Accused spy Ronald William Pelton "obtained a wide range" of top secret U.S. intelligence information during his 14 years as a communications specialist with the National Security Agency, according to an indictment returned today.
The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury here, alleges that Pelton communicated with Soviet agents during a five-year period and received two payments totaling $35,000 in exchange for information during trips to the Soviet Embassy in Vienna in 1980 and 1983.
According to the six-count indictment, Pelton had clearance for top secret and even more highly classified information during his entire tenure at NSA. At his arraignment three weeks ago, Pelton was accused of selling the Soviets "extremely sensitive" information about methods the United States uses to gather information about the Soviet Union.
Pelton worked in the area of signals intelligence, which includes montoring of communications, radar and data on missile performance. He left the highly secret NSA in 1979 and is alleged to have spied for the Soviets from 1980 to 1985.
Today's indictment does not state what intelligence projects Pelton is alleged to have told the Soviets about, but it indicates that he was in a position at NSA to have gathered a broader range of information than was previously disclosed.
An FBI affidavit presented in court at his arraignment said Pelton acknowledged that "he was questioned about practically every area of sensitive information to which he had access through his employment at NSA" during long debriefing sessions with Soviet KGB agent Anatoly Slavnov in Vienna in 1980 and 1983.
Prosecutors refused to say whether Pelton received any more money than the $35,000 mentioned in the indictment.
Pelton, 44, was arrested Nov. 25 in Annapolis after five hours of discussions with FBI agents in which the FBI said he acknowleged he sold intelligence information to the Soviets. The FBI said he was identified as a spy for the Soviets based on information provided by Soviet KGB official Vitaly S. Yurchenko, who asked for political asylum here in August and abruptly decided to return to the Soviet Union last month.
Fred Warren Bennett, Pelton's court-appointed attorney, said his client would plead not guilty to all counts at a hearing Monday.
Bennett said he plans to challenge in pretrial motions the admissibility of the statements Pelton allegedly made to FBI agents before his arrest. Keeping the statements out of evidence would be "a fatal blow" to the government's case, he said.
According to the indictment, on Jan. 15, 1980, Pelton went to the Soviet Embassy in Washington and turned over intelligence information to Soviet officials. On an unspecified date later that year, Pelton traveled to Vienna and delivered intelligence information to a Soviet agent, for which he was paid $20,000 in cash, the indictment said.
In January 1983, the indictment charges, Pelton returned to Vienna and again delivered intelligence information, for which he was paid $15,000.
Last April, he allegedly made a third trip for the purpose of meeting with a Soviet agent. According to the FBI's affidavit, Pelton stayed in Vienna for three days on that occasion but was unable to meet with the Soviets then.
The indictment said that in the summer of this year, Pelton traveled by car "toward a designated location in Virginia for the purpose of communicating with an agent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."
In an interview earlier this month, Pelton's girlfriend recalled one occasion when she and Pelton came "flying back" from Annapolis because he had to receive a secret telephone call at a Pizza Hut in Virginia.
The girlfriend, Ann, who spoke on the condition her last name not be used, said Pelton told her then that he was working undercover for the U.S. government. She said that Pelton became very upset when car trouble held them up and he was unable to get to the Pizza Hut for the call. "He said, 'Ann, that's our money and now we don't have it,' " she said.
Court records show that Pelton filed for bankruptcy in 1979 and was having serious financial difficulties about the time he allegedly made contact with the Soviets in 1980. But his circumstances appeared to have improved in recent years.
According to his girlfriend, Pelton, who lived for a number of years in a Dupont Circle apartment, paid her rent and bills and spent as much as $500 a week on dinners and entertainment. At the time of his arrest, Pelton was working as a yacht salesman in Annapolis, earning a $600-a-week advance on commissions.
The indictment charges Pelton with four counts of espionage for delivering or attempting to deliver U.S. intelligence information to Soviet agents, one count of conspiracy to commit espionage and one count of communicating classified information to an unauthorized person.
The maximum penalty is life imprisonment for each of the five espionage counts and 10 years for disclosure of classified information.