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Spy and His Son Indicted

All in the Family
Spy and His Son Indicted

02/02/09

Harold James Nicholson
Harold James Nicholson

In a spy case eerily reminiscent of one from more than two decades ago, a federal indictment was unsealed January 29 charging a father and son with conspiracy against the United States.

Harold J. Nicholson—a former CIA employee—and his 24-year-old son Nathaniel were charged in Portland, Oregon with two counts of conspiracy, one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government (in this case, Russia), and four counts of money laundering.

As you might remember, another father and son team—John and Michael Walker—were charged in 1985 with spying for the Soviet Union. (Walker also brought his brother Arthur into the fold.)

The kicker in all this? Harold Nicholson is already in prison, serving a more than 23-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon for his 1997 conviction on charges of conspiring to commit espionage for the Russian Federation.

Being behind bars, though, apparently didn’t stop Nicholson—he allegedly continued his attempts at maintaining his relationship with the Russians through his son.

How he did it. According to charges, Harold Nicholson felt he was owed additional payment from his Russian handlers for the classified national defense information he provided them during the 1990s. He may have first attempted to communicate with his handlers through fellow prisoners in the year 2000 by convincing the inmates to have visiting family members or friends mail letters for him. Later on, he was more successful in convincing a soon-to-be-released inmate to mail a package for him.

In addition to wanting his Russian “pension”—as he termed it—for services rendered, Nicholson believed he still had sensitive information that would be of use to his handlers but was afraid the information would soon become stale and worthless.

Partners in crime. According to a court affidavit, by 2006 Nicholson had turned his focus to his son Nathaniel, communicating with him through the limited means available in prison—letters, telephone calls, and visits—to garner his assistance as a go-between. It worked: beginning in December 2006, Nathaniel took the first of many overseas trips on behalf of his father—the first to Mexico City, where we believe he met with Russian intelligence officials, passed information from his father, and received money.

Over time, Nicholson allegedly instructed his son on how to collect money from the Russians in a covert and secretive manner, how to avoid detection by law enforcement, and how to avoid international currency reporting requirements upon returning to the States with U.S. currency from Russian handlers.

Court documents show that Nathaniel took a series of trips from December 2006 to December 2008 to meet with agents of the Russian Federation in San Francisco; Mexico City, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and Cyprus. He allegedly collected money while on these trips and received additional instructions from his handlers. He then brought the money back to Oregon to disperse to family members…at the direction of his father.

The indictment against the two men also seeks forfeiture of the money given to Nathaniel Nicholson by the Russian Federation, alleged to be the proceeds of his father’s past espionage activities.