Journal of Cold War Studies 2.2 (2000) 127-129
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Inside the FBI Investigation of the Walker Espionage Case
Robert W. Hunter, Spy Hunter: Inside the FBI Investigation of the Walker Espionage Case. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999. 250 pp. US$27.95.
Robert Hunter was the chief investigator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the Walker spy case. In 1985, Hunter's efforts led to the arrest of retired U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer John Walker and Walker's brother, son, and best friend, all of whom were convicted of espionage. For nearly 18 years after Walker first offered his services to the Soviet embassy in Washington, he had provided thousands of classified Navy documents to the Soviet Union in return for large payments.
The Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) rightly considered Walker to be its most valuable agent--more valuable than Aldrich Ames, who became an agent around the time of Walker's arrest. Walker had provided the KGB with the keys to most U.S. Navy codes, permitting Soviet analysts to read operational naval messages around the world. He was almost certainly the highest paid Soviet agent of all time, probably receiving over one million dollars in total.
Hunter's book is straightforward and provides an informed and interesting account of the FBI investigation. It does not, however, add appreciably to what has already been revealed (with the assistance of Hunter and other FBI sources) by the two most reliable earlier books on the subject: John Barron's Breaking the Ring: The Rise and Fall of the Walker Family Spy Network, published in 1987, and Pete Earley's Family of Spies: Inside the Walker Spy Ring, published in 1988. The chief value of Hunter's book lies in the firsthand account it provides of the FBI's field counterintelligence investigation. [End Page 127]
The arrest of Walker, Hunter notes, marked the first time the FBI had caught a U.S. citizen in the act of espionage. But that was not entirely the FBI's doing. The investigation got under way only belatedly, after an accusation was made by Walker's estranged wife, Barbara, who finally called the FBI in late 1984 for personal reasons. As Hunter acknowledges, the FBI should have suspected Walker a good deal earlier, not least because (as was later the case with Ames) Walker was living well beyond his means. Moreover, Walker had given several associates and family members enough information to raise suspicions that he was spying for money. Nevertheless, no one brought up the matter until Walker's wife called the FBI some 17 years after he first confessed to her that he was a spy.
When Walker was finally caught, he had in his possession not only 129 classified documents (mostly collected by his son Michael, a seaman on the nuclear carrier USS Nimitz), but also a "Dear Friend" letter he had written to his KGB handler, which contained damaging admissions regarding his own activities and those of his associates. At his home he had even kept a set of calendars that recorded all his meetings with KGB handlers from 1978 through 1985. After each meeting, Walker had deposited a large sum of money into his bank account.
One of the virtues of the book is that Hunter tells his story without embellishment and makes no attempt to reflect on the broader significance of the Walker case. He does note the similarities with other Soviet espionage cases in recent decades, in which the motivation was financial gain and the initiative came from the Americans. By contrast, American spies in the 1930s and 1940s were motivated chiefly by ideological affinities with the Soviet regime. Beyond this, Hunter does not weigh the implications of the case, or of espionage in general, for U.S.-Soviet relations or the course of the Cold War.
In a few brief concluding passages, Hunter raises the question of whether the compromise of U.S. Navy codes to Soviet intelligence may have...