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The Spy-cific Northwest

Journalists, sailor, diplomat—spies. Why is Washington so spooky?

Rick Anderson

Published on March 24, 2004

Washington State might have cornered the market on salmon, jetliners, and geoducks, but the region's most remarkable export may be its crop of spooks. The March 11 indictment of former Seattle journalist Susan Lindauer brings the count to at least a dozen Washingtonians charged with espionage in the past half-century. They trafficked in secrets to and from the United States, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, and Vietnam. One tried to supply arms to Libya. Most are from small towns, several went to the University of Washington, and one is still out in the cold. With Lindauer's arrest, the state has also added the apparently unique distinction of having an accused or convicted international spy from each of its two biggest newspapers. Besides Lindauer, a onetime Seattle Post- Intelligencer reporter charged as an agent for Iraq, Ron Humphrey, a cub sportswriter at The Seattle Times, was one of only two captured Vietnam-era spies and spent 15 years in prison. Newcomer Lindauer, 41, was out on bail last week, accused of conspiring with the Iraqi Intelligence Service in 2002. She was arrested following a sting operation in which an FBI undercover agent posed as a terrorist recruiter. Federal prosecutors claim she accepted $10,000 from Saddam Hussein's government and plotted to aid resistance groups. Lindauer told New York reporters she had merely tried to arrange a meeting between the FBI and an Iraqi official that would shed light on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. "Iraq agreed to do that interview. President Bush refused to send the FBI. And here I am today," she said. Lindauer was employed at Fortune, U.S. News & World Report, and The Herald of Everett as an editorial writer before working for several members of Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat.

The P-I, where Lindauer worked in 1987, reports that former co-workers remember her not for her writing but for mood swings and erratic behavior. It turns out that after leaving the paper she claimed to have met with a CIA operative who told her secrets about another terror investigation, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. She said the operative informed her in 1994, when she worked as press secretary for then-Rep. Wyden, that Syrians, not Libyans, were responsible for the 1988 bombing of the Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that left 270 dead. She outlined the conversation in a notarized deposition dated 1998. The operative, Lindauer claimed, told her that "no Libyan national was involved in planning or executing the bombing of Pan Am 103, either in any technical or advisory capacity whatsoever." Her source claimed to know where to find the bombers, and when she told him, "For God's sakes, tell me [where], and I'll get my boss to protect you," he refused. (In February 2004, Libya officially accepted responsibility for the bombing.) Lindauer said she met with Libyan officials in 1995 to determine the truth but was subjected to surveillance, threats, and attacks. "Someone put acid on the steering wheel of my car . . . ," Lindauer said in the deposition. "Also, my house was bugged with listening devices and cameras—little red laser lights in the shower vent. And I survived several assassination attempts."

Case closed? Well, remember the spy charges have yet to be proved. And consider that former Fort Lewis Army chaplain James Yee, who in 2003 faced possible charges of mutiny, sedition, and espionage at the Navy prison at Guantánamo Bay, wound up facing only accusations of adultery and mishandling classified materials—and now has had all charges dropped.

And if Lindauer's case sounds strange, that's in keeping with the state's oddball spy lore. Ron Humphrey, a onetime UW journalism major, worked as a budding sportswriter covering a Times youth football-promotion contest called Old Ossie before his arrest as a communications officer with the State Department. In the late 1970s, he began passing consular cable traffic to a friend who ran a Vietnamese diplomatic center in the District of Columbia. Humphrey thought the cables were low-level chitchat and could aid American-Vietnamese postwar relations. But the cables ended up in Communist hands. Prosecutors didn't consider Humphrey a dangerous man, but a secret was a secret. He was 46 in 1982 when his appeals ran out and he was imprisoned. I wrote about his case some years back and he sent a note from the federal pen in Danbury, Conn. He fondly recalled his tenure at the Times. "After watching the young hoodlums to see that they didn't make off with our footballs when our backs were turned," he said, "I would trudge back to ye olde Sports Department and try to write a story about the contest winner that was different from the day before, the day before that, and the day before that." He recalled also that Charles Colson, the former Nixon aide and Watergate co-conspirator, visited him in jail during his D.C. trial. "He told me, `When I was in the White House, we did to others what was done to you. Only we were the ones who went to jail.'" Humphrey was released in the late 1990s and would now be around 68. I couldn't locate him last week.

Our other spies are all nonjournalists but with similarly weird stories. They include:

•William H. Martin, then 29, a UW student from Ellensburg who joined the National Security Agency as a cryptologist and defected in 1960 to the Soviet Union. He did so, he said, because the Soviets encouraged "the talents of women." U.S. officials claimed Martin and a fellow defector were homosexuals and the other defector had once admitted to having sex with animals. Martin has not been heard from in 40 years.

•Harold Nicholson, a longtime CIA agent, who was indicted in 1996 for supplying classified documents and agent identities to the Russians. Then 46, Nicholson was allegedly motivated by a need for money after a divorce from his wife in Shelton, which left him with $6,000 in bills and $1,000 in monthly alimony. His mother called him a loyal American. He pleaded guilty to spying and was sentenced to 23 years.

•Edwin P. Wilson, now 73, the onetime Seattle merchant mariner who became a CIA agent and used his espionage contacts to launch a lucrative black-market arms dealership. In 1983, he was sentenced to 52 years, and though his conviction was amazingly reversed last fall because the government used false testimony against him, he remains in federal prison (see Buzz, Nov. 5, 2003). Wilson's story is detailed in Peter Maas' book Manhunt.

•Christopher Boyce, then 22, convicted in 1977 with Andrew Dalton Lee for passing defense secrets to the Russians (subject of the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman). Though he's Californian, I include him in our local lore because he escaped from prison and hid out for months across the street from my mother-in-law's home on the Washington coast, dropping in for coffee. She didn't know who he was until his 1982 recapture, an event that led to one of the most memor­able lines in spydom: Surrounded by feds at a drive-in eatery in Port Angeles, Boyce quickly surrendered when a U.S. marshal snuck up and, at gunpoint, commanded: "Drop that cheeseburger!"

Lindauer's deposition online: