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Convicted Cold War spy John Walker dies in federal prison

By Bill Mears and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
updated 7:43 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
John Walker ran a father and son spy ring, passing classified material to the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985. Walker was a Navy communication specialist with financial difficulties when he walked into the Soviet Embassy and sold a piece of cyphering equipment. Navy and Defense officials said that Walker enabled the Soviet Union to unscramble military communications and pinpoint the location of U.S. submarines at all times. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors promised leniency for Walker's son Michael Walker, a former Navy seaman. Click through the gallery to see other high-profile leak scandals the United States has seen over the years. John Walker ran a father and son spy ring, passing classified material to the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985. Walker was a Navy communication specialist with financial difficulties when he walked into the Soviet Embassy and sold a piece of cyphering equipment. Navy and Defense officials said that Walker enabled the Soviet Union to unscramble military communications and pinpoint the location of U.S. submarines at all times. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors promised leniency for Walker's son Michael Walker, a former Navy seaman. Click through the gallery to see other high-profile leak scandals the United States has seen over the years.
HIDE CAPTION
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
Sharing secrets: U.S. intelligence leaks
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Walker's spy ring included his brother and son, according to the FBI
  • He was scheduled to be released on parole within the year
  • His brother died in the same prison in July

(CNN) -- John Walker Jr., a former U.S. Navy officer convicted of spying decades ago for the Soviet Union, has died in federal prison, according to the U.S. government.

Walker, 77, died Thursday at a federal correctional facility in Butner, North Carolina, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said. The agency's website indicated Walker was scheduled to be released on parole within the year.

Authorities said Walker stole, then sold, codes to help unlock encrypted Navy messages, which allowed the Soviets to monitor American military assets.

Walker pleaded guilty to running a spy ring that included his brother, son and good friend. The spying went on from 1968 to 1985, when he was arrested by the FBI -- caught in part due to a tip from his ex-wife.

Walker joined the Navy in 1955 as radioman and served on board six different vessels in the first decade of his career.

The impersonal nature of serving on large vessels took a personal toll on him; Walker became even more politically disillusioned after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and eventually started selling secrets to Moscow, according to a profile of Walker in Naval History magazine.

"Walker's information not only provided us with ongoing intelligence, but helped us over time to understand and study how your military actually thinks," Soviet spy chief Boris Solomatin told author Pete Earley.

U.S. officials later said Walker's actions did significant damage to national security.

Walker's spying gave the Soviet Union "access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics," the late U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said.

Walker's brother, Arthur -- a retired Navy lieutenant commander -- died last month in the same prison. He was 79.

Michael Walker, John's son, was released in 2000 after serving 15 years in prison. The youngest Walker also served in the Navy.

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