The Editors' Blog

July 10, 2014

Remembering the Walker spy ring

I saw a story online today from my old newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, about the death of Arthur Walker. It took me back three decades.

I saw a story online today from my old newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, about the death of Arthur Walker a few days ago.

Some of you old-timers may remember Art and his brother, John, who were caught in 1985 operating one of the most damaging espionage rings in U.S. history, out of the Norfolk area.

John Walker handed over military secrets to the Soviet Union starting in the late ‘60s, when he was in the Navy. After years as a solo act, John recruited his brother following Art’s retirement from the Navy and subsequent employment at a military contractor. John also persuaded his son, Michael, to enlist in the Navy to gain access to more secrets.

Journalist Pete Early, who wrote the book “Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring,” has argued that Art was a naive, minor player who smuggled a few fairly unimportant documents to his brother. John, on the other hand, turned over many highly classified documents, including information that helped give the Soviets access to American naval communications.

Art died at Butner, in the federal prison complex there, after 29 years behind bars. He was 79, and, according to Early, one month away from a parole hearing. John is also up at Butner, at a medical facility, and has been seriously ill, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

By the time the Walkers were arrested in 1985, John Walker had left the Navy and was working as a private detective - yep, a private eye - with an office in Virginia Beach around the corner from the townhouse where I lived with my wife. Daily, I passed the espionage den on my commute, unaware that I was driving by my guaranteed, certified, slam dunk Pulitzer Prize. If I’d just known. Ah, well.

I did almost have an interaction with the Walkers, albeit a fairly mundane one, a few years before they became infamous. I was covering a zoning dispute in Virginia Beach and I put out a call to the president of the civic association involved in the matter. That president was Art Walker.

He didn’t call me back. I expect he was probably busy and distracted.

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