The U.S. intelligence community has thousands of them: deskbound clerks, translators and minor functionaries who spend years in decidedly unglamorous jobs in which they are privy to information more valued than their self-esteem. Last week, in separate cases, three of those faceless employees were charged with peddling American secrets to foreign agents. The harvest was apparently random; the only thread was that all were, in the words of one former intelligence official, "tawdry little people who sell their souls for a few thousand bucks." But their apprehension brought to ten the number of spy arrests this year--a number that seems to be growing--and heightened worries about the ability of an open society to keep its secrets secret.
The cases last week involved agents for three very different countries:
Jonathan Pollard, 31, a plump, balding Navy counterintelligence analyst, was accused of receiving nearly $50,000 for selling military information to Israel, a trusted ally that officially bans any spying against the U.S. His wife Anne Henderson-Pollard, 25, was later brought in on lesser charges.
Larry Wu-Tai Chin, 63, was a CIA translator and analyst for the past 33 years. According to the FBI, Chin admitted to spying for China for at least that long. Quiet and mannerly, he apparently reaped $140,000 for his surreptitious services over the years.
The one Soviet agent in the batch was Ronald Pelton, 44, a communications specialist for the National Security Agency for 14 years. He allegedly began selling secrets to Moscow shortly after his retirement in 1979. His total estimated payment: $25,000.
Officials attribute the growing number of spy arrests both to an increase in espionage and to stepped-up counterintelligence efforts by the FBI and CIA (see box). The most spectacular catch came last summer with the arrest of John Walker, a retired Navy communications specialist who sold secrets to the Soviets for 17 years with the help of his son Michael, 23, his brother Arthur and, allegedly, his friend Jerry Whitworth.
It has also been a vintage year for high-level defections around the world. The most celebrated involved Vitaly Yurchenko, the KGB agent who defected to the U.S. and, three months later, made a grandstand return to the U.S.S.R., claiming that the CIA had kidnaped and tortured him. Information he supplied led to the arrest of Pelton and implicated a former CIA underling, Edward Howard, who fled the country in September. Yet the cases do little to clear up the mystery of whether Yurchenko's defection was real; the two small fish he delivered may have been mere throwaways designed to distract the CIA and obscure the fact that he was a double agent all along.
The three latest cases have increased the sense of alarm in Washington that the U.S. intelligence community has been lax in detecting moles within its midst. Yet many saw the arrests as the fruits of an intensive crackdown. "I think it was a good week," FBI Director William Webster said in an interview with TIME. "It shows that those who want to betray have a substantial risk on their hands of being detected and prosecuted and given severe sentences." In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Reagan declared, "We will not hesitate to root out and prosecute the spies of any nation."