Convicted Russian Spy Ran Another Espionage Scheme from Prison

Former CIA operative betrayed both his country and his son.

November 8, 2010, 4:47 PM

Nov. 8, 2010 -- Apparently, once was not enough for convicted Russian spy Harold James Nicholson.

The former CIA operative pleaded guilty today to spying for Russia -- again.

Nicholson was convicted of espionage in 1997, and is serving a long prison sentence in Oregon. But in a remarkable tale of spycraft, authorities say he still managed to ply his trade from prison by using his son to do the dirty work.

Court documents tell a story of betrayal on a grand scale -- Nicholson betrayed his country, and even his own son. And finally, his son turned on him.

According to authorities, Jim Nicholson was once a rising star in the CIA. He was a station chief in Romania and taught counter-intelligence at the CIA academy, nicknamed "The Farm." Nicholson had access to the agency's most sensitive material.

But his lavish spending drew suspicion, and in 1997, he was convicted of selling the identity of U.S. agents operating in Russia for $180,000, and sentenced to more than 23 years in prison. He is the highest ranking CIA official ever to be convicted of espionage. But Nicholson wasn't done yet.

Authorities say that in 2006, Nicholson enlisted his son Nathaniel, 25, in another espionage scheme.

During visits with Nicholson at an Oregon prison from 2006 to 2008, Nicholson would give his son classified information he had gathered years earlier. Jim Nicholson schooled his son in CIA tradecraft, and told his son to pass the classified information on to the Russians.

To meet with Russian agents, authorities say Nathaniel became a globe-trotting spy. He would travel to San Francisco, Mexico City, Lima, Peru, and Nicosia, Cyprus for clandestine meetings.

At these meetings, Nathaniel provided the Russians with information from his father, and collected money for his father's past espionage activities. Nathaniel would then handle the money, distributing some of it to family members.

But in a final twist, last year Nathaniel turned on his father, and testified against him. Today, James Nicholson pleaded guilty to acting as an agent of Russia and of conspiring to commit international money laundering.

"Harold Nicholson, one of the highest-ranking CIA officials ever convicted of espionage, dispatched his son around the globe to collect on past espionage debts from Russian agents," Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris said.

"Today, he admitted using this scheme to continue to profit from his spying activities while in prison," he said.

The plea agreement states the U.S. Attorney and Nicholson's lawyers will ask the court at sentencing to impose an eight-year prison sentence to be served consecutive to the sentence he is currently serving.

Nathaniel is expected to receive a lesser sentence, in return for his cooperation.

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