NORFOLK, Va. — Barry Colvert, the FBI polygraph examiner who got Arthur Walker to confess to his part in one of the most damaging spy operations in American history, said today that was a little saddened to hear that the man he helped put into prison had died there.
Colvert, now retired and living in Alexandria, still believes that Walker was more involved than he ever admitted. Still, the two had gotten to know each other.
"You know, in some ways," Colvert said, "We'd become friends."
Colvert said that, during the countless interviews he conducted with Walker as part of the investigation, he saw "two Arts." "There was Art the traitor, and there was Art the person."
Walker, 79, died in prison recently, serving the last months of his sentence in Butner, N.C. Walker was a retired Navy lieutenant living in Virginia Beach when he was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to three life sentences, plus 40 years, for copying and conspiring to deliver secrets to the Soviet Union. Walker was one of four charged in the ring.
His younger brother, John, the mastermind of the group, is at FMC Butner, a medical facility at the federal complex were Arthur Walker was held. John Walker has had several medical problems in recent years, including a recent bout with throat cancer.
Colvert was one of two FBI agents who debriefed Walker while in prison and remembers visiting him last in the Terre Haute, Ind., federal prison where Arthur Walker was assigned in the late 1980s. Walker would send Colvert Christmas cards from prison.
Arthur Walker maintained during interviews that his role in the espionage was minor and inconsequential. He was working for a Chesapeake military and civilian contracting company when he copied what he said were insignificant ship plans under pressure from his brother.
Colvert said he believed Walker could never allow himself to believe that what he did could have threatened national security.
"I think he was an altar boy, deep down, and to admit that would mean he'd have to admit it to his family," Colvert said. "A Navy man, a military man, to admit that you betrayed your country; that's a sin. He knows that's a betrayal and he didn't want to admit that."
In interviews with The Virginian-Pilot in February 2013, Arthur Walker insisted that he did little, if anything, and that the material he took photos of was outdated and "never got to the bad guys," he said.
Last summer, John Walker wrote a letter to The Virginian-Pilot on behalf of his brother.
"I was guilty and pled guilty," the letter reads in part. "Arthur was innocent of espionage and I explained that to the FBI. Since I was the leader of the nefarous (sic) gang, I should know who my gang members were .... Arthur pled not guilty since he was not. The worst thing one can do is plead not guilty and burden the government with an expensive trial.
"Where Arthur would have received 2 or 3 years for pleading guilty, or perhaps no sentence at all, they punished them those (sic) who plead not guilty. His punishment was "life" in prison."
John Walker, who is serving two life terms, plus 10 years, is scheduled to be released next May. A Burean of Prisons spokesman said today that Arthur Walker died Saturday. Pete Earley, who wrote "Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring," wrote on his website that he died of acute kidney failure.
Earley said Walker was one month away from a parole hearing when he died.
According to FBI documents, the espionage began in 1967 and ended with the arrests in 1985. It spanned the country from Norfolk and Virginia Beach to San Diego, and aboard submarines and aircraft carriers, including the Nimitz and Enterprise.
In addition to the Walker brothers, John's only son, Michael, and a Navy friend, Jerry Whitworth, were convicted.
The information they sold made it possible for the Soviets to decipher more than 1 million classified messages between U.S. Navy ships and shore commands, according to the FBI. The Soviets learned where many vessels in the American fleet were and when they would move.
Earley, who first wrote about the Walker brothers for The Washington Post Magazine, initially met Art Walker in a Virginia Beach jail after his arrest in 1985.
"From the moment I met Arthur, I felt that he was naive," Earley wrote in his blog.
In 2010, Earley wrote to the parole board on Walker's behalf. His role was small, Earley said, adding that he had done enough time.
"I'm not dismissing what Art did but there was never any evidence that his spying harmed anyone except himself," Earley wrote in the blog. "It destroyed his reputation, his family which became alienated from him, and led to him spending the remainder of his life in prison."
The Walker brothers were born in Washington, D.C.: Art in 1934 and John three years later. A third brother was born later in New York.
In 1953, Art Walker entered the Navy, where he was sent to sonar school and then assigned to his first sub, the Torsk. His brother later followed him into the service.
Whitworth was found guilty on seven espionage counts and five counts of tax fraud. He was fined $410,000 and sentenced to 365 years in prison. He would be eligible for parole at age 109.
Michael Walker got out of prison in 2000 after 15 years and moved to Cape Cod, Mass., where he goes by his middle name, Lance.
Colvert remembered how one of the FBI agents who arrested Arthur Walker described picking up from his home.
Colvert said the agent described Walker looking back at his house and family, as if he "knew he would never come home again."