Risk of `walk-in' spies. Free-lancers said to be hard to deter
Washington — The recent spy arrest of Allen J. Davies in San Francisco underscores a significant problem for United States security -- former government employees who decide on their own to sell US secrets to the Soviets. In the Davies case, the former US Air Force technician is alleged to have decided to approach the Soviets with details of American reconnaissance systems such as high-resolution cameras. His motives, prosecutors say, was to ``burn'' the US government to get even for what he perceived as unfair treatment by the Air Force.
Davies, who held a ``secret'' clearance, was discharged by the Air Force after a 10-year career in June 1984 for poor job performance, according to an affidavit filed in the case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The arrest comes a week after the US government ordered a major reduction of Soviet diplomats stationed in the US -- including the ouster of more than a dozen Soviet officials suspected of spying from the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. The Soviet consulate, strategically located atop a hill in the city, is believed by US officials to be the center of Soviet espionage efforts to collect high-technology secrets in California's Silicon Valley.
The Davies arrest prior to his actually passing US secrets suggests that US counterintelligence agents are performing more effectively than in recent years in detecting potential spies. But the case also raises disturbing questions about the difficulty of deterring current and former government employees from selling their expertise to the Soviets years after they have left government service.
``Not everyone can be deterred,'' says William Weld who heads the criminal division of the US Justice Department. Justice Department officials have pursued tough sanctions for convicted spies in an effort to send a strong message to Americans who might consider spying for the Soviets.
Weld notes that in cases such as Davies's some people just aren't ``deterrable.'' ``I don't know how you would have deterred him,'' Weld says. ``There was no guilt in it for him.''
Last August, Jerry Whitworth, a former Navy communications specialist, was sentenced in a San Francisco federal court to 365 years in prison for selling cryptographic and other US communications secrets to the Soviets. Less than a month later, according to the FBI affidavit, Davies met with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Soviet KGB officer and turned over classified information. According to the affidavit, Davies told the agent: ``If the government found out I was doing this . . . they could put me in jail, I think.''
When asked by the undercover FBI agent why Davies had waited two years since leaving the Air Force before contacting the Soviets, Davies replied, according to the affidavit, that he had waited ``just to make sure they [the US government] couldn't link me with it if I told anybody, just sort of . . . hide my trail.''
If the allegations against him are true, Davies is the most recent example of a growing list of current or former US government employees who -- independent of Soviet recruitment efforts -- decide on their own to spy against the US.
Such unsolicited ``walk-ins'' have become a highly lucrative source of US secrets for Soviet KGB agents stationed in the US. The list of ``walk-ins'' include John Walker, Edward Lee Howard, Ronald Pelton, Ronald Jeffries, Thomas Cavanagh, Christopher Cooke, Christopher Boyce, and William Kampiles.
A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on Soviet intelligence operations in the US acknowledged the problem of ``walk-ins.''
``The most dangerous agents of all, who account for the greatest losses of the most highly classified information, are not those who are laboriously recruited, but those who walk in the door of a Soviet embassy somewhere and volunteer information for sale,'' the report says.
The report adds, ``For the walk-in, as for the recruited agent, the motivating factors are usually greed or indebtedness plus an additional element of grievance or disgruntlement. The individual usually is dissatisfied with his or her job or harbors some grudge against his organization or both.''
Some officials have proposed stepped up programs of polygraph tests for current and former government employees with access to sensitive data as a means of preventing retired officials from selling their expertise. Many counterintelligence assessments have pointed up the need to monitor more closely Soviet diplomatic facilities and locations where Americans might go to meet with the Soviets and pass US secrets.
Such efforts to beef up US surveillance of the Soviets apparently paid off in the Davies case. Davies was approached by undercover FBI agents after he placed a call to the Soviet consulate in San Francisco offering to provide US secrets. US counterintelligence agents routinely monitor telephone calls to Soviet offices in the US.
Such monitoring was stepped up in the wake of embarrassing disclosures last year that convicted spy Ronald Pelton had been recorded during a US counterintelligence wiretap arranging a meeting with Soviet officials.
The significance of the conversation was not discovered until years later when a Soviet defector identified Pelton, a retired National Security Agency employee, as a Soviet spy.