John A. Walker Jr., a former U.S. Navy officer convicted in the 1980s of running a spy network that for years passed classified communications to the Soviet Union, has died in federal prison at age 77.
"Walker began his Cold War-era espionage scheme while working as a Navy warrant officer and communications specialist. He provided secrets to the Soviets for more than 17 years and compromised at least 1 million classified messages, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"Authorities said he also masterminded a family of spies, recruiting his brother Arthur, his son [Seaman] Michael [Walker] and [Petty Officer Jerry Whitworth] - all of whom had security clearances - to help him gain access to top-secret information after he retired from the Navy."
In 1967, at the height of the Cold War, Walker approached the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. offering to hand over keys to coded material on a regular basis. The Soviets used the keys to decipher secret U.S. Navy communications.
At the time of his arrest in 1985, then-Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger said Walker's efforts had allowed the Soviets "access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness tactics."
Some naval historians believe that in 1968, Soviet intelligence arranged for the North Koreans to seize the USS Pueblo specifically to obtain navy cipher machines needed to make use of the windfall from Walker's spying.
Estimates of what the Soviets paid Walker for his information have ranged from several hundred thousand dollars to about $1 million.
The Los Angeles Times says the spying ring was uncovered "after [Walker's] ex-wife, Barbara Crowley Walker, alerted the FBI in the midst of a custody battle between her daughter, Laura Walker Snyder, and her son-in-law, Mark Snyder."
The Times says: "John Walker Jr. later agreed to a plea deal, cooperating with federal authorities and testifying against Whitworth in exchange for securing a lighter, 25-year sentence for his son, Michael."
His son served 15 years and was released in 2000; brother Arthur was incarcerated at the same prison as John Walker in Butner, N.C., and died there in July at age 79. Whitworth, now 75, remains at the Federal Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif.
John Walker was sentenced in 1986 to life in prison, but under sentencing laws at that time would have been due for release in May, federal prisons spokesman Chris Burke was quoted by Reuters as saying.
He died on Thursday, but no immediate cause was given. Walker reportedly suffered from throat cancer.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
In Big Bill Broonzy's Blues, Brothers Find A Way To Sing Together: Dave and Phil Alvin have made their first full album together in nearly 30 years, a tribute to one of their early influences. "His persona was so big to me," Phil Alvin tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
Seeking Proof For Why We Feel Terrible After Too Many Drinks: Author Adam Rogers says there are lots of myths about what causes hangovers. His new book, Proof: The Science of Booze, explores these and other scientific mysteries of alcohol's effect on the body.
Benjamin Booker Is Raw, Yet Disciplined On Debut Album: The 25-year-old guitarist-singer-songwriter has already served as an opening act on Jack White's recent tour, and he may be ready for headliner status.
You can listen to the original interviews here:
The European Union is reportedly hammering out further sanctions to punish Russia for its incursion into eastern Ukraine, with foreign ministers expressing "deep concern" over Moscow's "aggression."
NATO has also called on the Kremlin to halt its "illegal military operations" in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, pro-Russia separatists, which reportedly include regular Russian army troops in their ranks, have captured the Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk in southern Donetsk province on the coast of the Sea of Azov.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who visited Novoazovsk shortly after its capture, tells Weekend Edition Saturday that the city seems calm, but that residents are nervously reticent.
In an hour-long visit that was controlled by separatists, Soraya says she spoke to a city administration worker.
"She was rather frightened and it took me awhile to even get her to give me her first name," Soraya says. "I asked her if she was happy that she'd been liberated and she wouldn't answer."
The capture of the city, now part of what the separatists call "the new Russia," came after three days of fighting, according to residents.
Soraya tells WESAT host Scott Simon that it's difficult or impossible to tell whether Russian forces are mixed in with the rebels, as the U.S. and European nations claim.
"[There] seems to be a mix of people here, definitely not locals who are here," she says. "But the separatists claim they do not have any Russians fighting among them, that these are Ukrainians fighters who are here ... that all the weapons and tanks here, and we've seen three tanks here, have been confiscated from the Ukrainians."
According to the AP: "None of the half-dozen tanks seen by Associated Press reporters in the town of about 12,000 people bore Russian markings, but the packaging on [the fighters'] field rations said they were issued by the Russian army."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday referred to Russia's "hollow denials" that its troops and equipment had illegally crossed the border into Ukraine. "This is a blatant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution," he said. Earlier this week, President Obama said there is "no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising."
As EU foreign ministers met, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, who was invited to speak, appealed for them to give an "appropriate response" over Russian forces being brought into Ukraine, his spokesman said in a Twitter post, according to Reuters.
"Referring to meetings in Brussels between Poroshenko and EU leaders on Saturday, the spokesman said: 'Poroshenko expressed the hope that the leaders of EU members will give an appropriate response to the act of aggression towards Ukraine.
"'The bringing of Russian forces onto Ukrainian territory requires an appropriate response from the EU.'"
The high-level discussions came amid reports that a Ukrainian Su-25 had been shot down. Soraya reports: "This has been the third jet that in recent days has been shot down. This time, the Ukrainians say it was some sort of Russian missile launcher that brought it down. There has been no response from the Russian side."