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Press Release 11/18/96


18 November-1500.

An employee of the Central Intelligence Agency was arrested November 16 for spying on behalf of Russia.

Attorney General Janet Reno, Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch, Federal Bureau of Investigation Louis J. Freeh, and US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Helen Fahey today announced that Harold James Nicholson of Burke, Virginia, age 46, was arrested Saturday and charged this morning under Title 18, US Code, Section 794, with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage by passing classified CIA documents to agents of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service (SVRR), the Russian successor to the KGB. Affidavits unsealed in the US District Court in Alexandria today include allegations that Nicholson made $120,000 in unexplained deposits to his bank account following trips abroad (including an unauthorized meeting with SVRR intelligence officers) and that federal authorities intercepted postcards mailed to his handlers, recovered classified information from his laptop computer, observed him photographing classified documents, and that a search of his office revealed numerous classified materials concerning Russia that were not related to his CIA duties.

DCI Deutch said, "The arrest of Nicholson is the direct result of an unprecedented level of cooperation between the CIA and the FBI. We are now able to demonstrate quite conclusively that the post-Ames reforms work as designed. Clearly the post-Ames analysis and detection mechanisms the CIA and FBI put in place succeeded in the identification of Nicholson and his alleged espionage activities on behalf of the Russian intelligence service."

Attorney General Janet Reno said, "I am extraordinarily proud of the men and women of all the agencies that worked together so diligently to make this possible. Cooperation among our US Attorneys' offices, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the CIA is essential to preventing, detecting, and punishing espionage."

FBI Director Freeh said, "The announcement today starkly demonstrates the continuing threat to our national security by foreign intelligence services. The Ames case demonstrated that the level of vigilance against espionage cannot be lessened without risking great harm to our national security. The most formidable weapon against this grave crime is a close partnership between the FBI and the CIA. It is that partnership that made today's announcement possible."

Deutch, Freeh, and Reno praised the many employees of the FBI and the CIA both here and abroad who worked so diligently on this investigation. Freeh especially praised the superb work done on this investigation by the Agents and employees of the FBI's Washington Field Office, those employees out on the front line who must delicately collect the pieces of evidence required to make these cases. Both Deutch and Freeh acknowledged that these extraordinarily complex and sensitive investigations require extreme professionalism and dedication if the United States is to prevent or solve these crimes, which are so repugnant to our system of government.

Both Deutch and Freeh also expressed grave concern, noting that the unauthorized disclosure of the type of information Nicholson had access to could irreparably damage the national security of the United States.

The complaint and supporting affidavit charge that Nicholson possessed documents containing the names and biographical data and assignment of CIA case officers and the identity of a CIA employee scheduled for a sensitive overseas assignment. Nicholson's position as a staff instructor gave him access to biographical information and the assignments of every new CIA officer trained at his location during his tenure. Nicholson also possessed classified reports by access agents, people who voluntarily provide information to the CIA, often at great risk to themselves.

The CIA and FBI have implemented a number of reforms and new procedures at the CIA that are designed to detect the slightest of early warning signs of espionage. As a direct result of these reforms, anomalies were detected that ultimately led to the identification of Nicholson and his alleged espionage activities. These reforms include:

Nicholson was a 16-year employee of the CIA. He held "Top Secret" and "Sensitive Compartmentalized Information" security clearances. He had access to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which could irreparably damage the national security of the United States or provide an advantage to a foreign national. It is a criminal violation to make an unauthorized disclosure of classified information and, as part of his employment with the CIA, Nicholson had pledged and agreed never to improperly divulge classified information. Nicholson is charged with providing highly classified information to the Russian intelligence service in return for substantial payments of money. The Criminal Complaint charges that:

Based on this information, Nicholson was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage.

In furtherance of the investigation, FBI Agents over the last three days also searched Nicholson's residence in Burke, Virginia, his office at CIA Headquarters, his vehicle, and his safe deposit box.

The charge against Nicholson carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment without parole or, if certain statutory conditions set out in Title 18, US Code, Section 794 are met, the death penalty. At this time, based on the state of the investigation to date, those statutory conditions have not been met.

Copies of the Complaint and supporting affidavit are available.

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