SPY CASES - UNITED STATES

The Harold J. Nicholson Spy Case

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Harold James Nicholson "was arrested on 16 November 1996 at Dulles International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Switzerland. On his person were found rolls of film bearing images of Top Secret documents. Nicholson is the highest ranking Central Intelligence Agency officer (GS-15) charged with espionage to date. Counterintelligence officials believe that he began spying for Russian intelligence in June 1994 as he was completing a tour of duty as deputy station chief in Malaysia....

"Nicholson was charged with passing a wide range of highly classified information to Moscow, including biographic information on every CIA case officer trained between 1994 and 1996.... According to investigators, for two and a half years he had been hacking into the agency’s computer system and providing the Russians with every secret he could steal. It is alleged that Nicholson received approximately $120,000 from the Russians over a two-year period.

"He came under suspicion in late 1995 when he failed a series of polygraph examinations. Further investigation revealed a pattern of extravagant spending, and an unusual pattern of foreign travel followed by large, unexplained bank deposits. Nicholson, who at the time was in the middle of a divorce and child custody battle, claimed that he did it for his children and to pay his bills. On 21 November [1996] he was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit espionage. On 3 March 1997, Nicholson pleaded guilty under a plea agreement in which he admitted that he had been a Russian spy. On 6 June [1997] he was sentenced ... to 23 years and seven months in prison." U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Security Service, Espionage Cases, 1975-2004: Summaries and Sources (Monterey, CA: Defense Personnel Security Research Center, 2004). A later element in this case was Nicholson's involvement of his son in trying to get money from the Russians for the work the elder Nicholson had done.

Nicholson - 1996 - 1997 (Arrest and Conviction)

Nicholson and His Son, Nathan

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