to the naval attaché. More than 40 documents sent to Baek were intercepted in the mail. Capt. Baek Dong-Il, who enjoyed diplomatic immunity, was subsequently recalled by his government. While there is no evidence that Kim received any payment for his illegal activities, according to one news source, he had requested assistance from the South Koreans in his efforts to find employment with a South Korean intelligence or customs agency after his retirement from his US Navy job. It is also reported that Kim had accumulated a credit card debt of approximately $100,000. On 7 May 1997, Kim pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. On 11 July he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Washington Post 26 Sep 1996, “Navy Worker Is Accused Of Passing Secret; Papers Allegedly Went To S. Korean Officer”
Washington Post 2 Oct 1996, “Kim Allegedly Sought Job With S. Korea”
Los Angeles Times 8 May 1997, “Ex-Analyst Admits Spying For S. Korea In Plea Bargain”


1996 - KURT G. LESSENTHIEN, a Navy petty officer, arrested in Orlando, Florida, on 3 April 1996, was charged with attempted espionage after offering information about nuclear submarine technology to a Russian government representative. Lessenthien was subsequently contacted by undercover agents of the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service posing as Russian agents. At the time Lessenthien was an instructor at the Navy Nuclear Power School in Orlando and was very knowledgeable about the design and operation of submarine motors. It was reported that the petty officer, in a phone call to the Russian Embassy, offered Top Secret information about the movement of US submarines in exchange for thousands of dollars. According to one media source, Lessenthien accumulated nearly $25,000 in credit card debt on a “relentless pursuit of women” that he intended to marry. A Navy psychiatrist testified that he suffered personality flaws that drove him to ruin an excellent military record. However, a Navy prosecutor stated that Lessenthien decided to become a spy for money and excitement, not love, and that the petty officer had been storing classified materials since 1991. On 28 October, Lessenthien was sentenced by a military court to life imprisonment, but will serve 27 years under a plea agreement. He was also given a dishonorable discharge and ordered to forfeit all pay and benefits.

Washington Post 4 Apr 1996, “Petty Officer Arrested on Spy Charges”
Orlando Sentinel 24 Apr 1996, “Orlando Sailor in Spy Arrest.”
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk) 29 Oct 1996, “Lessenthien Gets 27 Years in Espionage Case”


1996 - ROBERT STEPHAN LIPKA, former National Security Agency staff member, was taken into custody on 23 February 1996 at his home in Millersville, Pennsylvania, and charged with committing espionage while working as a communications clerk from 1964 to 1967. An Army enlisted man between the age of 19 and 22, Lipka worked in the NSA central communications room and reportedly provided the KGB with a constant stream of highly classified reports. He is believed to have caused extensive damage to US intelligence collection activities. According to James Bamford, writing in the Los Angeles Times, since Lipka provided Top Secret information to the KGB during the war in Vietnam, he may have been responsible for the loss of American lives. He is said to have used dead drops along the C&O Canal near the Potomac River in Washington and was paid between $500 and $1000 per delivery. Lipka left NSA in 1967 and stopped meeting with his KGB handlers in 1974. He became a suspect in 1993 as a result of information believed to have been provided to the FBI by his ex-wife. His role in espionage was confirmed by FBI agents posing as Russian contacts. According to an FBI spokesman, while the government was aware of a major security breach in the 1960s, it had not been able to identify Lipka as a suspect until it had received the additional information. It is believed that Lipka is the young soldier described in the autobiography of former KGB major general Kalugin who tells of a walk-in in the mid-1960s who was interested in money. According to Kalugin, the documents that the soldier passed included Top Secret NSA reports to the White House and copies of communications on US troop movements around the world. The price reportedly paid by the Soviets during the period of his betrayal was $27,000. On 23 May 1997, Lipka pleaded guilty to one count of espionage in exchange for a jail term of no more than 18 years. On 24 September, he was sentenced to serve a term of 18 years in Federal prison.

Washington Post 24 Feb 1996, “FBI Arrests Ex-Soldier as Mysterious KGB Spy in Supersecret NSA”
Los Angeles Times 3 Mar 1996, “Has a 30-year Mystery Unraveled?”
Wall Street Journal 21 Nov 1996, “How the FBI Broke Spy Case That Baffled Agency for 30 Years”
Baltimore Sun 24 May 1997, “Ex-clerk at NSA Is Guilty of Spying; Former Soldier Sold Secret Documents to Soviets in Mid-1960s”


1996 - HAROLD JAMES NICHOLSON, was arrested on 16 November 1996 at Dulles International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Switzerland. On his person were found rolls of film bearing images of Top Secret documents. Nicholson is the highest ranking Central Intelligence Agency officer (GS-15) charged with espionage to date. Counterintelligence officials believe that he began spying for Russian intelligence in June 1994 as he was completing a tour of duty as deputy station chief in Malaysia. He joined the agency in 1980 after serving as a captain in the US Army. Nicholson was charged with passing a wide range of highly classified information to Moscow, including biographic information on every CIA case officer trained between 1994 and 1996. He is also suspected of having compromised the identities of US and foreign business people who have provided information to the CIA. According to investigators, for two and a half years he had been hacking into the agency’s computer system and providing the Russians with every secret he could steal. It is alleged that Nicholson received approximately $120,000 from the Russians over a two-year period. He came under suspicion in late 1995 when he failed a series of polygraph examinations. Further investigation revealed a pattern of extravagant spending, and an unusual pattern of foreign travel followed by large, unexplained bank deposits. Nicholson, who at the time was in the middle of a divorce and child custody battle, claimed that he did it for his children and to pay his bills. On 21 November 1996 he was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. On 3 March 1997, Nicholson pleaded guilty under a plea agreement in which he admitted that he had been a Russian spy. On 6 June he was sentenced by a Federal judge to 23 years and seven months in prison. This reduced sentence reflected his extensive cooperation with government investigators.

Los Angeles Times 19 Nov 1996, “Career CIA Officer Is Charged With Spying For Russia”
Los Angeles Times 21 Nov 1996, “Alleged Mole To Plead Not Guilty”
New York Times 4 Mar 1997, “C.I.A. Officer Admits Spying For Russians”
Washington Post 6 Jun 1997, “Convicted Spy Says He Did It For His Family”


1996 - EARL EDWIN PITTS, a senior FBI agent, was arrested on 18 December 1996 at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and charged with providing classified information to the Russian intelligence services from 1987 until 1992. He is believed to have received $224,000 from Russian intelligence services for his activities. Pitts allegedly turned over Top Secret documents to the KGB (and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the SVRR), including a list of FBI assets who were providing intelligence on Russia. Pitts’ betrayal of trust began in July 1987 when, as a newly assigned agent to the New York City field office, he wrote to a Soviet representative assigned to the Soviet Mission at the United Nations and asked to meet a KGB officer. From 1988 to 1992 Pitts allegedly, on nine occasions, provided documents to his handler, KGB officer Aleksandr Karpov. Each meeting was followed by an unexplained deposit in one of several bank accounts in the Washington area. After 1992 Pitts became inactive as a foreign agent. He was identified as a mole when Karpov himself became a double agent for the FBI. At this time the FBI set up a sting operation against Pitts and, using agents posing as Russians, easily gained his agreement to renew his espionage activities. Over a period of 15 months, Pitts made 22 drops of classified documents to undercover FBI agents and was paid $65,000. The FBI was also informed of Pitts’ involvement by his wife, Mary Colombaro Pitts, who confided her suspicions about her husband’s activities to another FBI agent. Earl Edwin Pitts pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage in February 1997 following the discovery of a computer disk with a letter to his supposed Russian handler. On 23 June, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison by a Federal judge who stated that the former agent was guilty of “the most egregious abuse of trust.” When asked why he spied, Pitts cited a number of grievances he had against the FBI and stated that he “wanted to pay them back.”

Washington Post 19 Dec 1996, “Senior FBI Agent Charged With Spying for Russians”
Washington Post 19 Dec 1996, “Espionage Suspect Depicted as Eager to Sell His Loyalty”
Washington Post 2 Mar 1997, “Spy Case Sealed by 1990 Letter; Computer Disk Held Agent’s Memo to KGB”
Washington Post 24 Jun 1997, “Ex-FBI Agent Gets 27 Years for Passing Secrets to Moscow”


1996 - PHILLIP TYLER SELDON, a former Pentagon civilian employee, pleaded guilty on 7 August 1996 in Alexandria, Virginia, to passing classified documents to a Salvadoran air force officer while on active military duty in El Salvador as a US Army captain. After leaving the Army, Seldon took a civilian job with the Department of Defense. According to court documents, Seldon gave the Salvadoran three packets of documents between November 1992 and July 1993. None of the material was reported to have exceeded the Secret level. Seldon claimed that he had met the Salvadoran officer while working as an intelligence advisor, and he believed that the officer had the appropriate clearance. This information came to light in the course of a polygraph examination as Seldon was applying for a position with the CIA. On 8 November, Seldon was sentenced by a US District court to two years in prison.

Washington Post 9 Nov 1996, “Ex-Pentagon Worker Given 2 Years for Passing Secrets”


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