Traitor John Walker, the former Navy Warrant Officer who sold out his country to the Soviet Union, has died at a federal prison in North Carolina, less than nine months before his scheduled release.

More from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot:

For 18 years, Walker sold U.S. secrets to the Soviets, both as a cryptologist in the Navy and after he retired. He eventually enlisted espionage help from his brother Arthur; his son, Michael; and a Navy friend, Jerry Whitworth. Arthur Walker died last month.

The security breach was considered one of the biggest in the nation’s history.

Robert Hunter, the FBI agent who arrested John Walker, described the ring’s leader as one of the most treacherous men he’d ever met.

“I think the man was pure evil,” said Hunter, who is retired and living in Virginia Beach.

Walker received more than $1 million from the Russians for providing cryptologic “keys” which allowed them to decode our most sensitive operations and intelligence communications.  Former Soviet officials and defectors said Walker’s treason gave them “an invisible seat” at the Pentagon and one gave an even bolder assessment, claiming “if there had been a war, we would have won.”   

There was also a human price for Walker’s treachery.  The Soviet Union shared information with its ally North Vietnam and it is widely believed that Americans died as a result of Walker’s actions.  Intelligence historians also claim that his espionage prompted North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo in early 1968, only a month after John Walker’s initial contact with his Soviet handlers.  Moscow persuaded North Korea to capture the Pueblo (a spy ship) so they could gain access to the machines which used the keys provided by Walker.  That gave them both pieces of the communications puzzle, and the ability to decrypt thousands of classified messages.

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Fearing he was about to be discovered, Walker retired from the Navy in 1976 but managed to enlist the assistance of friends and family members that sustained the flow of classified information to the Russians.  Walker was eventually arrested in 1984, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Under sentencing guidelines in effect at the time–and because of a plea bargain agreement that reduced prison time for his son–John Walker was eligible for release in early 2015. 

There are a number of ironies in the Walker spy case; his ex-wife Barbara knew about his activities for years and kept quiet, in agreement for hush money after their divorce.  She was never prosecuted and only alerted authorities after learning that John Walker had attempted to recruit their daughter for espionage (not knowing that their son, a sailor, was already involved).  Barbara Walker’s initial claim was almost dismissed and actually bounced from the FBI to the NCIS, which grew suspicious of her former husband’s luxury lifestyle–on the pay of a retired warrant officer.  Based in part on the NCIS investigation, the FBI eventually began tailing Walker and arrested him during an attempted “drop” of classified documents.

If John Walker had kept paying the hush money, or if the NCIS had taken a pass on the tip given to the FBI, the damage from the spy ring might have continued even longer, and caused more damage to national security. 

As one wag observed on the Pilot website, “looks like Walker got out of jail early.”  And straight to a warm reception in that part of hell reserved for traitors.   

Good riddance.   

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