Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thirty Years Ago: A Ring is Broken

"Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing"
Judge John P. Vukasin, as told to attorney Cait Boyce

Here is a cruise book photo from the 1982-83 Western Pacific and Indian Ocean deployment of USS Enterprise (CVN-65), when Jerry Alfred Whitworth was leading chief of the Message Processing Center (MPC) within the aircraft carrier's CR Division.  According to the cruise book's description of the Enterprise Communications Department, MPC handled administrative and operational message traffic for both the ship and embarked staffs.

"Using both computer and manual teletype equipment, the MPC processes in excess of 1,600 messages a day, peaking at 2,000 messages," the description continued.  "The reproduction and distribution section of the MPC will have reproduced, by the end of the WESTPAC deployment, over eight million copies of message traffic."  It would be difficult to imagine the sheer physical dimensions of just the portion of those message copies that were classified.  Whitworth knew, and by training knew what fraction of that portion of classified documents were the most sensitive; the ones expected to cause the most "exceptionally grave" damage to national security.  And in a process he hoped would make his retirement more comfortable after his return, so would the Soviet intelligence apparatus.  All that changed three decades ago.

On May 20, 1985, private detective John Anthony Walker was arrested in a motel in Montgomery County, Maryland.  He had traveled there from Norfolk to make a "dead drop" containing 129 classified documents inside a garbage bag, for his Soviet handler.  Although Walker's name is more remembered as being the ringleader of the most damaging espionage case un U.S. Navy history, Whitworth was ultimately given a harsher sentence.  

John Walker retired as a warrant officer out of Headquarters, Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk on July 31, 1976, after passing cryptographic communications material to the Soviets for nearly half his career, giving them the ability to read not only Navy message traffic, but those of the other armed services, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies.  By then, Whitworth, a former student of Walker's in Radioman Instructor School, was actively passing information from the other side of the world.  According to court documents, Walker had initially made a "sales pitch" to Whitworth after his discharge in June 1974.  Whitworth then reenlisted in the Naval Reserve in October 1974 and transited back over to active duty the following month.  After completing advanced satellite communications school in New Jersey, Whitworth returned to the communications station in Diego Garcia, his last duty assignment before leaving active duty.  En route, he was given a $4,000 "inducement" by Walker during a meeting in Norfolk.  

After the one-year assignment at the outpost in the Southern Indian Ocean, he again met Walker in Norfolk, delivering all the material he had stolen, and receiving $18,000.  Whitworth then completed tours aboard the carrier Constellation (CV-64) and the combat stores ship Niagara Falls (AFS-3) between June 1976 and August 1979, receiving approximately $100,000 for the material he purloined from those vessels.  His plum assignment as a Chief Radioman at Naval Telecommunications Station Alameda came next, where Walker bought a van that Whitworth could use out in the parking lot to photograph the large amounts of cryptographic material that crossed his desk each day.  During his last assignment aboard Enterprise, which lasted from October 1982 and his retirement one year later, he made one delivery to Walker, in June 1983.  Walker's Soviet handlers informed him that the images Whitworth had photographed were out-of-focus and unusable, and therefore did not pay him.  Whitworth had retained physical copies of the documents and was able to rephotograph them, delivering the goods to Walker in April 1984.  According to Walker, his handler still instructed him not to pay Whitworth.  

Because had yet to see a penny for the trove of documents he removed from Enterprise, Whitworth began to waiver, corresponding with the FBI between May and August in a series of typewritten letters under the name of "RUS."  While he initially wrote that "the reason for this letter is to give you (FBI) an opportunity to break what brobably [sic] is a significant espionage system. (I know that my contact has recurited [sic] at least three other members that are actively supplying highly classified material)."  

Although halfheartedly trying to break off his business with Walker during this time, Whitworth wavered again.  "Since my last note to you," he wrote, "I've done a lot of serious thinking and have pretty much come to the conclusion that it would be best to give up on the idea of aiding in the termination of the espionage ring previously discussed." "To think I could help you and not make my own involvement known to the public, I believe is naive," Whitworth continued. "I have great difficulty in coming forth, particularly, since the changes of my past involvement ever being known is extremenely [sic] remote, as long as I remain silent...."

Of course, he was wrong.  The garbage bag Walker left for the Soviets was found to contain, among other things, two letters from Whitworth and a letter from Walker to a Soviet agent referring to Whitworth by a "code letter." Walker's home on Old Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk was then searched, and Whitworth's fingerprints were found, according to court documents, on "numerous items."  Later on the 20th, FBI agents swooped in on Whitworth at his home in Davis, California.  He was arrested on June 3, the fourth of the so-called "Walker Family Spy Ring" to be taken into custody.  Under a plea agreement aimed at gaining leniency for his son Michael, who had also been working to collect classified material,  John Walker became the government's key witness against his former protege.

During Whitworth's trial in San Francisco district court in the spring of 1986, then-Director of Naval Intelligence Rear Admiral William O. Studeman, who had been an operational intelligence officer with 7th Fleet during the Vietnam War, deemed the intelligence Whitworth delivered "war-winning," declaring that because of the Soviets' ability to read message traffic, they could have read all operational messages to the fleet during the most critical phases of the war.  
"Whitworth compromised detailed plans for primary, secondary, and emergency communications circuits," wrote Studeman, "which are used by the National Command Authority to maintain contact with operational units." 

Source: Department of Justice/ 
Wikimedia Commons

After deliberating for 10 days, the jury found Whitworth, then 47, guilty of one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government, six counts of delivery of national defense information to a foreign government, four counts of making false tax returns, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

After being paid an estimated $322,000 through John Walker (who reportedly earned around $1 million for his work), some of which was spent on motorcycles and gold coins, Whitworth was fined $410,000 and sentenced to 365 years in prison.  As of today, he remains the only member of the ring still held in custody.

Michael Walker, who was recruited by his father both into the Navy and into espionage, was convicted of passing around 1,500 documents from the carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) to him, received 25 years, serving 15 of them before being paroled in 2000.  Retired Lieutenant Commander Arthur Walker, a Navy contractor who had actually talked his younger brother into joining the Navy in the first place, received three life terms and died in July 2014.  John Walker, who died at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, on August 28, 2014, remained unrepentant until the end, boasting that he had actually helped avert war by helping the Soviets learn the true strength of the United States armed forces, dissuading them from armed confrontation.  Because he received a more lenient sentence than Whitworth, he would have been eligible for parole this month.  

The reverberations of the case were immediate, yet they continue to this day.  In the first few months after the Walkers and Whitworth's arrest, a directive was sent out from the Naval Security Group that all Navy and Coast Guard CMS custodians and their alternates were to be relieved.  Around 3,500 would have to be trained to take their places within a four-month time period.  Communications Security (COMSEC) keying material was also put under mandatory two-person integrity.  From then on, the personal lives (and finances) of personnel holding Top Secret clearances came under greater scrutiny.  And of course, Navy communications systems would have to undergo a stem-to-stern overhaul.

How did the Walker-Whitworth case affect you?  We would like to hear about it.  An upcoming issue of the Daybook is going to take a retrospective look at the Walker ring and other infamous Navy cases such as that of Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Glenn M. Souther, a Navy reservist, recent Old Dominion University graduate, and civilian employee of Fleet Intelligence Center, Europe and Atlantic (FICEURLANT) in Norfolk who defected to the Soviet Union in 1986.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Carrier Embark onboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)

“Here we go! Here we go!”

(Photo by Elijah Palmer)
As I heard those words yelled over the engine noise, I clutched my knees a little bit tighter and said a short prayer.  Mere seconds later, I felt my body shoved into the back of my seat with great force as the C-2 “Cod” aircraft caught the arresting wire with its tailhook. But just as quickly, I was unpinned, and I felt the plane rolling forward.
Our plane touching down (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
And just like that, I realized I was 120 miles off the coast of Virginia on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
How did I end up there? Well, the previous week a few of us from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, VA were invited to participate in a carrier embark. Four of us, along with eight other “distinguished visitors” were flown out to USS Bush for an overnight stay to see what life was like for some of the men and women of the Navy.

As soon as we landed, we were escorted into the ship's “island” (the tower on the flight deck), to meet the captain.  He welcomed us onboard and introduced our group to a few other people who would help us with our stay.  One of these was Ensign Mack Jamieson who shepherded us around for the next 24 hours.  Another was the safety officer who gave us a quick brief on flight deck operations and safety, and before I knew what was happening, we were all headed to part of the flight deck near one of the forward catapults.
The group with the CO, Captain Andrew Loiselle (second from left). (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
Flight deck safety brief (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
The flight deck was a marvel to behold. At once seemingly huge and small, the deck was a hive of activity, with sailors in brightly colored shirts running around in all directions, and various airplanes maneuvering around.  As one can imagine, it was also very, very loud.  Everyone was wearing double ear protection, but even so, often you had to shout to be heard over the engine noise. We were also standing only about 30 feet from the F-18 Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds being launched, so you could feel whenever one of them catapulted off, as the whole deck vibrated.
F-18 getting prepped for launch (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
A Plane Captain guides a C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft around the flight deck. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
After watching them launch, we headed aft to view the planes landing.  I respected Navy pilots before, but after watching them land on a moving ship, I am in awe.  The planes came in at over 100 mph, and had to catch one of three wires just right, so that they could land safely.  While this was impressive during the day, it was even more amazing at night.  All I could see were a few lights in the darkness and then “whoosh” and the F-18 had landed.  Some of the air officers remarked that being able to do night flights were one of the aspects of the U.S. Navy that set them apart from most other navies.
Tailhook down. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
Catching one of four arresting wires on the aft flight deck. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
The author. (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
(Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
(Photo by Elijah Palmer)
After a full day, including visiting other areas of the ship like the library and chapel, as well as dinner with some senior officers, it was time for bed.  While we were treated to some very nice rooms, the night flights kept going until after 2 a.m.  I fell asleep after a bit, with the help of earplugs, but not before gaining additional respect for the officers and Sailors onboard who had to live with similar noise on a daily basis.

In the morning, we were taken to see several other areas of the ship, including the maintenance department, the hangar deck, the galley, the forecastle, and the tower (where the “air boss” runs things on the flight deck).  It was clear that the ship was a living organism of sorts, with various parts supporting and assisting each other to make sure that the ship was able to operate as needed.  At the center of this cooperation were the Sailors and officers.  What struck me most about those we talked to was the sense of pride and purpose that these men and women had in their jobs on the carrier.

Hangar deck (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Ship's bridge (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Air handler (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Boatswain's mate talking about lowering the anchor in the forecastle (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
View of the bow from the bull nose (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Searching the deck for debris (Photo by Elijah Palmer)

After lunch it was time to head back home. By this time we were only about 50 miles off the coast, meaning that our return flight would be a bit shorter.  However, first we needed to leave the ship, which would involve the catapult taking us from 0 to 130 in a few seconds!  So we strapped in and waited.

“Here we go! Here we go!”

And with a jolt, away we went, back to our civilian lives after a small taste of the Navy life.  

By Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator Elijah Palmer