Keeping track of the subs. Alleged spy's skipper now has second thoughts

How does the United States Navy tell if it has a Soviet spy aboard? To former submarine Capt. James Bush, there is nothing like an extended tour at sea in a 425-foot sub to ascertain whether an individual sailor is worthy of his security clearance.

``The real criteria, as far as I was concerned, were the observations at sea,'' Captain Bush says. ``When we went to sea, normally if the guy had any chinks in his personality, they showed up in that period of time.'' Now, despite years of experience, Captain Bush is having second thoughts. ``Perhaps we were overly confident that observation works,'' he says.

The second thoughts come as result of the recent reports that former Navy communications specialist James A. Walker Jr. has worked as a Soviet spy for the past 20 years, including time at sea in the US Navy submarine Sim'on Bol'ivar.

Bush (now with the Center for Defense Information, a private research organization generally critical of the Pentagon) commanded the Sim'on Bol'ivar for four months in 1967, when Mr. Walker was its senior radioman. Walker was roughly 30 years old then, and if court documents are correct, he was in his second or third year of spying.

Today -- 18 years later -- Bush says he's puzzled about how Walker could have eluded detection for 20 years. He notes, however, that during the four months that he and Walker served on the Bolivar, the submarine remained in port, so their contact was less frequent.

Bush wasn't the only Navy man to be fooled by Walker's apparent guise. Bill Wilkinson, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, also served with Walker on the Bolivar. He has been reported as saying Walker acted like a ``tremendous patriot.'' Walker is also said to have been a member at that time of the conservative John Birch Society.

Walker is charged with heading a spy ring for the Soviets that included his son, his brother, and a close friend. All are current or former Navy men.

Officials still do not know whether Walker was himself recruited by the Soviets or whether he approached them and volunteered to spy. And there are numerous questions about the extent of the spy services Walker may have performed for the Soviets.

According to a former naval intelligence officer who asked not to be named, Walker's importance may have hinged on his ability to identify potential recruits for the Soviets.

The former officer says that Walker's job as a private investigator in Norfolk, Va., a large Navy community, was a perfect cover for a Soviet KGB agent. Walker had worked as a private investigator since his retirement as a naval communications specialist.

``The Navy is like a giant fraternity. But there is also a lot of gossip,'' says Bush.

He says Walker may have been able to tell the Soviets the character traits and vulnerabilities of key Navy personnel -- drinking problems, promiscuity, large debts, discontent, and so on. The Soviets, he says, would then assign a different agent -- unknown to Walker -- to approach the potential recruit with an offer he or she could not refuse.

Christopher Boyce, who was convicted in the mid-1970s of selling the Soviets highly sensitive information about US spy satellites, has said that in a meeting in Mexico City with ``Boris,'' his KGB control agent, he was asked to provide a list of all of Boyce's co-workers.

``They wanted me to tell them different things about these people that could be exploited -- financial problems, alcohol problems, sex problems, who was going on vacation where and when, to which countries, and just things that they could use to put hooks into people and exploit them,'' Boyce told the Senate in April.

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