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Personality Spotlight: Jerry Whitworth Navy spy for Soviets

Jerry Whitworth joined the Navy to escape his humble Oklahoma farm roots. He turned his military knowledge into a goldmine -- for himself and the Soviet Union.

The ex-Navy radio operator sold top secret codes to the Russians, through spy John A. Walker, for nearly a decade starting in 1974. The dealings earned him $332,000 in cash payments ranging from $8,000 up to $100,000.

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For the Soviet Union, the vital data gave them entry to much of the Navy's coded communication network in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Whitworth, 47, was convicted of 12 of 13 espionage and tax evasion charges last July 24.

He did not testify at his 3 -month San Francisco trial but expressed remorse just before his sentencing. He was received a cumulative sentence of 365 years.

'My heart aches for the damage, pain and suffering I've caused,' he said in court papers filed by the defense this week. 'I pray for an opportunity to redeem myself.'

In his first statement on his own behalf, Whitworth conceded his 'betrayal of the trust given to me by my country, the Navy and the confidence of my wife, my family and my friends.'

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Prosecutor William Farmer called Whitworth, a retired chief petty officer, a traitor because of his 'love of the dollar.'

As a teenager in the rural Oklahoma farm area known as The Bottoms, Whitworth never owned a car or had much money. His father deserted the family when Whitworth was still very young. He was raised by his mother, grandparents and an aunt and uncle around Muldrow, Okla.

He joined the Navy out of his yearning to see the world and escape small town Oklahoma. But his Navy salary as a radioman during the 1970s ranged from $7,000 to $14,000 a year.

But between 1979 and the end of 1983 when he was at the peak of the espionage operation he allegedly spent $138,465 more than he and his wife earned from legitimate sources.

Selling communication secrets to his flamboyant, balding friend and Navy instructor Walker seemed a chance to be in on 'one big score.'

Whitworth was attracted to Walker over a shared interest in sailing. The older Walker was a flashy braggart who always seemed to have money and girlfriends.

Walker says when the two met over drinks in 1974 at a popular San Diego bar known as Boom Trenchard's Flare Path, it was Whitworth who said he waoted the chance to make a big score, like the drug deal plotted in the popular movie 'Easy River.'

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It was then Walker says he knew Whitworth had 'larceny in his heart.'

He swore Whitworth to a 'blood oath' of secrecy and told him that good money could be had for selling classified papers on a black market for military intelligence.

Walker insisted throughout his testimony he never told Whitworth the material was going to the Russians, instead he suggested it would be sold to Israel, the mafia or other American allies.

Whitworth, who had long espoused the Libertarian philisophy of Ayn Rand, agreed to begin copying message traffic and the key lists of daily code cards used by the Navy in its cryptographic machinery.

He began by returning for a second tour of duty at Diego Garcia, a remote Indian Ocean Navy listening post, where Whitworth took over installation of a new satellite communication system.

By the end of the 1970s Whitworth was receiving regular twice yearly payments from Walker of cash in bundles of $50 bills. For a time Whitworth was paid an average of $4,000 a month by the Soviets, through Walker.

That began what the government called an 'orgy of spending' by Whitworth.

He used the cash from spying to pay cash for a new Fiat sports car, motorcycles, camera equipment, computers, fine wines, opera tickets, first class restaurants and expensive lingerie for his wife.

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Whitworth made several trips back to Norfolk, Va., to meet with Walker where he learned in 1983 of the existance of other participants in the spying.

Walker, the government's star witness, said Whitworth saw a coded list that identified Walker's son Michael, 22, and his brother Arthur, 50, as suppliers.

The timing was never clear in court testimony, but at some point Whitworth learned the Soviets were involved in the operation. In 1984 he made an effort to contact the FBI and expose the ring.

But after four letters, signed only 'RUS, Somewhere USA' he stopped writing saying he had been foolish to believe he could expect immunity from prosecution and anonmity in the case.

He told the FBI in an August 1984 letter that he believed 'the chances of my past involvement ever being known is extremely remote, as long as I remain silent.'

Walker was exposed to the FBI less than three months later by his ex-wife Barbara Walker. Walker was arrested in Baltimore May 20, 1985. The same day agents paid a visit to Whitworth's Davis, Calif., home. He was arrested June 3, 1985.

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