After FBI agents caught John Walker Jr. trying to pass classified documents to a Soviet agent in rural Maryland last May, authorities said that Walker, a retired Navy chief warrant officer, had been spying for about 17 years. In betraying top-secret details of the military's communications systems, they said, Walker apparently recruited his son Michael, a clerk aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz, and several other helpers. Last week, three days before he was to go on trial before Federal Judge Alexander Harvey II in Baltimore, Walker accepted a plea bargain. Government sources confirmed that both he and his son will plead guilty this week.
The settlement, which Judge Harvey must approve, remains secret. But sources indicated that Walker, 48, will probably be sentenced to life in prison, while his son, as part of the deal, will get a lighter sentence. The elder Walker is expected to testify against Jerry Whitworth, a former Navy chief radioman accused of supplying him with communications secrets for sale. Whitworth pleaded innocent last week to the charges. Walker's older brother Arthur, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, was convicted in August on similar charges and is awaiting sentencing.DEFENSE A Not-So-Hard Hat
High-tech fighting machines are by no means the only Pentagon purchases that suffer defects. The latest snafu concerns new combat helmets. Introduced in 1983 to replace the "steel pots" in use since 1941, the helmets are made of Kevlar, a man-made fiber that is lighter, yet stronger than many metals. But after buying three-quarters of a million at $85.20 apiece, the Department of Defense discovered that three manufacturers had delivered defective versions made with scrap material. Army officials say that even though the second-rate helmets offer more protection than the old steel models, "We ordered a vicuña coat and got something that wasn't."
The helmet is only the latest sartorial gaffe foisted on the fighting man. Last year the Army admitted that its cotton-nylon fatigues, introduced in 1980, tore easily and were unbearably hot in warm climates, and the Pentagon canceled a new combat boot that tended to fall apart. Said one Army expert: "We don't even like to talk about that one." Like the boots, the faulty helmets will probably be replaced. But there is a defect in the process of trying to correct the defect: the military is still trying to trace the units that are wearing the helmets.TENNESSEE Jailhouse Jam
Underfinanced and overcrowded, the Tennessee prison system is not unlike those in many other states. Last week a federal judge in Nashville reacted by hanging out a NO VACANCY sign. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Higgins ruled that no more inmates can be accepted at the state's 13 men's prisons and three inmate-reception centers, where prisoners overflow into gyms and administrative offices. Only once before, in Alabama in 1975, have all a state's jails been closed because of overcrowding.