FBI Charges Own Agent With Spying for Moscow

WASHINGTON -- A 13-year veteran FBI agent was arrested Wednesday on charges of selling secrets to Moscow for more than $224,000. The bureau said the agent's wife, also an FBI employee, cooperated in an FBI sting operation that led to her husband's arrest.


Earl Edwin Pitts, 43, an FBI supervisor, is the second FBI agent ever charged with spying. He was arrested at work at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia.


An FBI affidavit said he began spying for the Soviet Union in July 1987 and was paid more than $224,000, including $100,000 he told FBI agents was held in a "reserve'' account for him.


Pitts had been an FBI counterintelligence agent assigned to watch Soviet agents at the United Nations and had first approached the Soviets by writing to someone in the Soviet mission who turned out to be an FBI informant, court papers said.


"Nothing was sacred to Pitts,'' said U.S. attorney Helen Fahey at a news conference. "He was willing to betray his country, his agency and his fellow agents.''


Attorney General Janet Reno praised the FBI for "piecing together an espionage case without the knowledge of the suspect, a trained counterintelligence officer.''


FBI Director Louis Freeh said the arrest "represents the apprehension and termination of a significant threat to our national security.''


More than a year before his arrest, the FBI said, Pitts' wife, Mary, began helping the bureau in At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Pitts was formally charged with attempted espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage, offenses that carry life imprisonment. Pitts also was charged with a lesser espionage count and with conveying government property, each of which carries a maximum 10-year penalty.


U.S. Magistrate Thomas Rawles Jones appointed Nina Ginsberg to represent Pitts and recessed the hearing Friday. The slightly built Pitts, dressed in a blue, open-collar shirt and olive pants, fidgeted while waiting for the hearing to begin. He did not speak during the brief session.


In the affidavit, the FBI wrote that the bureau believes Pitts is an agent of the SVR Russian intelligence service, a successor to the Soviet KGB, and there is probable cause to believe he was an agent of the KGB from July 1987.


Since about October 1992, Pitts was inactive as a Russian agent except for his participation in an FBI undercover operation in which FBI agents posed as SVR operatives, it said.


Pitts gave information to the FBI agents posing as Russian operatives and proposed smuggling a supposed Russian technical expert into the FBI Academy, the affidavit said.


Pitts had been transferred to the training academy at Quantico to remove him from access to sensitive information while the investigation proceeded, this official said.


The only FBI agent previously charged with spying was Richard Miller. Miller was convicted in 1986 of spying for the Soviet Union and was sentenced to life in prison. That conviction was overturned and in 1991 he was sentenced to 20 years.


Two officials said Pitts did not have any connection to former CIA station chief Harold Nicholson, who was charged one month ago with selling secrets to Russia since 1994.


?Russian spies stand head and shoulders above the competition, their boss, SVR chief Vladimir Trubnikov told the daily Nezavisaya Gazeta Wednesday, according to Agence France Presse. He said his spies were the "best in the world."