A Stint In Spying, Years In Prison;
Convict Seeks Mercy For Soviet Treachery In 1977

John O'Brien - Chicago Tribune - December 31, 1995

It was a summer day in 1977 when a 23-year-old Indiana University graduate from Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood stood at the door of the Soviet embassy in Athens, Greece, and prepared to commit treason.

At the time, of course, William Kampiles didn't see it that way. "In true James Bond-like fashion," according to his attorney, he hoped he was launching an intrepid career as a double agent with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Things could hardly have gone more awry. And in one of the odder twists to his case, his ultimate fate--being sentenced to 40 years in prison for spying--was most immediately triggered by the fact that he ratted on himself.

Now, after 17 years in prison, Kampiles is asking forgiveness and mercy. His attorney has petitioned the U.S. Parole Commission to reduce his sentence, arguing that Kampiles' crime was an isolated "youthful misguided act"--and one for which Kampiles has paid more dearly than many other convicted spies.

Kampiles has told parole officials "there are no words to describe my sorrow and remorse."

In a surprising change of heart, even a key prosecutor in the case believes it is time to free Kampiles.

"I think the time (17 years already spent in prison) is adequate for the crime . . . in light of the sentences of other convicted spies, " said David Ready, a former U.S. attorney. "His (crime) was a single, isolated event and not (like other convicted spies) a pattern of criminal conduct."

The curious saga of Kampiles' crime unfolded this way:

He was recruited by the CIA in college primarily because of his fluency in Greek. His first assignment was a job in the watch office of the CIA Operations Building near Washington, D.C.--a post he quickly found tedious.

Convinced that his ambition of becoming a spy for the CIA was not progressing and might never be realized, he "seized upon a dramatic scheme," according to his attorney, Allen Shoenberger, a Loyola University law professor.

"In true James Bond-like fashion, he would infiltrate the Soviet intelligence system, thereby proving his ability in counterintelligence."

First, he stole a classified manual of instruction for America's then state-of-the-art KH-11 spy satellite. Then he quit his job and flew to Greece. Without any prior contact with the Soviets, he capitalized upon his knowledge of Greek to make an initial contact with Soviet officials, and he arranged a series of meetings at which he turned over pages of the manual. He was paid $3,000 for technology worth millions.

Then he went back to the United States and told his former CIA bosses what he had done.

But instead of being sent back out as a double agent, Kampiles was arrested in the summer of 1978 at his townhouse in Munster, Ind., and charged with espionage. His own admissions of wrongdoing were used to convict him.

In newly filed documents seeking leniency, Shoenberger argues that little if any damage to national security was caused when Kampiles gave Soviet agents the classified manual for the satellite.

The KH-11 "eye-in-the-sky," orbiting in space to watch Soviet military maneuvers and missile sites, remained in use until the late 1980s. It was replaced by advances in technology, not by Russian checkmate.

Last week, in a petition filed on behalf of Kampiles, Shoenberger cited public documents released since the trial showing conclusively "that the actions of William Kampiles in no way compromised the security of the United States or . . . the KH-11 satellite."

Ready, now a law partner in South Bend, Ind., said in a telephone interview last week: "What is the government going to get by keeping this kid in prison? Not much. His was a single, isolated event," whereas convicted spies like (Aldrich) Ames and (Jonathan) Pollard repeatedly betrayed their country.

Ames, a former CIA employee who reaped $2 million for selling secrets to the former Soviet Union, is serving a life sentence for espionage. Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst, was imprisoned nearly 10 years ago after pleading guilty to spying for Israel.

But one of Ready's assistant prosecutors at the time, Hammond attorney Richard Hanning, is unswayed. "My own thinking is no," Hanning replied when asked if he favors leniency for Kampiles. "True, the Cold War is ended. But that does not excuse his treason."

Kampiles' trial, in November 1978 in Hammond federal court, exposed embarrassing shortcomings within the CIA. The Kampiles manual, for example, was but one of a dozen copies the agency was never able to account for.

In the Kampiles petition, Shoenberger said the length of sentence is harsh in view of a plea bargain offered by prosecutors and rejected by Kampiles. It called for a total sentence of 12 years in return for a guilty plea.

On that summer day in Greece, Kampiles arrived at the Soviet Embassy to find the place celebrating Russian armed forces day.

Kampiles was met at the door and, party or no, spies are always welcomed guests.

"He said he had some important information which the Soviet Union would find of interest," Shoenberger said.

What followed was a meeting arranged for dusk on Feb. 23, 1978, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. Over the next few weeks, Kampiles delivered all the pages of the manual to a Soviet intelligence agent.

After handing over the manual, Shoenberger said, Kampiles "felt he had accomplished the first part of his self-managed mission"--making the Soviets believe they could trust him.

On March 4, Kampiles met the agent for the last time near the Greek National Stadium and accepted an envelope containing $3,000 in U.S. currency.

In the years since he was led away, Kampiles claims to have unburdened himself of whatever secrets he had about the case by cooperating with investigators.

In his first public remarks given under oath, Kampiles said in an affidavit filed with his petition that he has done what his government wanted of him and has been a good prisoner. "I let my country down and have brought more pain to my mother and brother than could ever be imagined," Kampiles said. "I just want to tell you how sorry I am, and . . . I will strive to be the best citizen I can be."

In Chicago, Kampiles' mother, Nicoletta, and brother, Michael Kampiles, maintain a vigil. "We hope the parole board will be kind," Michael said. "Mother lives for (William's) return."

Since his conviction, his petition reveals, Kampiles has met several times with federal authorities, at their request, to tell in detail how he came to be a spy and what the Russians asked of him.

At each meeting, Shoenberger said, Kampiles spoke at length and underwent polygraph testing.

In the first meeting, Kampiles was picked up by agents and taken from federal custody in Chicago to an unknown location and questioned for three days. Again in 1985, Kampiles met with agents of the FBI's behavioral sciences unit from Quantico, Va., and underwent three more days of questioning. The last session, in 1991 or 1992, took place at the federal prison in Rochester, Minn., where Kampiles is confined.

Although Kampiles may appear before some members of the Parole Commission as early as January, Shoenberger thinks the real test of his petition will come later before the full commission in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, Kampiles passes the time at Rochester as a team leader of inmates working in the prison industries program. He assembles electronic equipment for the U.S. Department of Defense.