WIndicted in May 1985 on six counts of espionage, along with his son Michael, John Walker was a retired U.S. Navy warrant officer accused of having spied for the Soviets for 18 years, during which period he had held Top Secret cryptographic clearances and had handled the most sensitive coding equipment, including the key cards used to alter the daily settings on cipher machines. He is also credited with having compromised American sonar technology to the point that the Soviets altered their naval tactics and designed the Akula class as a silent submarine undetectable by SOSUS passive acoustic arrays.
According to his confession, Walker had experienced financial difficulties in 1968 and had visited the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., where his offer to sell information had been accepted. After his retirement, embarking on a new career as a private detective, Walker had recruited his son who, at the time of his arrest, was a petty officer serving on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and was found to have 15 pounds of classified material in his locker.
In addition, John Walker had recruited his brother, Lt. Comdr. Arthur Walker, and another navy friend, Jerry Whitworth. In October 1985 father and son pleaded guilty and received two life terms plus 10 years, and 25 years’ imprisonment, respectively, in return for John Walker’s testimony against Whitworth, who surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June 1985. A former navy communications expert, Whitworth was accused of having received $325,000 from John Walker between 1975 and 1982 in return for classified data, and at his trial, which lasted three months, his assertion that he had not known the material was being passed to the Soviets was rejected, and he was sentenced in August 1986 to 365 years in prison and a fine of $410,000. In his defense Whitworth claimed that he had been recruited under a false flag by Walker, who had claimed to have been passing information to the Israelis.
Arthur Walker claimed that he had engaged in espionage only in 1981 and 1982 when he had been employed as a defense contractor in Chesapeake, Virginia, and that the compromised documents were classified as Confidential and concerned ship construction. He was arrested in May 1985, and in October the same year was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. Two further U.S. Navy suspects, both believed to have been recruited by Walker, escaped prosecution because of insufficient evidence.