John Walker. Aldrich Ames. Robert Hanssen. They are America's most notorious spies; men who gave away some of the nation's most guarded secrets for financial gain. Their legacy is measured in lives lost, and lasting damage to our national security.
But what happened after their high-profile trial ended, when they were led away in shackles, and the TV lights went out? Most Americans assume that Walker, Ames, Hanssen and other spies are spending the rest of their lives in federal, high-security prisons, a fitting punishment for their heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, that assumption isn't already accurate. A friend of mine, who works for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, recently passed along a list of 16 convicted spies, who inflicted grave damage to national security. Surprisingly, only five on that list--Ames, Hanssen, James D. Harper and George Trofimoff, and Brian Regan--are actually serving life sentences, with no possibility of parole. Three convicted spies, Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee (of "The Falcon and the Snowman fame) were released in the late 1990s, along with William Kampiles, a former CIA employee who sold a Top Secret spy satellite manual to the Soviets. Kampiles, incidentally, served less than half of his 40-year sentence before being paroled.
The rest have scheduled release dates over the next 18 years, a list that includes John Walker, Ronald Pelton, Ana Montes (a DIA analyst who passed extremely sensitive information to Cuba), FBI turncoat Earl Edwin Pitts, and Jonathan Pollard, the Navy intelligence analyst wo passed classified information to Israel. John Walker's projected release date is 2015; along with his brother Arthur (also convicted of spying for the Soviets) and Pelton, who betrayed the NSA's Ivory Bells program. Montes scheduled release date is 2023.
It may also surprise you to learn where America's traitors are serving their sentences. Only one--Robert Hanssen--is confined at the federal SuperMax penetintary in Florence, CO, where prisoners spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Three others--Ames, Pelton and Brian Regan--are incarcerated at high security prisons, and three more spies, Army turncoat David Boone, James D. Harper, Steven Lalas, and Pitts are confined at medium security facilities. The rest, Pollard, Trofimoff (the highest ranking military officer ever convicted of spying) and Arthur Walker are housed at a low-security prison in Butner, North Carolina. John Walker is currently a patient at a federal prison medical center in Springfield, Missouri, while Ana Montes, is doing time at a minimum-security prison hospital near Ft. Worth, Texas.
Make no mistake; serving a sentence in federal prison is no picnic, and many of the spies will have spent decades behind bars by the time they are released (John and Arthur Walker will be 80 and 77, respectively, in 2015). But the severity of their crimes--and the damage they caused to our nation's security--it seems incomprehensible that any of them will have another shot at freedom, even if they go from jail to a retirement home. It also seems a bit odd that only a handful are incarcerated in maximum security prisons and just one convicted spy (Hanssen) is assigned to the SuperMax.
I can't explain the vagaries of the federal justice system, but one thing is clear. American turncoats have inflicted crippling damage on our national security over the past 30 years, and their legacy is literally measured in blood. Perhaps we'd have fewer espionage cases if federal prosecutors tried accused spies for treason instead of espionage, and judges and juries imposed the maximum penalty for that crime--death. And, for those convicted of espionage, life in the SuperMax without the possibility of parole seems a fitting sentence. Robert Hanssen needs some company.