Spy Sees Cell Door Opening; Convict Could Move To Halfway House

John O'Brien - Chicago Tribune - April 8, 1996

For the first time since he was locked up as a spy nearly 18 years ago, Chicago native William Kampiles has freedom within his sight.

If his request for placement in a halfway house is granted, the onetime CIA clerk who passed U.S. satellite secrets to the former Soviet Union could be out of prison in June.

"He is ecstatic," said Kampiles' lawyer, Loyola University law professor Allen Shoenberger. "This is a major shortening."

Kampiles' optimism is based on a federal parole board decision to release him next December, five years ahead of schedule, from a 40-year espionage sentence imposed in 1978.

But the former CIA clerk could be home as early as June 16. Prisoners awaiting parole routinely are assigned to halfway houses six months ahead of time, and Kampiles has applied for transfer from his Rochester, Minn., prison to the Chicago area at that time.

The parole board's decision, disclosed to Kampiles in a letter March 28, followed his public apology and plea for forgiveness.

In a statement to the board last year, Kampiles, who has never denied his guilt but insisted his intention was to become a double agent for the United States, said, "There are no words to describe my sorrow and remorse. "I let my country down and have brought more pain to my mother and brother than could ever be imagined," he said. "I will strive to be the best citizen I can."

"He just wants to be a taxpaying citizen," Shoenberger said, "and lead an ordinary life."

In 1977, Kampiles was a 23-year-old Indiana University graduate from Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood when he knocked on the door of the Soviet embassy in Athens, Greece, and committed treason.

Kampiles had been recruited for CIA employment while an Indiana University student. But his entry-level job was anything but exciting for him, and he concocted a remarkable scheme.

If the agency wouldn't let him be a spy, he would show his bosses his ability in counterintelligence.

First, Kampiles stole a classified manual of instructions 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 used his knowledge of Greek to meet with Soviet officials and arrange a series of meetings at which he turned over pages of the manual. He was paid $3,000 for technology worth a fortune.

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

As Kampiles would explain later, first to a dubious agency and then to a jury in Hammond, Ind., in 1978, he had hoped his treachery would convince the Russians he was on their side. He had given them documentation--a situation he hoped his CIA bosses would allow him to exploit in a double-agent role.

The KH-11 "eye-in-the-sky" satellite was in space watching Soviet military maneuvers and missile sites at the time. It remained in use until the late 1980s, when it was replaced by advances in technology, not by a Russian checkmate.

But instead of achieving spy status for the "Company," Kampiles was hustled off to prison.

A "youthful misguided act" is Shoenberger's description of the crime.

Kampiles, 41, has declined interviews with the media.

The convicted spy's chief prosecutor says it is time to forgive and forget.

"I think the time (nearly 18 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 a pattern of criminal conduct."

Arrested in the summer of 1978 at his Munster, Ind., townhouse, Kampiles and the case against him are symbolic of an era of cloak-and-dagger intrigue and a reminder of the Cold War. Although the government won its case against him, the trial exposed shortcomings within the CIA. The purloined manual, for example, was but one of a dozen copies for which the agency was never able to account.

In his bid for his client's parole, Shoenberger has argued that the length of sentence, 40 years, was particularly harsh in view of a plea bargain offered by prosecutors to Kampiles before trial. It called for a total sentence of 12 years, in return for a guilty plea.

In the years since his conviction, Kampiles claims to have unburdened himself of whatever secrets he had about the case, cooperating with federal investigators in a series of prison interviews and lie detector tests.

The last session, in 1991 or 1992, took place at the federal prison in Rochester, Minn.

He passes the time there as a team leader of fellow inmates working in the prison industries program. Their task is to assemble electronic equipment for the U.S. Department of Defense.