PORTLAND, Ore. – The highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage was expected to plead guilty to additional charges that he tried to collect money from old contacts in Russia while in prison, a newspaper reported Thursday.
Attorneys for Harold "Jim" Nicholson filed notice Wednesday that the 59-year-old native of Oregon will plead guilty to a federal indictment accusing him of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and laundering money, The Oregonian newspaper said.
The government accused Nicholson of orchestrating a plot to use his son to sneak messages from a federal prison in Oregon to Russian intelligence officials and collect a "pension" for his illicit service to Russia in the 1990s.
If found guilty of collecting the proceeds, Jim Nicholson would become the first U.S. intelligence officer convicted twice of betraying his country.
Nicknamed "Batman" early in his 16-year career with the CIA, Nicholson has been kept in a lockdown unit known to inmates as the "hole."
A guilty plea by the former spy would spare his 26-year-old son, Nathan Nicholson, from having to testify against his father at a trial that was set to begin Monday.
Records show Jim Nicholson intends to plead guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Anna Brown.
Nathan Nicholson pleaded guilty last year to his role in the plot. The government has said he traveled on three continents to collect payments from Russian officials still indebted to his father for his past espionage.
Federal prosecutors allege Jim Nicholson passed crumpled notes to Nathan during their visits at the medium-security prison at Sheridan instructing him to carry them to officials with the Russian Federation.
Prosecutors have suggested in court filings that Jim Nicholson sought money from the Russians to make the lives of his family easier during his imprisonment. Nicholson has kept close contact with his parents, who live in Eugene, and his three grown children, two of whom live in Oregon.
Nicholson's troubles began in 1994, when he was the CIA's deputy chief of station in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. He was involved in a messy divorce, hoped to get custody of his children and needed money.
Authorities said he began selling U.S. secrets to Russian intelligence officials, trotting the globe to hand off documents. In exchange, the Russians paid him $300,000.
In 1995, Nicholson blew one of the CIA's routine polygraph exams. It showed he appeared to be deceptive on questions about his contacts with foreign intelligence officers.
The FBI and CIA quietly began to investigate Nicholson, who was sent back to the United States to teach spy tradecraft at the CIA's training center in northern Virginia. Eventually, his agency moved him to a desk job at headquarters in Langley, where investigators spied on him.
They secretly captured videotape of Nicholson shooting photos of classified documents in his office. They arrested him Nov. 16, 1996, at Dulles International Airport, where authorities said he was carrying 10 rolls of film he intended to hand over to the Russians.
Nicholson faced charges that carried the death penalty. But he cut a deal, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage in exchange for a sentence that was expected to keep him in prison until 2017.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com