Inside Media: Spies and Spycatchers

July 13, 2008

Guests: Tony Germanotta and Ray Batvinis

When Tony Germanotta's editor showed him an Associated Press wire bulletin in May 2005, the Ledger-Star reporter began a long, new assignment. The AP story stated that a retired Navy officer from Norfolk, Va. — John Walker — had been arrested for spying.

"I spent the next two years writing nothing but the Walker case," Germanotta said.

Walker, who had fed secrets to the Soviet Union for almost twenty years during the height of the Cold War, had also recruited his brother, son and best friend to help.

Ray Batvinis, a retired FBI special agent whose work concentrated on foreign counterintelligence, described the impact of Walker's spying.

"He has to rank among the pantheon in the history of our country in terms of damage," Batvinis said. "He was responsible for security codes at our very, very highest level. It was horrific."

Germanotta was able to break information in his early reporting when a source told him about an affidavit filed in the Baltimore federal courthouse that laid out the case against Walker.

"There was nothing about that on the wires," he said.

Unable to speak to the FBI agents leading the investigation, Germanotta turned to other sources.

"The active agents can't tell you what they know about the case, or they risk blowing the case in court," he said. But retired agents can help reporters understand how investigations proceed in similar cases, "and that leads you to new and different places," Germanotta said.

The FBI's own source for breaking the case was not a typical "gold standard in intelligence" — a high-level recruit who provides information, Batvinis said.

"It didn't come from a highly placed source. It came from a disgruntled spouse. And we're very happy to talk to disgruntled spouses."

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