How Polish spy agency got secret data on US Minuteman missile

June 6, 1980: A team of about 20 KGB analysts and engineers are flown from Moscow to Warsaw. They are called in to evaluate a large volume of documents recently received by the Polish intelligence organization from an American.

Meeting in the Soviet Embassy, the analysts carefully examine the papers to determine how authentic and how important they might be. The evaluation will also determine how much the American should be paid.

The documents are found to relate to United States Minuteman missiles and American plans to strengthen US defenses against a preemptive nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.

The Soviets become extremely excited.

It is information that the Soviet intelligence organization - the KGB - has been trying unsuccessfully all over the world to obtain.

The word goes out: Give the American what he is asking for.

He is paid $100,000 - cash.

This is an account, pieced together by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), of the sale of volumes of classified documents to the Polish intelligence organization, the SB. Much of the account comes from a US government ''confidential source'' who in 1980 was a high-ranking officer in the Polish SB.

The account is related in an FBI affidavit filed in connection with the Oct. 17, 1983, arrest of James D. Harper Jr., an engineer in California's Silicon Valley. Harper is charged with selling American missile secrets to the Poles. He was indicted in December by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on six counts of espionage and three counts of tax evasion.

It began in 1975.

That was the year, according to the FBI, that Harper was introduced to two persons who had a ''shopping list'' of American technology.

According to court documents, the list had been drawn up by the SB. It had been derived from a master list of desired Western technology compiled in Moscow by Soviet engineers and scientists.

Court documents do not say whether Harper was specifically recruited by the Poles or whether he volunteered his services. It is also not clear whether he was immediately aware that he was working for the Polish SB.

According to the FBI, the 1975 introduction was made by William B. Hugle, a well-known entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Mr. Hugle is also alleged to have accompanied Harper on two of his trips to Warsaw. Hugle, who has not been charged with any crime, has denied any involvement in the espionage case.

Records filed in federal bankruptcy court in San Jose, Calif., indicate that Hugle had business contacts with Poland. The records for the 1975 bankruptcy of one of Hugle's firms, Hugle International, show a $648,000 payment from Unitra Ece of Warsaw, Poland.

Unitra is a Polish state-run electronics importing and exporting company. It is also one of the parent companies of Unitronex Corporation, an electronics firm established in 1974 and based in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Unitronex was investigated in 1982 for alleged violations of the Export Adminstration Act - which bans high-technology exports to the East bloc. The firm was found to be in compliance with the law. No charges were filed and the investigation was dropped, according to a Justice Department source.

A Unitronex official declined to be interviewed for this story.

Harper did not have a security clearance that would grant him access to secret US government documents. And he was not personally involved in particularly strategic research or industrial efforts.

But according to the FBI, Harper managed to obtain and sell to Poland $5,000 to $7,500 worth of documents in November 1975.

The next activity mentioned by the FBI in the affidavit - and the start of the focus of the current case - was a May 1979 trip to Warsaw. It was this trip that ultimately led to the sale of the Minuteman missile secrets.

During his trip to Warsaw, Harper was introduced to Zdzislaw Pryzchodzien, the man who would serve as his Polish ''contact.'' Mr. Pryzchodzien was an official in the Polish Ministry of Machine Industry and reportedly a former business associate of Hugle's. He was also, according to the FBI, an officer in the SB ''using the ministry as a cover for intelligence-gathering activities.''

During this same period in the late 1970s, another American, William H. Bell of Hughes Aircraft, was being recruited by Marian Zacharski in Los Angeles. Mr. Zacharski was the Los Angeles office manager for a Polish machine-tools firm called Polamco. It stands for Polish American Machinery Company and is headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Polamco is owned by the Polish state trading firm Metalexport. Metalexport is the state's marketing arm for machinery and other goods produced under the authority of the Polish Ministry of Machine Industry.

To Zacharski, Mr. Bell must have seemed an easy mark.

The 60-year-old radar engineer at Hughes Aircraft was in trouble financially and was being pursued by four different offices of the IRS for back taxes. He was forced to file for bankruptcy. His family troubles were severe. At work, Bell said he had been ''shunted off to a quiet back room'' by a new, younger management group at Hughes.

Following a divorce, Bell married a Belgian woman and together with her young son they were struggling to start a new life.

Enter Zacharski.

The 28-year-old Polamco office manager, who was about the age of Bell's oldest son by his first marriage, set out to solve Bell's problems. He not only gave him large amounts of cash, which enabled him to repay his debts, but he expressed interest in Bell's work - work that Bell was quite proud of. Bell said , ''He slowly became my best friend.''

Within a short time, what had begun with casual tennis games had grown into what FBI Director William Webster has called ''a textbook example of espionage.''

Next: The recruitment of William H. Bell.

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