John Walker, Notorious Spy Part II

April 29th, 2009 in Military History by Paul Davis

In my last blog, I wrote about John Walker, a Navy radioman who spied for the Soviets for 18 years during the Cold War.

In his autobiography, My Life as a Spy: One of America’s Most Notorious Spies Finally Tells His Story (Prometheus Books), Walker recounts his life like it’s an adventure story rather than a tragedy. He damaged national security, destroyed his family, and in my view, he caused the deaths of American servicemen in Vietnam.

Walker was a well-rated sailor who rose quickly up the enlisted ranks to become a warrant officer. He claims his dismal marriage to an alcoholic wife and a mistrust of the U.S. government led him to steal secrets and sell them to the Soviets. He later drew his son, brother and best friend into a life of espionage and betrayal.

In 1985, “The Year of the Spy,” his ex-wife reported him to the FBI and he was arrested in a Maryland motel after making a “dead-drop” of classified documents at a nearby roadside.

Walker made a deal with the government in which he testified against his friend, Navy chief petty officer Jerry Whitworth (whom he earlier recruited to spy for him), and he agreed to reveal what he gave the Soviets in exchange for a lesser sentence for his son.

On November 6, 1986, John Walker was sentenced to two life terms plus ten years to be served concurrently. His son was sentenced to 25 years.

The book is interesting in a perverse way, but one should keep in mind that Walker is a habitual liar. He is also proud of his criminal deeds. At one point in the book, he grins to himself and thinks “If they only knew.”

Walker states that he didn’t like the James Bond movies, finding them to be Hollywood fantasies, but then he states he thought of Bond when he was with a blonde only hours after a secret meeting with the KGB.

He claims to have written the book for his children, but in the book he often brags of female conquests. He says he was concerned for his children and tried to protect them from his abusive wife, but he talked his son into committing espionage, and talked him right into federal prison. He also attempted to draw his daughter into the spy ring.

Walker sees himself as a glamorous spy, but he was in fact merely a sneak thief. He stole classified documents and sold them to the Soviets in order to live a more prosperous lifestyle.

The book will interest students of espionage and history, but it ought to be read along with other books on Walker; such as former FBI agent Robert Hunter’s Spy Hunter: Inside the FBI Investigation of the Walker Espionage Case (Naval Institute Press), and journalist Pete Earley’s Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring ( Bantam).

Paul Davis also writes an American Crime blog for GreatHistory.com. Check out Davis’ web site. He can be reached at daviswrite@aol.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.

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9 Comments »

9 Responses to “John Walker, Notorious Spy Part II”

  1. R. T. Davis said:

    As someone who had a 25 year career in the Navy, including time in naval intelligence and military justice, I have a visceral reaction to John Walker, and I despise the notion that he or anyone else is gaining either money or attention from his book. Walker’s disgusting duplicity, his entrapment of his son into his web of foul crimes, and his unforgivable betrayal of his country speak volumes on their own, and no book is either necessary, appropriate, or acceptable. That should be adequately clear.

  2. [...] blog post over @ greathistory.com about John Walker, who was in the Navy and was a Russian spy for 18 years. That’s an awful [...]

  3. Paul Davis said:

    As one who has perfomred security work for 37 years in the U.S. Navy and the Defense Department, I am hardly a supporter of Walker.

    In fact, as I noted in part one of my two-part blog on Walker, I believe his espionage caused the death of American servicemen during the Vietnam War.

    But having said that, I also believe one should shine a light on Walker’s actions, even if they are evil. After all, writers and historians continue to look at Hitler and Stalin.

    Also, as Walker has a huge IRS lien against him, he is unlikely to profit from his book.

  4. Bobby Edwards said:

    April 15th, 1969 North Korea sent two MiG 21’s off the deck, disappearing from Radar, and Vectored onto EC-121 PR # 21, Coming up at a precise coordinate catching EC-121 92 Miles off the Coast of North Korea. It was too late to warn the EC-121 Reconissance Flight with 31 Crewmen, as the North Korean MiGS fired their Cannon and Rockets – Bringing Down the Reconissance A/C and all 31 Crewmen Aboard. Years later as some have offered, the North Koreans had never accomplished the Perfect Vector on a Reconissance AC, and Possibly with the Help of Russian Feed Back with the Capture of the Pueblo’s Crypto Gear and Walker’s Code Cards – The Russians and Koreans were Reading the U.S. Naval Comm traffic almost as easy as the U.S. Navy.

    Johnny Walker’s office in Virginia Beach was beside one of my clients, and I met him once. Shortly after that the FBI arrested Walker. IMHO – The Bastard Should Have Been Hung!

    LEST WE FORGET – The 31 Americans Killed by Koreans, with the Aid of a Traitor.

  5. Paul Davis said:

    John Lehman, the Secretary of the Navy at the time, wanted to recall Walker to active duty, court-martial him, and then execute him.

    I believe that would would have sent a strong message to potential spies, and it would have at last wiped that smirk off of Walker’s silly face.

    But the Justice Department and Casper Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense at the time, overruled Lehman. The government believed that damage control of Walker’s espionage was of far greater value to the country than his execution. We had to know just what Walker gave the Soviets so we could take corrective action.

    But be advised, life in prison can, in some ways, be a greater punishment than a death sentence.

  6. scubadoggy said:

    Life in prison is NOT life in prison… He’s eligible for parole in 2015, after serving only 30 years… He’s caused many, many deaths, including all 99 sailors on the Scorpion… Death isn’t good enough for him, he should be slowly tortured over several days until he dies… Right is right!

  7. Paul Davis said:

    He may be eligible for parole in 2015, but I doubt if he will be paroled.

    I don’t think his book will aid him in receiving parole.

    Paul Davis
    pauldavisoncrime@comcast.net

  8. Fred MacKintosh said:

    WHY WASN’T HE HUNG ?? ANY AND ALL SPIES AGAINST UNITED STATES SHOULD BE HUNG UNTIL DEAD, PERIOD !!! SEMPER FI, fred

  9. Paul Davis said:

    I agree that Walker should have been given the death penalty.

    John Lehman, the Secretary of the Navy at the time (under President Reagan) wanted to go for the death penalty, but he was overruled by the Secretary of Defense and the Justice Department.

    They believed that using the threat of a death penalty as leverage gave them a chance to learn from Walker what information he actually gave to the Soviets.

    Damage control was deemed more important than sending a message to future spies.

    I don’t agree. I think he should have been given the death penalty due to the American servicemen that were killed in Vietnam because of his petty greed and treason.

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