WASHINGTON – Harold Nicholson, who more than 10 years ago became the highest-ranking CIA officer to plead guilty to espionage, engineered a brazen scheme from behind bars in which he enlisted his youngest son to travel the world collecting more than $35,000 from Russian agents as payment for past services, federal officials said Thursday.
Nicholson has been serving a prison term of more than 23 years at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan, Ore. The former CIA agent and instructor admitted to sharing photos, documents and the names of some of his CIA students to the Russian Federation in the mid-1990s. In exchange for information, Nicholson collected $300,000 in cash, which he used to pay credit card bills and assorted expenses, according to government court filings.
After Nicholson was sentenced to prison, his three children, including Nathaniel, then 12, moved to Oregon to live with their grandparents.
But authorities say Nicholson never stopped trying to reach out to the Russians, at first prompting other inmates to communicate with the foreign government and then deputizing his son.
Those allegations led to new charges, unsealed Thursday against father and son, of conspiracy, money laundering and acting as an agent of a foreign government in what Oregon U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut called “a sinister and continuing scheme.”
Nathaniel Nicholson, who had served in the U.S. Army and worked at a Pizza Hut restaurant, met with Russian representatives at the consulate in San Francisco, Mexico City, and Lima, Peru, authorities alleged. Last month he traveled to Cyprus where he met with foreign agents at a TGI Friday’s restaurant. He arranged the Dec. 10, 2008, meeting with instructions about how to communicate in coded e-mail messages.
As part of the plot, the FBI said, he pretended to write to a girlfriend, “Nancy,” and reported that “It looks like I will still be able to go on that vacation! … Well hon, I just thought I’d say ‘hi’ since I had the time!”
In all Nathaniel collected $35,000, which he distributed to his siblings and grandparents according to instructions from his father, prosecutors said.
Among the information that Nathaniel shared with Russian intelligence figures were detailed family histories and clues that helped the FBI catch his father in 1996, the indictment said.