FAMILY OF SPIES: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring by Pete Earley

FAMILY OF SPIES: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring

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A workmanlike rundown on the long-lived Walker espionage ring that suffers by comparison with a couple of other recent entries. Washington Post correspondent Earley entered into personal contracts with spy-master John A. Walker, Jr., and members of his family that compensated them ""for their exclusive cooperation."" Checkbook entrÉe, however, yielded the author comparatively little in the way of either proprietary detail or original insights. Further, his version of the sorry tale lacks the narrative vigor of Howard Blum's I Pledge Allegiance (1987); nor does it match the breadth of Merchants of Treason, by Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar (p. 97). Amoral, manipulative, and remorseless, Walker (now 50) had a remarkable and destructive career. A high-school dropout, he retrieved a misspent youth during a 21-year tour in the US Navy, becoming a communications expert and rising to the rank of warrant officer. In 1968, however, the hard-living, debt-ridden Walker boldly entered Russia's Washington embassy with military secrets for sale. Before he was finally apprehended in 1985, the erstwhile submariner had peddled a wealth of cryptographic and other highly classified material to the KGB. To keep the dangerous high-stakes game going after retiring from the Navy, Walker (who became a private detective) recruited his brother, son, and best friend as Soviet agents. Over a lengthy period, he and his accomplices did incalculable harm to America's security, giving the USSR the means to decipher more than one million military messages, plus vital intelligence on weaponry, tactics, ship movements, and related matters. Earley offers a straightforward if pedestrian account of a globe-trotting Svengali who betrayed his country, not for ideological reasons, but for cold cash and, quite likely, the thrill of beating the system. In his fully documented text, though, the author passes on the opportunity to probe either the lax procedures that allowed Walker & Co. to purloin sensitive data with relative ease or the surveillance lapses that cost the FBI a chance to nail a KGB operative. Despite recompensed access, then, Earley does not add much that's fresh to a now familiar and still alarming spy story.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Bantam