The highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage told the judge at his sentencing Thursday that he had become a spy for Russia for the benefit of his three children.
In his only public statement since his arrest in November, the 46-year-old defendant, Harold Nicholson, a former CIA station chief who sold secrets to Moscow for $300,000, bowed his head and said, “I reasoned that I was doing this for my children,” to make up “for the long hours at work and for failing to keep my marriage together.”
Minutes later the judge, James Cacheris of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., imposed the prison term the government had requested: 23 years seven months.
In court Thursday, Nicholson offered an apology of sorts to fellow intelligence officers for the careers and the covert operations he had ruined by selling to the Russians those officers’ names, ranks and missions.
Until last fall, Nicholson was a $73,000-a-year CIA officer working at the agency’s counterterrorism center. He had been on a fast track to the top ranks of the agency since becoming a station chief in Romania in 1990, at the age of 40.
But he had also been spying for the Russian intelligence service since 1994. He came under scrutiny about 18 months ago, after suspicions were raised by a routinely administered lie-detector test.
When he was arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington last Nov. 16, he had a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland, a date with his Russian case officers and a bundle of exposed film and a computer disk bearing classified information from CIA files.