The Harold J. Nicholson Spy Case

Arrest and Conviction

Materials presented in chronological order.

Johnston, David. "U.S. Case Sets Out 2-Year Betrayal by C.I.A. Official." New York Times, 19 Nov. 1996, A1, A12 (N).

Harold J. Nicholson probably began spying for the Russians in 1994 while he was stationed in Malaysia. Nicholson served in Manila, Bangkok, Tokyo, Bucharest, and Kuala Lumpur and as an instructor of CIA Trainees. In a joint news conference on 18 November 1996, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and DCI John M. Deutch described the investigation that led to Nicholson's arrest. Click for text of the press release from the joint FBI-CIA news conference. See also, Tim Weiner, "Spy Suspect Seemed Like the Best and the Brightest," New York Times, 19 Nov. 1996, A12 (N).

Davies, Hugh. "CIA Spy 'Needed Money for Love.'" Telegraph (London), 20 Nov. 1996. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk]

U.S. intelligence officials are working on a theory that Harold Nicholson's obsession for a woman living in Thailand "was so intense that he blindly took foolish risks to keep her happy."

New York Times. "[Editorial:] Another C.I.A. Betrayal." 20 Nov. 1996, A14 (N).

"Compared with the years they spent fumbling the Aldrich Ames case," the CIA and FBI "pursued suspicions about Harold Nicholson with alacrity and admirable coordination.... But progress in these matters is relative. It still took too long ... to detect and investigate Mr. Nicholson's activities.... The C.I.A. and F.B.I. must improve their response time on espionage cases, and the agency should not presume that reforms instituted after the Ames fiasco are adequate."

Weiner, Tim. "C.I.A.'s Latest Security Breach Puts Many Careers in Jeopardy: Agency's Operations and Morale Likely to Suffer." New York Times, 20 Nov. 1996, A1, C21 (N).

Initial damage assessments of Nicholson's spying suggest that at a minimum the careers of some young officers who were trained at Camp Peary from 1994 to 1996 will be blighted by the likelihood that their names rest someplace in a Russian safe. In addition, it is believed that the identities of U.S. businessmen in Russia who volunteer information to the CIA have been exposed. Nicholson taught the Agency's 16-week training course to prospective CIA operations officers. See also, David Johnston and Tim Weiner, "On the Trail of a C.I.A. Official, from Asia Travel to Bank Files: Spies' Trainer Seemed to Ignore Rules He Taught," New York Times, 21 Nov. 1996, A1, A14 (N).

Johnston, David. "Single Indictment Against Accused Spy in C.I.A." New York Times, 22 Nov. 1996, A16 (N).

A Federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, on 21 November 1996 returned an indictment against Harold J. Nicholson for conspiracy to commit espionage. The one-count indictment is "a tactical step designed to streamline the prosecution of the accused spy." The possibility of a broader espionage indictment at a later date remains.

Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose. "Bored CIA Spies Go Moonlighting." Telegraph (London), 24 Nov. 1996. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk]

Evans-Pritchard's hypothesis of boredom as an explanation of traitorous behavior (in this instance, Harold Nicholson's) scarcely seems the most astute analysis.

Pincus, Walter, and Roberto Suro. "Rooting Out the 'Sour Apples' Inside the CIA: The Latest Arrest Calls into Question the Effectiveness of Reforms after the Ames Embarrassment." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 25 Nov.-1 Dec. 1996, 30.

"Nicholson operated as a Russian spy for at least a year and a half before counterintelligence investigators formally opened a probe of his activities... The failure of the post-Ames reforms to deter Nicholson may mean that there are still spies to be caught."

Thomas, Evan, and Gregory L. Vistica. "The Spy Who Sold Out." Newsweek, 2 Dec. 1996, 35.

This rehashes most of the publicly known aspects of the Nicholson case, mixed together with a few gratuitous slaps (masquerading as analysis) at the Agency: "Nicholson ... is more accurately described as a clever careerist, a common breed at Langley since the 1980s"; "case officers spend many hours waiting around in bars"; "just as Ames was not the first CIA mole [sic] -- only the first to be caught -- Nicholson's case is almost surely not the last."

Smith, R. Jeffrey, and Roberto Suro. "Waiting to Close the Trap: For More Than a Year, FBI Agents Patiently Built Their Case Against a CIA Officer." WPNWE, 2-8 Dec. 1996, 8-9.

This article details the FBI's investigation that led to Nicholson's arrest. Among other matters, it notes that in early 1996 the investigators sent "national security letters" to Nicholson's financial institutions, requesting a record of his transactions. These requests "can be made even without a court-ordered warrant" and prohibit the institutions from telling the person involved that they have received such a request.

Washington Post. "[Editorial:] One More Bad Apple at the CIA." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 2-8 Dec. 1996, 25.

Nicholson's "contempt for the new counterintelligence controls ... is significant. Perhaps it was necessary to take extra time to build a case against him, but this is far from obvious."

Hall, Charles W., and Walter Pincus. "Spy Suspects Refusing to Go Quietly." Washington Post, 23 Jan. 1997, A9.

Robert C. Kim, Harold Nicholson, and Earl Edwin Pitts cases.

Grier, Peter. “Ex-Wife’s View of Life with an Accused CIA Spy.” Christian Science Monitor, 27 Jan. 1997.

The Nicholson case "is one of the strangest and most troubling incidents of alleged espionage that US intelligence has faced since the end of the cold war. The reason: Nicholson was a hard-working man on the rise.... A look at Nicholson's life -- including a lengthy, exclusive interview with his longtime spouse -- reveals a man that some might judge tightly wrapped. He pursued work instead of vacations, advancement instead of family relations, and after his divorce struggled with the demands of being an expatriate single father."

Weiner, Tim. "C.I.A. Official Pleads Guilty to Spying for the Russians." New York Times, 4 Mar. 1997, A11 (N).

Under a plea bargain agreement, Harold J. Nicholson on 3 March 1997 "pleaded guilty to selling secrets to Moscow." See also, Bill Gertz, "Ex-CIA Official Pleads Guilty," Washington Times, 4 Mar. 1997, A3; and Brooke A. Masters, "CIA Spy Admits Guilt, Says He'll Reveal Damage," Washington Post, 4 Mar. 1997, A1, A7.

Washington Times. "Ex-CIA Officer Gets 23 Years for Selling Secrets to Russia." 5 Jun. 1997, A8.

Harold J. Nicholson has been sentenced to 23 years and seven months in prison. See also, Brooke A. Masters, "Convicted Spy Says He Did It for His Family," Washington Post, 6 Jun. 1997, A1, A6; and Tim Weiner, "C.I.A. Traitor, Saying He Wanted Cash for Family, Gets 23 Years," New York Times, 6 Jun. 1997, A19.

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