Ronald William Pelton
Ronald William Pelton is one of eight major agents who became infamous in 1985 for espionage against the United States. After attending Indiana University, he joined the United States Air Force (USAF) and learned to speak the Russian language. Pelton used his Russian language skills as a voice intercept processing specialist in Pakistan. During his last few months of service, Pelton transferred to the National Security Agency (NSA) where he worked as a communications analyst. Following his discharge from the USAF, he was offered a permanent position with NSA as a civilian employee where he worked until his retirement in 1979.
From 1980 to 1984, Pelton held several different series of jobs, none of which required him to hold a security clearance. As he became faced with financial difficulties due to increasing homeowners' taxes and a mounting series of necessary repairs on his home, he realized his employment was insufficient to meet the monetary demands placed on him. As a result, while on vacation in Vienna, Austria in 1980, Pelton walked into the Soviet Embassy in Austria and demanded to see the KGB Chief of Station, copying the same method utilized by Soviet spy John Anthony Walker 17 years earlier. As a "walk-in" Pelton orally briefed the KGB on his knowledge of Operation Ivy Bells, an NSA and U.S. Navy program to surreptitiously wiretap undersea cables to monitor Soviet military communications and track Soviet submarines. Pelton is believed to have a photographic memory, as he passed no documents to the Soviets. He agreed to sell these secrets for an undisclosed amount of cash.
The loss of communications intercept was initially explained away by a large storm that had taken place in the vicinity of the wire taps. Another explanation was given by Soviet defector Vitaly Yurchenko who revealed Pelton's identity during an interrogation by the CIA. Yurchenko admitted that a spy had given the Soviets the information about the secret wire tap. Because fewer than 100 people had knowledge of the project, all were considered suspects. All personnel were interrogated to see if any of those with access was a spy.
When Pelton was interrogated in 1985, he promptly confessed and was subsequently arrested. This arrest placed Pelton among many other espionage arrests in the infamous "Year of the Spy." His confession was significant as the government had no evidence tying Pelton to the crime of espionage. He had never passed one single hardcopy document to the Soviets. Pelton's defense team tried to say his confession was coerced and he entered a plea of not-guilty in a highly publicized trial. Nevertheless, Pelton was convicted on June 5, 1986, on one count of conspiracy and two counts of espionage and was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences. He is scheduled for release in 2015.