The infamous man behind one of the United States’ most shocking spy rings has died in a federal North Carolina prison.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, John A. Walker Jr. was 77 years old when he died. Although the cause of his death is currently unknown, he was suffering from health complications that dated back years and included throat cancer.
During an 18-year espionage campaign that began in 1967, Walker sold American military secrets to the Soviet Union that allowed the state to essentially monitor the US Navy as it deployed units around the world. His first major sale took place as a member of the Navy, and involved enabling the Soviets to access more than one million classified, encrypted Navy “key card” messages.
“High-ranking Soviet officials later would say that Walker’s information allowed them to have an invisible seat at the Pentagon,” Denise Watson wrote at the newspaper. “They could monitor the Atlantic fleet, for instance, and follow U.S. troop movements around the world.”
The secrets Walker sold were so sensitive, in fact, that one Soviet defector said it would have turned the tides of war, should one have broken out between the two Cold War rivals.
Overall, Walker is believed to have earned more than $1 million for the information he sold.
When caught in 1985 – Walker’s ex-wife, Barbara, notified the FBI of his activity after discovering that he attempted to drag one of their daughters into the operation – he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms behind bars, plus 10 years. Despite the long term, older federal guidelines regarding parole meant he was less than nine months away from being released at the time of his death.
While the gambit to bring his daughter into the fold failed, Walker was able to lure other members of his family. His brother, Arthur, was also convicted and handed three life sentences. He died in prison this past July.
Meanwhile, Walker’s son, Michael, served 15 years in prison for his involvement, and now lives in Massachusetts. Michael was also a member of the Navy.
The fourth member of the spy ring wasn’t family, but Jerry Whitworth was a friend of Walker’s and another Navy member. He is serving a 365-year sentence in California.