Light Sentence for Nicholson Underscores Unequal Justice

Editors note: In the recent Nicholson and Lipka cases, while both of these men spied for enemies of the USA, and comitted the far more serious crime of treason, they received far lighter sentences than Jonathan Pollard, whose only offence was passing classified information to an ally.

The relatively light sentences that Nicholson and Lipka received only serve to underscore the grossly disproportionate life sentence that Jonathan Pollard received for a much lesser offence.

CIA turncoat Harold Nicholson sentenced to 23 years in prison

June 5, 1997 - Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Val. - The highest-ranking CIA officer ever caught spying against his own country was sentenced Thursday to more than 23 years in prison for selling defense secrets to Russia after the Cold War.

Harold J. Nicholson, 47, said he took the money for the sake of his children.

He was spared a life sentence after prosecutors said the former CIA station chief cooperated with investigators.

"He betrayed his country, and he betrayed his country for money,'' U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey said. "He was a spy and a traitor. There is nothing worse that you can say about an individual.''

Nicholson was arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport on Nov. 16 as he was leaving to meet with Russian agents in Switzerland. He pleaded guilty in March to espionage. The 16-year CIA man told investigators he received $300,000 from the Russians.

Acting CIA Director George J. Tenet said in court papers that Nicholson blew the cover of CIA employees, some of them in sensitive, "deepest cover'' positions.

Nicholson apologized and told U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris that he sold out his country to make up for worry and disappointment he caused his three children.

Nicholson said he thought spending the Russians' money on his children would ease his remorse over failing to keep his marriage together and spending so many years overseas in dangerous situations.

"I won't ask for the forgiveness of my colleagues and countrymen for I know that they can't give it,'' Nicholson said in a halting voice. "I do ask for the forgiveness of my children and family, for I know that they will.''

"I have lost everything that was ever dear and important to me,everything that was ever of value,'' except his faith and his children's love, Nicholson said. His children wrote to the judge asking for mercy.

Prosecutors asked Cacheris to consider a sentence of less than 24 years because of the former CIA station chief's cooperation.

Nicholson was station chief in Bucharest, Romania, and also served in Bangkok, Tokyo, Manila and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before coming back to the United States to train recruits.

He told investigators he started spying in 1994, just months after fellow CIA agent Aldrich Ames was caught spying for Russia.

Nicholson's plea followed a similar plea bargain with former FBI supervisor Earl Pitts. Pitts admitted that he had spied for Russia since 1987 and agreed to cooperate with investigators to avoid life in prison. He will be sentenced June 20.

  • Unequal Justice