This series of articles Subversion, Espionage, and Spying against the United States continues with the 1996.  The goal is to provide some general information and references on cases already concluded. The verdict has been given and the case closed. No matter the justification these people try to make, all cases come down to greed or need for money, ideology, nationalism, revenge, sex, or a warped sense of adventure and an over-inflated ego.   

Note to Readers: As repeated before, you will not find stories on any pending cases and unsubstantiated news headlines. This is a simple summary of the major cases available through open source materials such as those stories covered by major news outlets, newspapers, properly released governmental reports and information made available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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In 1996, U.S. Navy Petty Officer Kurt G. Lessenthien, was arrested in April and charged with attempting espionage after offering information about nuclear submarine technology to a Russian government’s representative via the Russian Embassy.  What the petty officer was about to find out was that information about his desire to sell information was reported by the Russians to the FBI and NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service).  U.S. Federal agents posing as Russian agents contacted Kurt who in turn offered to sell top-secret information for thousands of dollars. The petty officer had accumulated nearly $25,000 in credit card debt as a result of his woman chasing.  During the trial that testimony and evidence show that the petty officer’s motivation had as much to do with pure greed and wish for excitement than it did the debt or any woman.  He received a sentence of 27 years and a dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and benefits. [3]

The Washington Post published an article in 1996 titled Petty Officer Arrested on Spy Charges.  The Orlando Sentinel published an article in 1996 titled Orlando Sailor in Spy ArrestThe Virginia Pilot, a Norfolk Paper, in 1996 published an article titled Lessenthien Gets 27 Years in Espionage Case.

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But I Thought It Was Okay

In 1996, Phillip Tyler Seldon, a former Pentagon civilian employee pleaded guilty on August in Alexandria Virginia to passing classified documents to a Salvadoran Air Force officer while serving on active military duty in El Salvador. Seldon was a U.S. Army Captain at the time of the incident. This is a case of ignorance.  In 1992 and in 1993, Seldon gave the Salvadoran officer three packets of secret documents because the Salvadoran ask for them and Seldon thought the Salvadoran had the proper security clearance.  This of course tends to imply that Seldon was incredibly ignorant since his defense is that it was okay because the other guy said it was okay.  

This particular case sheds light on a problem within the government and that’s the only reason the former army captain’s actions were discovered was due to his failing a polygraph test when he applied for a job with the CIA.  If he had never applied for that job or taken a polygraph test, his actions in handing over secret documents may never have been discovered.  In November of 1996, Seldon was sentenced two years in prison.  The Washington Post published this story in 1996 titled Ex-Pentagon Worker Given Two Years for Passing Secrets.

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National Security Agency 

In 1996 Robert Stefan Lipka, a former National Security Agency staff member, was charged with committing espionage while working as a communication clerk from 1964 to 1967.  During those years he worked in the NSA central communications room and provided a regular stream of highly classified reports to the KGB.  His actions caused extensive damage to the U.S. intelligence collection activities.  According to open source information the intelligence that Lipka provided the KGB may have been directly responsible for the loss of American lives.  According to Lipka’s testimony, he was paid between $500 and $1000 per delivery.  It wasn't until 1993 that Lipka’s actions were discovered when his ex-wife reported what she knew to authorities in 1993.  The information he passed to the KGB included Top Secret Embassy reports to the Whitehouse as well as copies of communications on U.S. troop movements around the world.  During his short time as a spy for the KGB he received a total of $27,000.  Lipka pleaded guilty to one count of espionage in exchange for a jail term no more than 18 years. 

The Washington Post wrote an article about this story dated 24 February 1996, titled FBI Arrests Ex-Soldier as Mysterious KGB Spy in Supersecret NSA. The Los Angeles Times published an article in March 1996 titled Has a 30-Year Mystery Unraveled?  The Wall Street Journal in November 1996 published an article called How the FBI Broke Spy Case That Baffled Agency for 30 Years

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Highest Ranking CIA Officer (GS 15) Charged 

In 1996 Harold J. Nicholson was arrested at Dulles International Airport as he prepared to board a plane for Switzerland.  He is one of the highest ranking CIA officer (GS 15) charged with espionage.  U.S. counterintelligence officials believe he began spying for the Russians in 1994.  Nicholson was charged with passing a wide range of highly classified information to Moscow, including information on every CIA case officer train between 1994 and 1996.  He is also suspected of having compromised the identity of several other CIA agents.  For 2 1/2 years, he hacked the CIA's Computer Systems and provided the Russians with every secret he could steal.  As a result of his efforts he received $120,000 from Russia during the two years.  He became a person of interest in late 1995 when he failed a polygraph test and was discovered to have had a pattern of extravagant spending and an unusual pattern of foreign travel.  Nicholson's excuse was that he was doing it for his children in order to come up with the money to pay legal fees for a custody battle.  He pleaded guilty under a plea agreement and was sentenced to 23 years and seven months in prison.  This was actually a reduced sentence based on extensive cooperation he gave the U.S. Government investigators regarding his spy activities. [2]

The Los Angeles Times published an article on 19 November 1996 titled Career CIA Officer is Charged with Spying for Russia.  The Washington Post published an article on 6 June 1997 titled Convicted Spy says he did it for his family.  And the New York Times published an article on for March 1997 titled CIA Officer Admits to Spying for Russia.

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Senior FBI Agent Arrested

Earl Edwin Pitts, a senior FBI agent, was arrested in 1996 and charged with providing classified information to the Russian Intelligence Service.  His spy activities ran from 1987 through 1992.  The records show that he was paid $224,000 from Russian intelligence.  Pitts turned over Top Secret documents to the KGB and the SVRR.  Pitts was not actively recruited by the KGB; it was he who sought them out.  His identity was discovered only when a Russian spy who turned into a double agent provided the identity of pits to the FBI.  Earl Pitts pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage in February 1997 this was only after the discovery of computer disks with the letters to his supposedly Russian handler.  He was sentenced to 27 years in prison. When asked why he did it? He said he had several grievances against the FBI and wanted to pay them back. [1]

The Washington Post published an article on December 1996 titled Senior FBI Agent Charged with Spying for the Russians.  And in 1997, the Washington Post published an article titled Ex-FBI Agent Gets 27 Years For Passing Secrets to Moscow.

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U.S. Navy Civilian

Robert C. Kim, a U.S. Navy civilian computer specialist working at the Office of Naval Intelligence, was charged in 1996 with passing classified information to a foreign country.  Kim, a native Korean, became a U.S. citizen in 1974 and lived in the U.S. for 30 years.  He had access to classified information beginning in 1979.  Sometime during that period, Kim passed dozens of classified documents to include Top Secret documents to Korean Embassy officials.  His reasoning for his actions was a dedication to the country of his birth.  Additionally, his hopes were that he could get a job in South Korea after he retired from the U.S. Navy.  He claimed he had accumulated a debt of $100,000.  Thus, money was the real drive behind his actions; above any sense of loyalty to Korea.  In 1996, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.  This light sentence appears to be another case where as he gave assistance to the U.S. investigators on his spying activities to include implication of the Korean embassy. 

The Washington Post published an article in September of 1996 titled Navy Worker is Accused of Passing Secret Papers and Allegedly Went to South Korean Officers. The Los Angeles Times published an article in May of 1997 titled Ex-Analyst Admits Spying for South Korea in Plea Bargain.


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Next in the series:  History of Subversion, Espionage, and Spying Against the United States: Year 1995