John Walker may very well be the most damaging of all the Cold War spies.
The retired Navy warrant officer was arrested in 1985, the year known as “The Year of the Spy,” because of the number of spy arrests that year.
Walker was arrested for selling classified information to the Soviet Union for 18 years. Walker was known in the trade as a “walk-in,” as he began his life as a spy by entering the Soviet embassy in Washington D.C. and offering his services. He later recruited his best friend, his brother and his son to join in his spy ring.
Walker gave away the keys to the kingdom of naval communications: key cards used for enciphering messages and encryption devices. The U.S. Navy estimates that more than one million classified military and intelligence agency messages were compromised by Walker. The Soviets were able to read vital American communications during a time of war. Had the U.S. gone to nuclear war with the Soviet Union, Walker’s security breech would have had been catastrophic.
I have a particular interest in the Walker spy case; I served as a young seaman in the communications division aboard the USS Kitty Hawk when the aircraft carrier conducted combat operations off the coast of Vietnam in 1970-1971. The Kitty Hawk served as the flag ship for Task Force 77, so we handled highly classified war traffic for the 7th Fleet, the in-country military commands, the CIA, and other alphabet intelligence agencies. Little did we know that much of what we took great pains to protect was already blown by Walker.
It is my view — a view shared by many others who served in the military — that Walker’s espionage led to the death of many American sailors, soldiers, airman and marines during the Vietnam War.
Despite personal animosity, I was curious to read Walker’s autobiography: My Life As a Spy: One of America’s Most Notorious Spies Finally Tells His Story (Prometheus Books).
The book is of interest primarily as a case study of a spy, read in conjunction with other books on Walker. In his book Walker cites his reasons for spying as (a) to bring about an improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations with a view towards reducing the prospect of war, (b) his disgust with U.S. government deception, the Cold War fraud and covert misadventures, (c) adventure, and (d) the psychological pressure of a failed marriage.
He fails to mention greed or his enormous ego; two prime motives for espionage that are much closer to the truth. Now serving a life sentence in federal prison, Walker has written a self-serving book, a book that is pure spin.
We had another name for it when I was in the Navy.
More about Walker in Part II next week.
Paul Davis also writes an American Crime blog for GreatHistory.com. Davis’ web site is http://home.comcast.net/~pauldavisoncrime/site/. He can be reached at email@example.com.About the Author: Paul Davis has been a student of crime and espionage since he was a 12-year-old aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 in 1970 and served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. He performed security work as a young sailor and later as a Defense Department civilian employee. As a writer he has covered crime, espionage, terrorism and the military for newspapers, magazines and Internet publications.