Year of the Spy (1985)

John Anthony Walker, Jr. U.S. Navy warrant officer who spied for the Soviet Union for 17 years and was arrested on May 20, 1985.

John Walker

The Cold War was on its last gasps, but you would have never guessed it by all the moles in the U.S. government who were passing secrets.

It was 1985—and as a result of a string of high-profile espionage arrests by the FBI and its partners, the press dubbed it the “Year of the Spy.”

Among those identified and their stories:

John Anthony Walker, Jr. 

  • U.S. government job: U.S. Navy Warrant Officer and communications specialist, 1967 to 1985.
  • Also worked for: The Soviet Union.
  • Secrets passed: For more than 17 years, Walker provided top cryptographic secrets to the Soviets, compromising at least one million classified messages. After retiring from the Navy, he also recruited three people with security clearances into his espionage ring: his brother Arthur, his son Michael, and his good friend Jerry Whitworth. The information passed by Walker and his confederates would have been devastating to the U.S. had the nation gone to war with the Soviets.
  • How discovered: A tip from his ex-wife.
  • Fate: Arrested on May 20, 1985, pled guilty, and sentenced to life in prison.

Jonathan Jay Pollard

  • U.S. government job: Civilian intelligence analyst at the Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center in Maryland.
  • Also worked for: Israel.
  • Secrets passed: Started selling sensitive documents in 1984; the actual content has not been revealed but the quantity was significant. His wife Anne assisted him.
  • How discovered: Co-workers grew suspicious.
  • Fate: Arrested along with his wife Anne on November 21, 1985, outside the Israeli Embassy; both pled guilty the following year, with Jonathan Pollard receiving a life sentence.

Sharon Marie Scranage

  • U.S. government job: CIA clerk stationed in Ghana.
  • Also worked for: Ghana.
  • Secrets passed: Scranage began dating Michael Soussoudis, a cousin of the Ghanaian head of state, in 1983. She provided him with CIA information, including the identity of CIA affiliates and intelligence on communications, radio, and military equipment.
  • How discovered: Routine CIA polygraph raised suspicions.
  • Fate: Charged along with boyfriend in July 1985, pled guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison.

Larry Wu-tai Chin

  • U.S. government job: Chinese language translator/intelligence officer for CIA, 1952 to 1981.
  • Also worked for: China.
  • Secrets passed: Classified documents and photographs, including CIA reports on the Far East.
  • How discovered: Not revealed.
  • Fate: Arrested on November 22, 1985; convicted at trial but committed suicide before sentencing.

Ronald William Pelton

  • U.S. government job: Communications specialist, National Security Agency.
  • Also worked for: The Soviet Union.
  • Secrets passed: Because of money problems, Pelton went to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. shortly after resigning from the National Security Agency and offered to sell secrets. Provided classified information for five years, including details on U.S. collection programs targeting the Soviets.
  • How discovered: Information provided by a KGB defector.
  • Fate: Arrested on November 25, 1985, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

These are just a few of the dozens of spies who we identified and arrested during the 1980s, including 12 in 1984 alone. For the FBI, it wasn’t the “Year of the Spy”—it was the “Decade of the Spy!”