The Soviet Union paid more than $1 million for Navy secrets supplied by the Walker spy ring, a federal prosecutor said today in the government's opening statement in the espionage case against retired Navy communications specialist Jerry Alfred Whitworth.
Whitworth, 46, the last of four men charged in the case to face trial, played an "indispensible role in the center" of a "high-level KGB operation," Assistant U.S. Attorney William S. Farmer Jr. told the jury of seven women and five men.
But defense lawyer Tony Tamburello portrayed Whitworth, a retired senior chief radioman, first as the unwitting dupe and later as the "sacrificial lamb" of admitted spy John Anthony Walker Jr., whose testimony against Whitworth is expected to be the centerpiece of the government's case.
Tamburello did not directly address whether Whitworth passed Walker highly sensitive information about Navy codes and coding machines, as he is charged with doing.
But the lawyer urged the jury to be skeptical of the "self-serving interpretations" of Walker, whom he portrayed as a "consummate trickster" who had successfully deceived friends and coworkers during 17 years of espionage.
Farmer said the amount of money paid to the Walker ring was "extremely large and unusual for a Soviet KGB operation." Whitworth allegedly received $332,000 for his role.
Whitworth, Farmer said, "longer than anyone in the ring was the supplier to the Soviets" of extremely sensitive information about Navy codes and coding machines.
Whitworth, who retired from the Navy in 1983 after a 23-year career, faces 13 counts of espionage and tax violations in the trial, which is expected to last at least two months.
Farmer told the jury that Whitworth and Walker provided the Soviets with information about codes and coding machines that enabled them to "break into" the Navy's "sensitive traffic of messages and plans."
"The evidence will show," Farmer said, "that if our adversaries are able to get the information" that passes through the communications centers on ships and naval bases where the two men served, "then they will learn our plans and our abilities, our techniques . . . . They will know what we know in terms of intelligence . . . and figure out how we got it."
Farmer depicted Whitworth -- a Davis, Calif., resident who was arrested June 3 -- as a man whose love of fancy, high-technology gadgetry and other luxury goods drove him to betray his country.
"Jerry Whitworth lived three lives," Farmer said. "First, he had a life of a sailor with access to the broadest range of our military secrets. Second, he had a secret life of espionage with John Walker . . . where he secretly got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Finally, Farmer said, there was "the secret financial life of Jerry Whitworth and his wife" involving "spending binges" of up to $30,000 in a few weeks and the use of cashiers' checks and safe deposit boxes to mask evidence of the payments Whitworth allegedly received for his role.
In five years, Farmer said, Whitworth and his wife Brenda Reis spent more than $135,000 above their salaries for that period.
Farmer said that "on a cold day in February or March 1968" John Walker, then a communications officer with the Naval Submarine Force in Norfolk, walked into the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street in Northwest Washington and sold the Soviets a "keylist," or code, for communications channels for the Atlantic Ocean submarine fleet for "upwards of $1,000."
By 1974, Farmer said, Walker "was finding travel a burden. He feared he would be exposed." Walker decided that he wanted a partner who would be responsible for obtaining the classified material that Walker would then pass to the Soviets, the prosecutor said.
Walker and Whitworth had met a few years earlier when both were instructors at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. "He Walker was looking for someone like himself who was motivated by money," Farmer said. "Jerry Whitworth was just that trained and experienced and trusted person with access that John Walker was looking for" with "unchallenged access to the cryptographic secrets."
At one point, Farmer said, after Whitworth saw the movie "Easy Rider," about motorcyclists involved in a scheme to import heroin, he "came out and said if he could have a chance to pull a one-time job he'd like to do it." That statement, Farmer said, "crystallized" John Walker's plan to take in Whitworth as a partner. Walker told Whitworth he could make up to $4,000 monthly for "good crypto," and Whitworth said that he was interested, Farmer said.
Walker put Whitworth on a $1,000-a-month retainer while Whitworth attended a training school in New Jersey, Farmer said. Whitworth was then sent to the naval base on Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean, where he began spying, Farmer said.
Tamburello's opening statement made clear what defense lawyers had said earlier: Their case hinges on attacking the credibility of John Walker. The attorney urged the jury not to confuse the "compelling evidence of Walker's espionage activity" with "whether Mr. Whitworth knew what Walker was engaged in."
Tamburello said that "the entire weight and power of the U.S. government is here lowered on Mr. Whitworth, not for what he did, but for what John Walker and his family did."
Walker pleaded guilty to espionage Oct. 28 in exchange for lenient treatment for his son, Navy Seaman Michael Lance Walker, who also pleaded guilty. John Walker's brother, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arthur James Walker, was convicted of espionage Aug. 9.
Tamburello said that John Walker "has parlayed Jerry Whitworth, one of the people he manipulated and duped, into being the centerpiece of what's obviously a significant espionage case." The attorney told the jury that Walker was a person who "does not hesitate to turn his mother into a money smuggler, pimp for his own wife . . . make his son and brother into spies, tell his daughter to abort his future grandson so she can spy for him.