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 firstname.lastname@example.orgAbout 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.