John Walker, head of Cold-War-era Soviet spy ring, dies in prison

John Anthony WalkerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A retired United States Navy sailor, who led one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings in America during the Cold War, and made over $2 million in the process, has died in prison, where he had been serving a life sentence. John Anthony Walker, Jr., retired from the US Navy in 1976 as a Warrant Officer, having previously served as a radio operator and technical communications expert. He held a top-secret clearance for most of his Navy career. In 1967, Walker had walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC, and had given Soviet officials a few US military codes as samples. The exchange sparked a cooperation that lasted 17 years, as the Soviets initially placed Walker on a $1,000-a-week salary, promising to upgrade his income if he delivered more classified material. Eventually, Walker recruited his older brother, Arthur Walker, a US Navy lieutenant commander, who had left the Navy and was working for a US military contractor. He also recruited his oldest son, Michael, who was a US Navy seaman aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and was able to clandestinely photograph classified documents he found on the ship. Walker also recruited one of his best friends, Jerry Whitworth, whom he had befriended when Whitworth was a student. He convinced the impressionable young man to enlist in the US Navy for the purpose of providing the spy ring with classified information. Whitworth eventually became a chief radioman for the Navy. The spy ring Walker set up conducted espionage on an industrial scale, providing the USSR with classified information for nearly two decades. The stolen information, which included the daily code configurations for several encryption devices used by the US Navy, allowed Moscow to decode over a million US navy messages. The breach perpetrated by the Walker spy ring is considered among the largest in American military history. Vitaly Yurchenko, a high-ranking officer in the Soviet KGB, once described the Walker spy ring as “the greatest case in Soviet intelligence history”. But the ring was busted in May of 1985 following an extensive counterintelligence operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Read more of this post

The mysterious case of Glenn Souther, US defector to the USSR

Glenn Michael SoutherBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
This past June marked 23 years from the death of Glenn Michael Souther, a United States Navy photographer who defected to the Soviet Union in 1986. Despite the passage of time, a thick veil of mystery remains over the life and works of Souther, an ideological defector to the USSR, who was one of the very few foreign agents and defectors given officer rank in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s foremost intelligence agency during most the Cold War. In 1975, following his graduation from high school, Souther joined the US Navy, and was stationed in Italy in the early 1980s. It was there where he married an Italian woman, and where –it is believed– he was recruited by the KGB’s Boris Solomatin, a legendary Soviet intelligence officer who is believed to have handled US spy John Anthony Walker. In 1982, Souther left the US Navy and enrolled at Old Dominion University, where he studied Russian literature, while at the same time working as a reservist in the US Navy. During that time, Souther worked for naval intelligence, specializing in processing satellite-reconnaissance photographs; he is also believed to have had access to classified intercepts circulating within the US Navy’s communications network. In May 1986, soon after the Federal Bureau of Investigation started to suspect Souther may be working for a foreign intelligence agency, he suddenly disappeared. Two years later, an article in the morning edition of Soviet newspaper Izvestia, official publishing organ of the Soviet Presidium, announced that Souther had been granted political asylum in the USSR. Later that evening, Souther appeared on Soviet Central Television, criticizing American foreign policy and explaining his decision to defect to the Soviet Union. However, on June 22, 1989, an article in Krasnaya Zvezda, official newspaper of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, announced that Souther had killed himself in the garage of his home. Read more of this post