. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Accused Spy Sought Data On CIA's 'Talent Spotters'

WASHINGTON -- Among the secrets CIA officer Harold Nicholson is accused of conspiring to sell to Russia are the identities of "access agents,'' a rarely noted tool of the spy trade that some call the intelligence agency's "talent spotters.''


A federal court denied Nicholson bail Monday, citing the seriousness of the charges against him.


"Talent spotters" are people, usually residents of foreign countries in which the CIA operates, who point out government officials or others who they suspect would be good sources of hard-to-get secrets.


The talent spotters provide their services voluntarily, but they play a different role than another of the CIA's quiet volunteer corps: U.S. businessmen, academicians and other citizens who travel abroad and pass along information or observations gathered in their travels.


An FBI affidavit outlining the government's espionage case against Nicholson makes no mention of the second category of CIA helper, the U.S. traveler. There is no allegation that he compromised or attempted to compromise them.


The government does contend, however, that Nicholson had collected for the Russians seven summary reports that included the code names and positions of "access agents'' and that also identified them by their access to particular information.


The access agents' real names are classified because they could be targets of reprisals "if foreign countries were aware of their intelligence-gathering activities,'' the FBI affidavit said.


It did not claim, however, that Nicholson actually provided the names to the Russian intelligence agency with whom he allegedly was working.


A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition he not be further identified, said the access agents could include some Americans.


Typically, however, they would in this case be Russians or third-country nationals.