THE US Government thought it had put paid to Harold Nicholson’s espionage activities in 1997 when he was jailed for 23 years for passing secrets to Russia.
Now it transpires that the former CIA agent continued his contact with Moscow all along, sneaking out messages on screwed-up paper napkins to his son as he visited him in prison, bypassing the agency’s high-tech attempts to monitor all his communications.
Nicholson will go on trial again in Portland, Oregon, next week on conspiracy charges after his son, Nathaniel, 26, pleaded guilty to acting as a go-between for his father and Russian agents who gave him $US47,000 to deliver to his father during encounters around the globe.
“Nathaniel was excited about the prospect of acting in a clandestine fashion like his father,” prosecutors wrote in a pretrial memo. That excitement having apparently worn off with discovery and the prospect of jail, Nathaniel Nicholson is expected to appear as the state’s key witness against his father as part of a plea bargain to avoid incarceration.
Harold Nicholson, now 59, was the most senior CIA agent to have been caught spying for a foreign government when he was jailed in 1997. He pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Russia in return for $300,000.
According to pretrial documents reported in The Oregonian, Nicholson began grooming his son, a disabled former paratrooper, four years ago to help to collect his “pension” for spying on behalf of Russia.
From 2006 to 2008, Nathaniel Nicholson regularly visited his father, smuggled out notes and took them to meetings with Russian agents in San Francisco, Mexico City, Lima, Peru, and Nicosia, Cyprus, where they handed over cash in return for his father’s continued pledges of support.
Nicholson’s notes reportedly expressed thanks for the money, reassured the Russians that his son was trustworthy and described his two older children’s debts. In return, the Russian agents wanted to know how much US authorities had learnt about their operations during their investigation of Nicholson. According to The Oregonian, prosecutors allege that Nicholson’s notes also revealed secrets from his days in the CIA.
Nathaniel Nicholson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy to commit money laundering last year. He has yet to be sentenced.
His father has pleaded not guilty to the same charges, arguing that although the pair hatched a plan to get money from the Russians that did not in itself constitute a crime.