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Air Force

1985 - EDWARD OWEN BUCHANAN. In early May 1985, an Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) human source provided information that Airman Edward O. Buchanan, in training at Lowry AFB, Colorado, had been phoning the East German Embassy in Washington, DC. He reportedly wanted to know if embassy officials had received a letter he had sent in April 1985. According to the source, the letter contained an offer by Buchanan to commit espionage for the East German Government. Unsuccessful at making an East German contact, Buchanan then mailed a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC, fully identifying himself and stating that he had information of a scientific and technological nature that he wanted to sell to the Russian government. He indicated he would continue to conduct business with the Soviets if they liked his material. At this point AFOSI agents, posing as Soviet representatives, contacted Buchanan. Believing that he was doing business with Soviet intelligence officers, the Airman offered to commit espionage and sell classified documents. He then provided documents to the undercover AFOSI/FBI agents that he claimed were classified Secret and was paid $1,000. Buchanan was apprehended immediately. A later examination of the documents disclosed that they were copies of unclassified articles from an electronics magazine. During an interview following his arrest, Buchanan admitted contacting the East German Embassy and the Soviet Embassy for the purpose of committing espionage. Buchanan also admitted that, although he did not have access to classified information at that time (because of his student status), he planned to sell classified information once his clearance had been granted and he was assigned to a base in Germany. At the time he was being processed for a Top Secret - Special Compartmented Information clearance. His stated intention was to establish a business relationship with the Soviets by selling bogus material to “get my foot in the door” and then later sell classified information. He would then “sell as much classified material as he could until he made enough money to live comfortably.” Buchanan was court-martialed on 26 August 1985, and sentenced to 30 months’ confinement, reduction to Airman Basic, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.


1991 - JEFFREY M. CARNEY, former intelligence specialist with the Air Force, was apprehended in 1991 in East Berlin on charges of espionage after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Carney entered the Air Force in December 1980. From April 1982 to April 1984 he was stationed at Tempelhof Central Airport in Berlin where he was a linguist and intelligence specialist. He was assigned to an electronics security group that worked for NSA and eavesdropped on communications of Eastern Bloc countries. While at Tempelhof, he began copying classified documents which he then provided to the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi) by repeatedly crossing back and forth into East Berlin. In 1984 he was transferred to Goodfellow AFB in Texas where he worked as a language instructor while continuing to spy for East Germany. In 1985, perhaps fearing that he would be caught for his espionage activities, he deserted the Air Force and defected to East Germany. There he continued to aid the Communist government by intercepting and translating official telephone communications of US military commanders and embassy officials in Berlin. Carney had apparently become disillusioned with the Air Force. He later claimed to have been lonely, alienated, and under psychological stress, and he felt he had no one to talk to about his problems. He had intended to defect to East Germany on his first crossing, but he allowed himself to be drawn into espionage by East German agents who expertly manipulated him and claimed his complete loyalty. The break in the case came after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, when many Stasi records became available to foreign investigators. In April 1991 he was arrested by Air Force OSI agents at his residence in what used to be in the Soviet sector of Berlin. After being extensively debriefed, Carney pleaded guilty to charges of espionage, conspiracy, and desertion and was sentenced in December 1991 to 38 years in prison. He was released in 2003, after serving 11 years of what eventually became a reduced sentence of 20 years.

Cincinnati Post 21 Dec 1991, “US Spy Gets 38 Years”
Air Force Times 6 Jan 1992, “Ex-Intelligence Specialist Guilty of Spying”
Telegraph (UK) 7 Jul 2003, “Nobody Wants the American Who Gave Secrets to the Stasi”


1981 - CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL COOKE, deputy commander of an Air Force Titan missile crew, was arrested on 21 May 1981 and charged with passing classified information to the Soviets,which seriously compromised US strategic missile capabilities during the 1980-81 time frame. On his own volition, Cooke began to phone and visit the Soviet Embassy in late 1980 with offers to provide classified information. Cooke's motives were never fully established, but it is reported that he was attempting to establish his credentials with the Soviets for the purpose of academic research. It is also known that he sought employment with the CIA on at least two occasions. Believing that Cooke was part of a larger spy ring, Air Force prosecutors offered him immunity from prosecution for a full disclosure. After being given immunity, Cooke admitted to providing classified defense information to the Soviets. The US Court of Military Appeals ordered his release in February 1982 and Cooke resigned his commission.

Washington Post Magazine 4 Dec 1983, “Spy Rings of One”


1986 - ALLEN JOHN DAVIES, former Air Force sergeant and, at the time of his arrest, a laboratory technician at a Silicon Valley defense contractor, was formally charged on 27 October 1986 with trying to pass classified information to the agents of the Soviet Union. Davies, a 10-year veteran who was separated from active service for poor job performance in 1984, had held a Secret clearance during his military service and worked as an avionic sensors system technician. According to the FBI, on 22 September 1986 Davies met with an FBI undercover agent posing as a Soviet official in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. During the meeting Davies provided detailed verbal information and a hand drawing concerning US reconnaissance technology. At a second meeting in October he provided additional classified information. According to Davies's recorded statement, he was motivated “out of revenge because of the unfair way he was treated while in the Air Force.” He is also quoted as saying that he wanted to do something to embarrass the United States and to interfere with the effectiveness of its reconnaissance activities. Asked why he waited two years before providing the information, Davies said he waited “just to make sure they couldn't link me with it if I told anybody, just sort of ... hide my trail.” Davies, born in Eastleigh, England in 1953, became a naturalized US citizen at the age of 11. Since October 1984, he had been employed by Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation in Palo Alto. Federal officials stated that the former airman did not currently hold a clearance and that no information from the contractor facility was involved in the case. Davies was released on $200,000 bail with the condition that he undergo psychological evaluation. But on 27 May 1987 he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempting to communicate secrets to an unauthorized person. Davies was sentenced on 27 August 1987 to five years in prison.

Washington Post 28 Oct 1986, “FBI Arrests Ex-Airman on Espionage Charges”
Los Angeles Times 28 Oct 1986, “San Jose Man Angry at AF Is Arrested as Would-Be Spy”


1986 - VLADIMIR M. ISMAYLOV, senior Soviet military attaché, was arrested on 19 June 1986 at a remote site in Prince George's County, Maryland, after retrieving Secret documents left by a US Air Force officer who was working undercover with counterespionage agents of the AFOSI and the FBI. Until his expulsion for activities incompatible with his diplomatic role, Col. Ismaylov was the highest ranking air force officer at the Soviet Embassy. Ismaylov, apprehended as he buried a milk carton with $41,100 for the US officer, scuffled briefly with FBI agents. According to an FBI spokesman, the Soviet attaché was after information about the Strategic Defense Initiative research program, and data on the cruise missile, stealth bomber, and a hypersonic passenger jet known as the Trans-Atmospheric Vehicle. The operation was run by the GRU. According to the US officer, the Soviets evaluated the USAF officer for nearly a year before asking him to photograph classified documents. All transactions and communications were to be carried out by the use of dead drops at remote locations.

Washington Post 21 Jun 1986, “Soviet Attaché Arrested, Expelled for Receiving Document”


1983 - FRANCISCO DE ASSIS MIRA, an Air Force computer specialist stationed in Germany, was charged in April 1983 with providing classified defense information to East Germany. Mira, a naturalized American born in Spain, and two West German accomplices sold information on American codes and radar to the East German State Security Service. In August 1982, while assigned to duties at a US air base at Birkenfeld, West Germany, Mira photographed the cover and random pages of code books and maintenance schedules of air defense radar installations. He processed the photos, with the help of his girlfriend, and asked two local minor drug dealers to carry the material to East Germany and attempt to make contact with the KGB. They made several trips between September 1982 and March 1983, each time passing information provided by Mira, and were paid between $1,136 and $1,515 per visit. Realizing he was in over his head and feeling used by his accomplices, Mira sought to extricate himself from a bad situation. In March 1983, Mira went to the AFOSI and related what he had done, not realizing how thorough the investigative process would be. Under questioning, Mira claimed that he wanted to become a double agent and that he “wanted to show the Air Force I could do more with my intelligence.” But in subsequent interviews he admitted he had originated the idea to commit espionage to make some money, and enlisted the two West Germans to assist him. He was disgruntled because he had not gotten the assignment he had wanted. In August 1984 Mira was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 10 years’ confinement. Under a plea bargain he served only seven years of the sentence.

Stars and Stripes 29 Aug 1984, “Airman is Sentenced for Spy Activities”


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”


1986 - BRUCE DAMIAN OTT, Airman 1st Class, assigned duties as an administrative clerk at Beale Air Force Base, was arrested 22 January 1986 by FBI and Air Force security agents at a Davis, California, motel as he attempted to sell classified information to undercover agents posing as Soviet representatives. One of the documents cited is “The SAC Tactical Doctrine for SR-71 Crews.” At that time, Beale AFB was the home base of SR-71 “Blackbird” reconnaissance aircraft. It is reported that Ott tried to contact representatives at the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco during the month of January. His communication was intercepted and no classified information actually changed hands. Military prosecutors contended that Ott hoped to be paid up to $160,000 for his information. Following an eight-day court-martial proceeding, Ott was found guilty and on 7 August was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

New York Times 29 Jan 1986, “Airman in California Charged in New Spy Case”
New York Times 1 Feb 1986, “Details are given on Spying Charge”


2008 - JOHN REECE ROTH, 70, a retired University of Tennessee (UT) professor and expert on plasma physics, was indicted in May 2008 for illegally exporting to China sensitive, restricted, military information related to plasma technology designed to be deployed on the wings of drones. Dr. Roth was accused of passing information to the Chinese research assistant working on the contract, a doctoral candidate at UT. Roth was also accused of taking reports and related studies in his laptop to China during a lecture tour in 2006 and having one restricted report emailed to him there through a Chinese professor’s Internet connection. The indictment alleged, among other things, that Roth did not obtain permission to take the sensitive documents to China and lied to the Defense Department about his employment of a Chinese graduate student (he also employed graduate students from Iran and UK). All this activity was in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). In 2004, Roth became a subcontractor to Atmospheric Glow Technology, Inc. (AGT), a spin-off of UT to market commercial applications of UT’s plasma sciences lab that Roth had previously headed. The company had been granted a US Air Force contract. Because of the sensitive nature of the program, the parties allegedly agreed that no foreign nationals would work on the project. And in fact Roth first hired an American student to handle the export control data and the Chinese student to work on nonsensitive materials in the lab. That plan fell apart, however, when the arrangement slowed down progress, and soon the two students began sharing information. Roth was told by university officials that he was violating the law in allowing foreign nationals to work on a military defense project. Roth, on the other hand, believed that a project only became export-controlled when the research had netted an actual product; and in this case, the work was not finished. A federal jury convicted Roth on 3 September 2008 on 18 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and violating the AECA. The former director of plasma science at AGT, DANIEL SHERMAN, and AGT itself, were also indicted and both have entered into plea bargains. Sherman pleaded guilty in June 2009 and will be sentenced 28 July 2009. UT cooperated in the investigation and was listed as a victim in one of the charges against Roth. This is one of the first cases in which the government has sought to punish an individual or organization for distributing scientific know-how (rather than equipment) to foreign graduate students working on military research contracts in violation of the AECA. Roth was sentenced on 1 July 2009 to 4 years in prison for passing sensitive defense information to two foreign national research assistants, one from Iran and another from China.

cicentre.com n.d., “Roth, J. Reece”
Knoxville News Sentinel 26 Aug 2008, “Roth was Warned, Lawyers Allege”
Knoxville News Sentinel 3 Sep 2008, “Roth’s Mind-Set on Trial”
Philosophy of Science Portal (philosophyofscenceportal.blogspot.com) 4 Sep 2008, “J. Reece Roth Conviction”
Washington Post 4 Sep 2008, “Professor is Convicted of Sharing Technology”
WorldTribune.com 16 Sep 2008, “China Got Strategic Drone Tech From Grad Student in Tennessee Spy Case”


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”


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