Ronald W. Pelton, a former communications specialist for the National Security Agency, Thursday was found guilty of selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated almost 13 hours over two days. Pelton was convicted on four of five conspiracy and espionage counts and will be sentenced July 28.
Three of the counts carry maximum life sentences and the other calls for a 10-year sentence and $10,000 fine. Fred Warren Bennett, Pelton’s attorney, said he will appeal.
When the verdict was read, Pelton, who showed little emotion throughout the seven-day trial, remained motionless, leaning slightly to the left in his chair. One of the women on the jury sobbed.
Later, Bennett, looking weary and disappointed, said that Pelton had thanked him for his help but that he had said little else. “He was trying to maintain his composure,” Bennett said.
The verdict closes a five-year episode that began Jan. 14, 1980, when Pelton telephoned the Soviet Embassy in Washington and offered to discuss something “that would be very interesting to you.” He had left his job at the National Security Agency six months earlier.
The next day, Pelton visited the embassy and subsequently made three trips to Vienna, twice staying at the Soviet ambassador’s home, where he recounted from memory sensitive information about how the United States collects and decodes Soviet military communications.
For his efforts, Pelton, who was earning $24,500 when he quit the agency after 14 years, was paid $35,000, plus expenses. The government introduced as evidence records showing that Pelton made cash deposits of about $12,000 in 1983, after traveling to Vienna.
He was arrested last November in Annapolis, Md., after five hours of interrogation, during which he told two FBI agents about his spying.
Pelton’s disclosures severely damaged U.S. national security, a top National Security Agency official testified at the trial. But Pelton suggested that the greatest harm was the expense caused the United States when it had to track down Soviet communications that were changed because of the disclosures.
The proceedings provided looks at the inner workings of the super-secret agency, the interrogation methods of the FBI and at a man whose defense included an assertion that he was in the throes of a “severe mid-life crisis.”
How the two FBI agents–David E. Faulkner and Dudley F. Hodgson–conducted their two-part interview of Pelton last Nov. 24 became the focus of much of the testimony, as Bennett–Pelton’s court-appointed attorney–contended that his client’s constitutional rights were violated and asked the jury to disregard any statements Pelton made during the questioning.
Pelton insisted that he thought he was being recruited for a counterespionage mission. He said the agents discouraged him from contacting a lawyer and waited until just before his arrest before informing him that he did not have to talk to them.
His appeal will be based on these assertions, Bennett said.
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