CIA Agent Charged With Spying For Russia

WASHINGTON -- A former CIA station chief with access to "very damaging information" was charged with passing top secret information to the Russians for more than $120,000, U.S. authorities said Monday.


The bearded suspect, Harold Nicholson, 46, of Burke, Virginia, stood quietly during a brief appearance in federal court in suburban Alexandria.


The 16-year CIA veteran "betrayed his country for money. He was not motivated by ideology but by greed," said U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey in a statement. "He had access to a great deal of very damaging information."


An FBI affidavit said Nicholson last June may have given the Russians the identity and biography of a new CIA agent trained by Nicholson and sent to Moscow. He said Nicholson may have turned over the identities of all new agents trained during the last two years.


The FBI said it observed Nicholson photographing secret and top-secret documents about Russian military capabilities and U.S. defenses just last Tuesday, four days before he was arrested at Dulles International Airport as he was about to leave Saturday for Switzerland.


Fahey said Nicholson planned to meet with his Russian "handlers" there.


Nicholson's arrest Saturday coincided with the return to Russia of retired KGB agent Vladimir Galkin, just released from an American jail, with an his desk, the FBI said.


On June 27, the FBI said it observed Nicholson put a camera bag into the trunk and get into a car in Singapore with diplomatic license plates registered to the Russian Embassy there. Within a month of his return, he made $20,000 in deposits, payments and purchases and gave $12,000 to his son to buy a new car, the affidavit said.


The FBI said Nicholson made a series of suspicious bank deposits following foreign trips.


The affidavit said that before Saturday the bureau had conducted electronic and video surveillance of Nicholson and had secretly searched his car, workspace, mail, residence and computers under still-sealed search warrants. On Oct. 16, 1995, Nicholson first showed a high likelihood of deception on a CIA polygraph test when asked if he was hiding unauthorized contact with a foreign spy, Lonergan wrote. Two subsequent tests, Oct. 20 and Dec. 4, also showed deception.


Attorney General Janet Reno, CIA Director John Deutch and FBI Director Louis Freeh all attributed Nicholson's arrest to improved cooperation between the FBI and CIA since the Feb. 22, 1994 arrest of CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who pleaded guilty in the CIA's most serious case of spying for Russia.


Fahey said there was no evidence of a connection between Nicholson and Ames and no indication that other U.S. citizens had worked with Nicholson.


Nicholson faces life in prison without parole if convicted. Fahey said prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.


Hired by the CIA in 1980, Nicholson, who is divorced and has three children, has held top-secret security clearance throughout his career and was given access to sensitive information whose disclosure could irreparably harm the United States, the FBI said. He served as a spy overseas against the Soviet Union, Russia and other foreign nations.


He first had direct contact with targeted Soviet officials while serving in Manila in 1982 to 1985, the FBI said. He later served in Bangkok and then Tokyo.


Nicholson was chief of station for the CIA in Romania's capital, Bucharest, from 1990 to 1992 and then for two years after that was deputy chief of station in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.


From 1994 to July 1996, he taught new CIA agents spy tradecraft at "The Farm," as the CIA refers to its secret Virginia training site. In July, he was moved to the counterterrorism center at CIA headquarters.