If the CIA is right, Harold J. Nicholson’s reasons for betraying his country may have been the most mundane in the world: bills.
In 1994, when the FBI says he started spying for the Russians, he was a newly divorced father of three children, with hefty alimony payments, child-care costs and property settlements due, all of it straining his $73,000 annual salary.
Neither the FBI or CIA would comment officially Tuesday on what might have motivated the 46-year-old Nicholson to allegedly sell secrets and agent identities to the Russians for $120,000. However, several people familiar with the investigation said the motivation was money.
And events in his personal life track with his alleged spying.
Nicholson was divorced from Laura Sue, his wife of 21 years, on Aug. 31, 1994. They had been separated since 1992, when Nicholson was transferred from Romania to Malaysia.
Only two months before, on June 30, 1994, the first suspicious payment, for $12,000, was deposited in one of his savings accounts, according to the FBI.
His first alimony payment - $650 a month - was due Sept. 1, 1994, according to divorce court records. Nicholson was supposed to pay that much every month until Sept. 1, 1996, for Laura Nicholson’s college tuition. She recently graduated with a degree in geology, her attorney, Rich Adamson, said Tuesday.
In addition, Laura Nicholson got to keep the 1992 Volkswagen Golf, but he had to make the payments.
In addition, Nicholson had to pay $2,000 in fees for his ex-wife’s attorney. “He paid me off really fast,” said Adamson.
The court also required Nicholson to pay his ex-wife $4,026 for her interest in their Virginia, Washington and Texas properties.
Most of their possessions and furniture, worth about $17,000, went to his ex-wife. Nicholson had to pay to ship them, records show.
Nicholson also had to pay for his ex-wife’s health insurance for three years after the divorce, paying high premiums as if she were a single government employee, Adamson said.