Washington, 19 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - The scandal caused by the arrest of an American intelligence official caught spying for Russia two years ago led directly to the downfall Monday of another American agent who allegedly took Russian money in exchange for U.S. secrets, officials in Washington say.
The top U.S. intelligence officer, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Deutch, told reporters Monday that reforms begun in 1994 "have taken hold," and "led to our success," in arresting Harold Nicholson. Nicholson is a 46-year-old career CIA employee who was assigned to the counter-terrorism unit at CIA headquarters outside Washington.
Nicholson had worked for the CIA since 1980. His postings included duty in Moscow, and he also had been agency station chief in Bucharest, Romania, from 1990 to 1992.
U.S. Justice Department attorney Helen Fahey told reporters that Nicholson has been charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. She said he is accused of passing CIA secret and top-secret classified national-defense documents to the intelligence agency of the Russian Federation.
"Mr. Nicholson betrayed his country for money," she said. "He was not motivated by ideology, but by greed." He had been paid about 120,000 dollars by the Russians since 1994, she said.
The information Nicholson is accused of selling included the names of U.S. CIA officials who were to be sent to Moscow, said U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh. Other CIA and FBI officials told reporters this information was damaging to the United States, but not as damaging as the information sold first to the former Soviet Union and then to Russia by Aldrich Ames. The disclosure of his activities in 1994 embarrassed the entire U.S. intelligence community and led to the reforms Deutch referenced.
Ames was a counterintelligence official. He knew which foreign citizens were spying for the United States. Ames and his wife, Rosario, pleaded guilty in 1994 to spying for the Soviet Union in the most damaging espionage case in U.S. history. Ames sold information to the Soviets and the Russians from 1985 to 1994. That included the identities of U.S. agents.
He is blamed for the deaths of at least nine U.S. agents in the Soviet Union, and for disclosing U.S. counterintelligence techniques. Ames was imprisoned for life.
Deutch said on Monday that the arrest of Nicholson means that "we are now able to demonstrate quite conclusively that the post-Ames reforms work as designed."
"The arrest makes clear that we must place priority on counterintelligence in the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community," Deutch said. "We must remain vigilant to the penetration of U.S. national security organizations by Russia and other hostile intelligence services."
Deutch said Nicholson's alleged spying was uncovered "relatively rapidly." He said investigators are still trying to find out exactly how much damage he caused, but Deutch said there is no evidence to suggest thant any U.S. agents were killed because of Nicholson's alleged actions.
"We are not yet in a position to determine how many operations he may have compromised," said Deutch, "but it seems unlikely that the damage he caused in any way approaches that done by Ames."
U.S. government prosecutor Fahey said there was no evidence of a connection between Nicholson and Ames, and no indication that other U.S. citizens had worked with Nicholson.
Fahey said Nicholson was arrested on Saturday at Dulles International Airport about 50 kilometers west of Washington. She said he was trying to leave the United States and go to Switzerland for a meeting with his Russian contacts.
Fahey said Nicholson became a suspect in 1995 when he failed a lie detector test. He was questioned then about unauthorized contacts with another foreign intelligence service, she said. The prosecutor added that further investigation disclosed a pattern of two trips overseas a year that were followed by unexplained cash deposits and payments into Nicholson's accounts.
About a week before his arrest, Nicholson was watched by investigators as he gathered and photographed CIA national defense classified documents. Fahey said Nicholson's office was searched, and authorities found highly classified CIA documents about Russian military preparedness and Russian intelligence capabilities. She said these documents "did not relate" to Nicholson's CIA duties.
He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted.
FBI director Freeh said Nicholson was caught because of an increased level of cooperation between the FBI and CIA. The FBI is responsible for investigating violations of U.S. laws and threats to domestic peace from foreign groups. The CIA is responsible for collecting and analyzing information about foreign groups and countries. There has been a history of tension between the two agencies.
In the wake of the Ames case, however, there were pledges from both agencies that they would work together. Freeh said Monday there had been "an exchange of high-level personnel" between the CIA and the FBI to combat espionage and that "the most formidable weapon we have is the ... partnership."
The Nicholson case also apparently has no connection to the arrest of a former Soviet KGB agent in New York last month on suspicion of espionage.
In that incident, the U.S. government last week dropped all charges against Vladimir Galkin. Galkin was accused of having attempted to gather classified information on U.S. national defense a number of years ago.
The U.S. Justice Department said the charges were dropped largely at the request of the CIA, which reportedly feared retaliation by Moscow.