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On the other hand, the damage done by Larry Wu-Tai Chin may have been substantive. A Peking native, he was working for the U.S. Army liaison office in China during World War II when he was indoctrinated into Communism by a mysterious "Dr. Wang." Most of his career was spent working for the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which monitors all major foreign radio and television stations and newspapers.
Nevertheless, Chin could easily have picked up some sensitive information when he was stationed at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., during the 1970s. According to the FBI, Chin admitted last week that he regularly slipped classified documents out of the office, photographed them and turned the film over to a Chinese spy in clandestine meetings at a Toronto shopping mall. U.S. agents speculated that Chin may have provided the Chinese with CIA reports on Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam War.
The case that may have caused the most harm was the one that remained shrouded in the greatest secrecy. The National Security Agency, which Ronald Pelton joined in 1965, is the largest and most sensitive U.S. intelligence operation. Its agents are involved in electronic eavesdropping on foreign communications and deciphering secret military codes. "You always have to worry about someone at the NSA," said one U.S. official, referring to the valuable nature of any information about the agency's high-tech capabilities.
Pelton's motives for betraying his country were apparently purely pecuniary: soon after he left his $24,500-a-year job at the agency in 1979, he filed for bankruptcy, listing $64,650 in debts. According to neighbors, Pelton and his family lived in squalor in a ramshackle farm house. In 1980 he visited the Soviet embassy, and for the next five years he gave the Soviets details of U.S. intelligence-gathering methods.
Evidently the KGB considered him a good catch. On trips to Vienna in 1980 and 1983, he stayed at the residence of the Soviet Ambassador to Austria. He also underwent debriefing sessions that sometimes lasted eight hours a day with KGB Agent Anatoly Slavnov. Even though Pelton had left the NSA, he may have continued to be valuable to the Soviets as an intelligence consultant, helping them interpret data picked up from other sources.
One important aspect of the Pelton case was that it was the only one last week connected to information provided by Yurchenko and thus added another piece to the baffling puzzle the double defector left behind. Although he did not directly finger Pelton (he provided only a code name and some description of his activities), the FBI was able to combine Yurchenko's information with that from other sources to zero in on Pelton from a list of some 500 initial suspects.
Counterintelligence officials expect many more arrests, perhaps some as soon as the coming week. If Yurchenko's tips lead to the capture of Soviet spies more active than Howard and Pelton, it may turn out that the KGB man was a valuable resource. "We are still pursuing leads developed while Yurchenko was in this country," the FBI'S Webster said last week. "We are better for having had him here." --By Jacob V. Lamar Jr. Reported by Michael Duffy and Gregory H. Wierzynski/Washington