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John Anthony Walker, Jr. (born 28 July 1937, Washington D.C.) is a former United States Navy Chief Warrant Officer and communications specialist convicted of spying for the Soviet Union from 1968 to 1985. In late 1985, Walker reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, which required him to testify against his conspirator, former Senior Chief Petty Officer Jerry Whitworth, and provide full details of his espionage activities. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to a lesser sentence for Walker's son, former Seaman Michael Walker, who was also involved in the spy ring. During his time as a Soviet spy, Walker helped the Soviets decipher more than one million encrypted naval messages, organizing a spy operation that The New York Times reported in 1987 “is sometimes described as the most damaging Soviet spy ring in history.”
After Walker's arrest, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, concluded that the Soviet Union made significant gains in naval warfare attributable to Walker's spying. Weinberger stated that the information Walker gave Moscow allowed the Soviets "access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics." John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, stated in an interview that Walker's activities enabled the Soviets to know where our submarines were at all times. Lehman said the Walker espionage would have resulted in huge loss of American lives in the event of war.
In the June 2010 issue of Naval History Magazine, John Prados, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, pointed out that after Walker introduced himself to Soviet officials, North Korean forces seized the USS Pueblo (AGER-2). Prados added that North Korea subsequently shared information gleaned from the warship to the Soviets, enabling them to build replicas and gain access to the US naval communications system, which continued until the system was completely revamped in the late-1980s.
Born in Scranton, Pennyslvania, Walker enlisted in the Navy in 1955 when, arrested for burglary, he was offered the option of jail or the military. While stationed in Boston, Walker met and married Barbara Crowley, and they had four children together, three daughters and a son. While stationed on the nuclear-powered Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarine USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619) in Charleston, South Carolina, Walker opened a bar which failed to turn a profit and immediately plunged him into debt.
Walker began spying for the Soviets in December 1967, when, distraught over his financial difficulties, he walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC, sold a top secret document (a radio cipher card) for several thousand dollars, and negotiated an ongoing salary of $500 to $1,000 a week. Walker has justified his treachery by claiming that the first classified Navy communications data he had sold to the Soviets had already been completely compromised when the North Koreans had captured the U.S. Navy communications surveillance ship, the USS Pueblo. Yet the Koreans captured the Pueblo in January 1968 — just one month after Walker had betrayed the information. Furthermore, a 2001 thesis presented at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College using information from Soviet archives and from Oleg Kalugin, indicates that the Pueblo incident may have taken place because the Soviets wanted to study equipment described in documents supplied to them by Walker.
Walker continued spying, receiving an income of several thousand dollars per month for supplying classified information. While Walker occasionally used the services of his wife, Barbara Walker, he began seeking further assistance in 1969 when, stationed to teach radio operators in San Diego, California, he befriended student Jerry Whitworth. Whitworth, who would become a Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer/Senior Chief Radioman, agreed to assist Walker in accessing highly-classified communications data in 1973. A transfer had stopped Walker's access to the data the Soviets wanted, but he was able to recruit Whitworth to keep the data flowing by telling him the data would be going to Israel, an ally of the United States, in order to soften the consideration of Whitworth engaging in espionage. Later, when Whitworth realized the data was going to the Soviets instead of Israel, he nonetheless continued feeding it to Walker until his retirement from the Navy in 1983. In 1976, Walker retired from the Navy in order to give up his security clearance, as he believed certain superior officers of his were too keen on investigating lapses in his records. Walker and Barbara also divorced. However, Walker did not end his espionage, and began looking more aggressively among his children and family members for assistance (Walker was a private detective at this time). By 1984, he had recruited his older brother Arthur, a retired Lieutenant Commander who then went to work at a military contractor, and his son Michael, an active duty seaman. Walker had also attempted to recruit his youngest daughter, who had enlisted in the US Army, but she cut her military career short when she became pregnant. Walker then turned his attention to his son, who had drifted during much of his teenage years and dropped out of high school. Walker gained custody of his son, put him to work as an apprentice at his detective agency in order to prepare him for espionage and encouraged him to re-enroll in high school to earn a diploma, then to enlist in the Navy.
When Walker began spying, he worked as a key supervisor in the communications center for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's submarine force, and he would have had knowledge of top secret technologies, such as the SOSUS underwater surveillance system which tracks submarine traffic via a network of submerged hydrophones. It was through Walker that the Soviets became aware that the United States were able to track the location of Soviet submarines by the cavitation produced by their propellers. After this, the propellers on the Soviet submarines were improved to reduce cavitation. The Toshiba-Kongsberg scandal was disclosed in this activity in 1987.
In 1990, New York Times journalist John J. O'Connor reported, "It's been estimated by some intelligence experts that Mr. Walker provided enough code-data information to alter significantly the balance of power between Russia and the United States". Asked later how he had managed to access so much classified information, Walker said, "KMart has better security than the Navy". According to a report presented to the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive in 2002, Walker is one of a handful of spies believed to have earned more than a million dollars in espionage compensation, although The New York Times estimated his income at only $350,000.
By May 1985, John and Barbara Walker had divorced and Barbara, upset by John's refusal to pay her alimony, reported his spying to the FBI. Following an investigation, the FBI arrested Walker, Whitworth, Arthur Walker, and Michael Walker. Ironically, Walker himself was arrested at a motel in Montgomery County, Maryland, using a trick he used to catch people in adultery cases: telephoning his hotel room and telling him his car had been hit in an accident. Barbara Walker was not prosecuted because of her role in disclosing the ring. Former KGB agent Victor Cherkashin, however, details in his book Spy Handler that Walker was compromised by an FBI spy named "Martynov," who overheard officials in Moscow speaking about Walker.
Walker cooperated with authorities and in a plea bargain, he agreed to submit to an unchallenged conviction and life sentence, provide a full disclosure of the details of his spying, and give testimony against Whitworth in exchange for a pledge from the prosecutors that his son would receive a sentence of no more than 25 years imprisonment. All of the members of the spy ring besides Michael Walker received life sentences for their role in the espionage. Whitworth was sentenced to 365 years in prison and fined $410,000 for his involvement. Whitworth is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Atwater, a high security federal prison in California.
Walker is currently incarcerated at the Medium Security Prison II in Butner, North Carolina. He is said to be suffering from diabetes and stage IV throat cancer. He is scheduled for release on May 20, 2015, at which point he will have served 30 years in prison.