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Exotic Espionage Gear in Evidence at Spy Trial

April 20, 1986|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — As 25 FBI agents searched the home of admitted Soviet spymaster John A. Walker in Norfolk, Va., last May, they discovered, among other things, an array of cryptic instructions for setting up covert meetings, miniature cameras for photographing classified documents and a cane that hid a small gun.

But when all that was delivered to the laboratory on the third floor of FBI headquarters in Washington, analysts were most intrigued by a precision-machined electrical device. Shaped like a cigarette pack, only smaller and far thinner, the gray metal device could easily fit into a wallet or the palm of a hand.

FBI analysts concluded that the highly sophisticated device was made by the KGB to enable the Soviets to reproduce a U.S. Navy's encoding device--thus giving them the ability to read encoded messages sent from one American ship to another.

Entered Into Evidence

This device--as well as the secret meeting instructions, the miniature camera and the cane-gun--were entered into evidence last week in the trial of Walker's alleged underling in espionage, retired Navy communications specialist Jerry A. Whitworth.

Little of the material was directly linked to Whitworth, but the rare public glimpse of espionage "tradecraft"--elements of a John Le Carre novel come to life--was intended by the government to illuminate the sophistication of Walker's spying activities and the value they had to the Soviets.

Moreover, they lay the groundwork for the upcoming testimony by Walker, who has pleaded guilty to espionage and faces a life sentence. Walker, 48, who began spying for the Soviets in 1968, is expected to begin testifying as the star witness against Whitworth when the trial resumes April 28 after a 1 1/2-week postponement.

Whitworth, 46, who has lost a noticeable amount of weight since his arrest a year ago, faces 13 counts of espionage and tax evasion. He allegely received $332,000 for passing Navy secrets to Walker during a nine-year period ending in 1983 when Whitworth retired.

During the first four weeks of testimony, prosecution witnesses repeatedly have emphasized the importance of military secrecy and the significance of the data forwarded to the Soviets by Walker. Information supplied by Walker could have given the Soviets the precise locations of U.S. warships and submarines, with potentially fatal results in wartime, according to witnesses.

"If you can predict where he (the enemy) is going to be, you've got the edge. . . . You can go to war, and you can win," Capt. David L. Ricketts, who is in charge of communications for the Atlantic fleet, told jurors last week.

Also testifying last week was FBI Agent Gerald Richards, a supervisor in the FBI laboratory and an espionage specialist. He called the accouterments of Walker's spy business some of the most intricate tradecraft ever discovered.

The electrical decoding device alone would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to duplicate. It is not made commercially anywhere in the world, prompting Assistant U.S. Atty. William (Buck) Farmer to tell U.S. District Judge John P. Vukasin that the item was "supplied by the KGB."

Walker, a former chief warrant officer, would have had no trouble using the device. While he was in the Navy, he had unchallenged access to machines that encode and decode communications. One such machine, used on ships and submarines and on the shore, employed a "rotor," which was rotated to set the specific code that was in use.

To employ the Soviet-made device, Walker simply had to unfold it and affix it to a rotor. Inside the device are 36 points arranged in a circle, plus a panel of digits, 1 through 36. The device's 36 points match the 36 points on an encryption rotor.

As a dial on the device is turned, it makes electrical connections with the rotor, causing numbers on the panel to light. By connecting all 36 points on both devices and copying the corresponding numbers, Walker could record the rotor's wiring, thus providing the Soviets with the means to duplicate rotors and ultimately listen freely to Naval communications.

The government contends that Walker no longer needed the decoding device when he quit the Navy in 1976 because by then he was relying on his son, Michael, a seaman on the aircraft carrier Nimitz; brother, Arthur, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, and, allegedly, Whitworth, to gather secrets. Walker's son and brother have been convicted on spying charges.

But Walker still needed to deliver the information and collect money.

Instructions Seized

In Walker's house, agents seized pages of Soviet-prepared instructions describing for Walker in minute detail how to arrange face-to-face meetings with his Soviet "handlers." One set of instructions revealed in the trial directed Walker to appear at a set time on a Vienna sidewalk outside a kitchen appliance shop.

"For easy identification," the instructions said, "please carry your camera bag on your left shoulder and a small paper bag in your right hand. Pause by that (store) window for about two minutes from 18:15 to 18:17, drifting slowly along it . . . toward the other corner of the building."

Walker acted out such procedures 10 times between 1978 and Jan. 19, 1985, his last known meeting with a Soviet. He used the meetings to pass documents and collect his pay--roughly $1 million over 16 years. But by the time of his arrest, he was ready to demand a massive raise.

Agents found a note Walker had written to himself that said: "Intended to ask for one million at 83 meet, but instead found myself on defensive. . . .

"Spent over sixty thousand to build up organization. . . . Can make forty to forty-five thousand at regular job--why make less with danger involved? . . . Realization that no one should expect less than $4,000 monthly."

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