I spied for Russia, CIA officer tells court

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The Independent Online
The latest tawdry sub-chapter in the history of American espionage closed yesterday as Harold Nicholson, the highest ranking CIA officer ever to have worked for Russia, uttered a simple, "Guilty, your honour," to charges he had sold US secrets to Moscow.

Dressed in a khaki jumpsuit, the man who had served as a top CIA station officer in Tokyo, Bangkok, Manila and Bucharest was in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, for just 14 minutes. Despite the plea bargain, which allows the US authorities to keep sensitive intelligence data from being aired at a public trial, Nicholson still faces a jail term of between 20 years and life. He will be sentenced on 5 June.

Nicholson's deal with prosecutors comes just three days after a similar plea bargain by James Earl Pitts, a former FBI supervisor who admitted he had worked for the KGB and its successors since 1987. Despite his rank, in terms of damage inflicted the 46-year-old Nicholson does not remotely approach Aldrich Ames, the super-mole arrested in 1994 after being paid $2.9m by the KGB during a nine-year spying career that devastated the CIA's operations against the former Soviet Union, and cost the lives of at least 10 Russians who worked for the US.

Nicholson was paid more than $180,000 for two years of spying between 1994 and 1996, when he worked as a teacher at the CIA's training centre in Virginia. He is said to have handed the Russians the names of his recruits. He was arrested as he was about to board a flight for Switzerland with documents allegedly destined for the Russians.

Rupert Cornwell, Washington