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Son sentenced for helping ex-CIA father restart spy career from prison

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
  • The father is the highest-ranking CIA officer ever sentenced for espionage
  • The son pleaded guilty to helping his father restart his spying career from prison
  • The son cooperated with prosecutors
  • He was sentenced to five years on probation and 100 hours of community service

(CNN) -- The son of the-highest ranking CIA officer ever to be sentenced for espionage was sentenced Tuesday to probation and community service for continuing his jailed father's espionage activities, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Portland, Oregon.

Nathan Nicholson pleaded guilty last year to helping his father -- Harold James "Jim" Nicholson -- restart his spying career while the father was serving a 23-year-prison sentence. He was sentenced to serve five years on probation and complete 100 hours of community service, Gerri Badden, a spokeswoman for the US attorney in Portland.

The elder Nicholson pleaded guilty in 1997 to spying for Russia, making him the highest-ranking CIA officer imprisoned for espionage. Last month he pleaded guilty to spying for the Russians once again by using his son as an intermediary. He faces sentencing in that case in January, 2010.

According to court documents, Nathan Nicholson, 26, cooperated with prosecutors in their case against his father after FBI agents confronted him about frequent international travel, in which they suspected Nathan Nicholson of meeting with Russian intelligence agents.

During the FBI questioning, Nicholson, who is a former U.S. Army paratrooper admitted to authorities that he had not gone overseas to visit "a battle buddy" as he had claimed previously. FBI agents then informed Nicholson that lying to them was a federal crime and offered him a chance to change his story, according to one agent's testimony.

At that point, FBI Special Agent John Cooney testified, Nicholson became more "forthcoming" about his meetings with Russians.

Nathan Nicholson told the agents that at his father's behest, he made trips to California, Mexico, Peru and Cyprus, where he met with Russian government representatives who gave him payments totaling over $35,000 in cash.

During Nathan Nicholsonıs prison visits to his father, according to court records, "Harold Nicholson spent a significant amount of time advising defendant on how to conduct himself in a clandestine manner as he traveled to and from various international meeting locations. Harold Nicholson tried to impart his CIA training to defendant."

Prosecutors alleged that the Russians paid the elder Nicholson back pay for his prior espionage activities and for information on how he was caught.

"The Russian Federation was specifically interested in how Harold Nicholson got caught by the FBI," according to a government sentencing memo filed with the court. It added that the information concerned "who interrogated him after his arrest and the timing of his transfers as a CIA Officer prior to his arrest."

According to court records, the elder Nicholson and his son put the plot into motion after Nathan Nicholson complained to his father that the family was in a precarious financial situation.

The sentencing memo said that Nathan Nicholson provided crucial help in the prosecution of his father. The elder Nicholson pleaded guilty on the day that his trial was set to have begun last month and who now faces an additional 20 years in prison.

In an October, 2010, psychological report entered into the court record by prosecutors, Nathan Nicholson took aim at his ex-spy father.

"I wasnıt aware of his selfish side," Nathan Nicholson said, according to the records. "I allowed myself to be blind-sided. I was like a lobster in a pot, heated slowly until it was too late."