from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2015, Issue No. 78
November 23, 2015

Secrecy News Blog:


Tomorrow Ronald W. Pelton, a National Security Agency communications specialist who was convicted in 1986 of spying for the Soviet Union, will be released from prison.

Like Jonathan J. Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel and released last week, Pelton was apprehended in 1985, which became known as the Year of the Spy because so many espionage arrests and prosecutions took place during or around that time.

A search of the Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator indicates that Pelton's release, which has not been widely noted, is set for Tuesday, November 24. It which further identifies Pelton as a 74 year old white male (Register Number 22914-037).

The Pelton case had several distinctive features.

Unlike most spies of the time, he did not steal U.S. government documents and turn them over to a foreign government. Instead, he was able to sell the Soviets information based on his "excellent memory and [...] encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence activities." Among the U.S. intelligence projects he compromised was IVY BELLS, an effort to secretly tap Soviet undersea communications cables.

The Pelton case was also a test of the government's ability to successfully carry out an espionage prosecution involving highly classified information. "The trial included an extraordinary amount of public testimony by an agency known for its reticence," the New York Times reported at the time, referring to the NSA.

In 1986, Pelton was sentenced to three life terms plus 10 years in prison (and a $100 fine), with sentences to run concurrently (not consecutively, as has been mistakenly reported). In theory he could have been eligible for early release after ten years, but he has served nearly 30 years in prison instead.

In 1995, Pelton was interviewed by representatives of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the Moynihan Commission), who sought his insights into the problems of official secrecy. His contributions to the study, if any, were not identified in the Commission's final report.


New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that were issued last week -- but withheld from public release -- include the following.

The Islamic State -- Frequently Asked Questions: Threats, Global Implications, and U.S. Policy Responses, November 19, 2015:

The "Islamic State" and U.S. Policy, updated November 18, 2015 (and still using the quotation marks that have now been dropped in the titles of other CRS reports):

Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, updated November 18, 2015:

Syrian Refugee Admissions and Resettlement in the United States: In Brief, November 19, 2015:

Can States and Localities Bar the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees Within Their Jurisdictions?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 18, 2015:

Immigration: Visa Security Policies, updated November 18, 2015:

Paris Attacks and "Going Dark": Intelligence-Related Issues to Consider, CRS Insight, November 19, 2015:

France: Efforts to Counter Islamist Terrorism and Radicalization, CRS Insight, updated November 18, 2015:

The recent decision to deploy "fewer than 50" U.S. special operations personnel to Syria is addressed in the latest update of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, November 19, 2015:

Over time, five countries have actually been removed from the lists of designated sponsors of terrorism, CRS noted in State Sponsors of Acts of International Terrorism--Legislative Parameters: In Brief, updated November 19, 2015:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): In Brief, November 19, 2015:

U.S. Agent Orange/Dioxin Assistance to Vietnam, November 13, 2015:

Puerto Rico and Health Care Finance: Frequently Asked Questions, November 18, 2015:

Malaysia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 19, 2015:

Air travelers should not expect to catch direct flights between the United States and Iran any time soon, CRS said in Iran-U.S. Air Service Not Imminent, CRS Insight, November 18, 2015:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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