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NSA Official Says Operation Pelton Betrayed Collected Soviet Troop Data

May 30, 1986

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Disclosure of U.S. intelligence operations that Ronald W. Pelton is accused of betraying to the Soviet Union would enable the Soviets to take effective countermeasures, a National Security Agency official testified Friday.

William P. Crowell Jr. testified that Project A’s interception and collection of Soviet electronic messages ″gave us an insight into military forces, their relative size, their plans for maneuvers or training.″

Testifying at Pelton’s espionage trial in U.S. District Court, Crowell said analysis of the data intercepted by Project A provided ″a considerable amount of information about their overall capabilities.″

Pelton, an NSA communications specialist before he resigned in 1979, is accused of providing details of several communications interception projects to the Soviet Union, including Project A, between 1980 and 1985.

He is accused of receiving $35,000 plus expenses for the information, which he allegedly gave to Soviet agents during trips to Vienna, Austria, in October 1980 and March 1983.

Disclosure of Project A’s intelligence would allow the Soviets ″to change the nature of the communication or the value of the communications on that link,″ Crowell said. ″There are a large number of different actions that could be taken to make our signal intelligence program less effective.″

Information about another operation, called Project B during the trial, ″would allow them to better assess our capability versus their communications and it would allow them to make better judgments as to the value of some communications information,″ Crowell said.

Crowell, head of the NSA effort to collect and interpret Soviet electronic signals, did not identify Pelton or offer evidence that Pelton had disclosed secrets to the Soviets. But his testimony was introduced to demonstrate the value of information Pelton is accused of selling to the Soviets.

He was showed a map marked by FBI agents to indicate the spot Pelton pointed to when he allegedly told them about telling the Soviets the location of Project A eavesdropping equipment.

Crowell said that marked location was not correct, but ″that taken together with just a very small description of the nature of the project would probably damage″ intelligence security.

On cross-examination, Crowell told defense attorney Fred Warren Bennett that the correct spot on the map was several hundred miles from the location allegedly indicated by Pelton. Crowell also said Pelton would have known the exact location of the equipment.

Judge Herbert F. Murray held up the Bennett’s questioning about the map until completion of a 50-minute bench conference involving the attorneys and Elizabeth Rindskopf, NSA’s general counsel. Bennett said later outside the courtroom that the discussions involved ″national security considerations.″ The map is an exhibit but the judge has refused to allow reporters to look at it.

The Washington Post, however, has quoted informed sources as saying the equipment was located in the Sea of Okhotsk, between the Soviet Kamchatka Peninsula and the mainland north of Japan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Douglass then said he did not plan to call any other witnesses but would not rest his case until Monday.

In other testimony, Mark Schulstad, a former business associate of Pelton’s, testified that the defendant returned from a 1983 trip wearing a gold watch, a gold ring and a gold necklace he had purchased while away.

Schulstad said Pelton also bought a personal computer which he brought into the office they shared in Bladensburg, Md.

Schulstad, at the time an employee of Safford Marine, where Pelton rented office space, said the defendant had gone away for one to two weeks in the spring of 1983.

After Pelton returned from the trip, Schulstad said, ″He had told me he went to California to do consulting for a defense contractor involving security work for a computer system.″

″He told me he received approximately $40,000,″ Schulstad said.

Crowell said Project A was classified ″Top Secret″ because disclosure of information about it ″could cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.″

In general, the NSA’s job of intercepting and decoding Soviet electronic transmissions helps warn U.S. forces of any ″changes in the target’s state of readiness.″

Echoing Reagan administration criticism this week of press disclosures of intelligence secrets, Crowell told jurors that a Chicago Tribune correspondent disclosed in a 1942 story that the decoding of Japanese messages enabled U.S. naval forces to win crucial battles in New Guinea and at Midway that year.

″Though there is not definitive proof that the Japanese used the information, it certainly gave them the opportunity to know they were vulnerable,″ Crowell said.

After the story was published, Crowell said, the Japanese engaged in an ″unpredecented″ wholesale change of their military codes.

Earlier this week, CIA Director William Casey and Lt. Gen. William Odom, head of the NSA, warned reporters not to speculate about information released during the Pelton trial. The two expressed concerns about the damage that could occur to national security by the reporting of intelligence secrets.

In other testimony Friday, William J. Valois Sr., a Silver Spring businessman for whom Pelton worked from 1983 until 1985, told jurors that Pelton ″looked physically shaken″ when he returned from a trip he took in April 1985 to Vienna, Austria.

Pelton had asked for a week off to make the trip, which he described as a consulting mission for the CIA.

″He told us he had certain expertise in eavesdropping and communication, and the CIA was employing his services for overseas at some international conference,″ Valois said. ″If they used his services they would pay him $25,000. If they didn’t he would be paid $7,000,″ he said.

But Pelton flew back to the United States because ″he felt the KGB was watching him,″ Valois said.

According to earlier FBI testimony, Pelton said he was unable to meet his Soviet connection during the 1985 trip to Vienna. Pelton told the FBI he apparently was not recognized by the Soviets because he had lost weight.

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