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The Walker Family Navy Spy Ring and Soviet Espionage

March 10, 2011

Top Secret Writers, 8 March 2011: The world’s biggest governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars on security, counter-espionage programs and training to keep their secrets safe. A lot of this is technological in nature, with the aim of keeping communications secret and ensuring top-secret files remain that way.

However, despite huge databases, computer systems and thousands of communications lines, the most valuable asset to the enemy is an insider. A human being can find specific information quickly and eliminate the need for breaching security as they’re already on the other side of it.

Naval data is of huge importance to enemy forces as they can locate spy ships, plot naval activity and spy on exercises to assess the readiness of a naval force. Perhaps even more worrying, the position of nuclear submarines can also be compromised.

That’s why when John Walker, a US Navy commissioned officer with a prestigious career aboard many naval vessels was proven guilty of spying for the Russians, it caused a huge stir amongst security officials in the Pentagon.

The John Walker Spy Saga

In 1995, after a troubled upbringing, John Walter joined the US Navy as a radio man. This initial role assignment, while seemingly insignificant at the time, would later grant John access to some of the US Navy’s most closely guarded secrets.

Walker quickly became well-known in the service for his excellent radioman skills and was fast to climb the ladder. He was promoted time and time again through the officer ranks and moved frequently from vessel to vessel. While this might be an incentive for most and would likely encourage loyalty, it had quite the opposite effect on Walker.

He soon missed the close-knit nature of smaller submarine crews and that of small frigate ships. While in charge of a radio room on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, Walker noted that he began to resent the Navy for the huge changes and obligations imposed on his life.

He spent months away from his family at sea with only intermittent phone calls back home. The patrols and missions he was a part of were routinely Cold War related – Walker would often operate as the main communications officer on-board ships in the Russian Arctic seas and near Cuba.

Walker: The Cold War Was A Pathetic Joke

Politically, he never bought into the Cold War either. It is reported that he thought the entire arms race was a sham and that the West’s portrayal of Communists as an impending danger was nothing more than over reaction.

“The farce of the cold war and the absurd war machine it spawned,” he commented, “was an ever-growing pathetic joke to me.”

A combination of his disdain for the West and his resentment of the Navy eventually led him to his first encounter with the KGB. In October 1967, after falling in debt from a failed business venture, Walker photocopied a document concerning the movements of NATO naval vessels off the coast of Russia.

He drove to Washington and walked straight into the Soviet embassy, requesting to speak to a security official. This would be the start of his spy career.

Over the next few years, Walker would have little contact with the KGB in order to maintain a low profile. His brief was to gather as much information as possible and deliver it at pre-determined times in ‘dead drop’ meetings around Washington.

He submitted thousands of classified documents, which were extremely valuable to the Soviets. However, while he maintains that he thought the Cold War and what the West stood for was a sham, he denies being a communist. He says he simply needed the money and wanted some kind of revenge on the Navy in the process.

John Walker’s Spy Efforts Uncovered

Throughout all of this, Walker was ordered by the KGB to keep his spying a secret from everyone. However, his wife Barbra had suspected him of something for quite a while. She was perplexed by the vanishing family debt, and her husbands odd behavior. Her discovery of a grocery bag full of classified documents probably didn’t help Walker’s case either.

He tried to convince her that what he was doing was right, and even took her along to one of the dead drops to try and make her an accomplice in his crime. He would soon divorce her after having implicated her enough.

He left the Navy, opened a private detective agency and began the next phase of his spying. He recruited a naval friend, a communications officer by the name of Jerry Whitworth. He took over the bulk of the spying while Walker kept in touch with the KGB.

He recruited two of his sons who were in the service or had links to it. They photocopied numerous documents, nuclear command manuals and ship repair logs. They had become a family of spies. However, the operation was becoming too large to handle, and would soon fall apart.

Whitworth began to get cold feet and initiated contact with the FBI, but stopped short of revealing himself or the others. Next, Walker’s ex-wife and daughter told the FBI about his actions and his attempt to recruit his daughter. Finally, a follow-up investigation led the FBI to 170 documents Walker had stashed away for the KGB.

Those involved in the active spying endeavor were each given lengthy sentences. Arthur (one of John’s sons) was released in 2000, but it is unlikely the others will ever see the light of day again. The fact that this went on for over 18 years is a testament to how deeply the military can be infiltrated using their own personnel.



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