Three District of Columbia men, including a Smithsonian Institution security guard, were arrested yesterday on charges related to the theft of more than $25,000 worth of historic swords, gold medals and a snuff box taken from the National Museum of American History.

Vincent Butler Whitley, 26, a Smithsonian guard, was charged with stealing the objects -- two swords, two gold medals and the snuff box -- during February and March while he worked the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift at the Museum of American History, according to the FBI.

Two other men, Watson Lewin Mills Jr., 33, of 1434 T St. NW, and Ronald Conrad Pugh, 28, of 1426 Euclid St. NW, were charged with receiving the items from Whitley, who lives at 4813 Texas Ave. SE.

The FBI alleged that Whitley received $200 as a partial payment from Mills, his cousin, and had an agreement to split the proceeds after Mills and Pugh disposed of the stolen objects, which included a 35-inch long gold-and-diamond-encrusted sword that was presented by the viceroy of Peru to Commodore James Biddle in the 19th century. One of the meda's was given by Britain's Royal Geographic Society to Navy Capt. Charles Wilkes in recognition of his 1838 1842 South Pacific explorations that have been credited with the discovery of Antarctica.

None of the items has been recovered.

FBI spokesman Larry Knisley said the arrests are part of an intensified effort by the bureau to solve several thefts at the Smithsonian in recent years.

He said the investigation began in February after another object, an ornate silver pen valued at about $25,000 and used by statesman John Hay to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1898, disappeared from a display case at the Museum of American History. The three men arrested yesterday are not charged with the theft of the pen, but the FBI wants to question them about that case, Knisley said.