This CIA turncoat is about to walk free. Will he defect to Russia?

The handoff was fast and seamless, a espresso cup containing the DNA of a suspected Russian spy swapped for an equivalent one in a hallway alternate between a CIA operative and an FBI agent.

The transfer was textbook spycraft, however the whole lot else about the state of affairs was extraordinary: The handoff went down inside the bowels of CIA headquarters, and the suspected mole was one of many company’s personal – however so was the person tasked with catching him.

The goal was Harold ‘Jim’ Nicholson, a charismatic profession spy and devoted single dad who’d been working for the CIA for 16 years.

The CIA colleague who’d swiped the espresso cup from his desk was John Maguire, a former Baltimore cop who’d carved out a counterrorism area of interest inside the spy company.

Maguire had been recalled from abroad by CIA superiors – banished to HR as punishment, he’d thought, for rejecting a posting in Pakistan in autumn 1995  – earlier than being known as right into a secret assembly at Langley, requested if he’d settle for an unidentified job, then whisked to an off-site location.

There, in an FBI secure home in an unprecedented interagency spy-catching collaboration, he discovered the small print of the ask: Somebody inside the CIA was sneaking secrets and techniques to the Russians. Nicholson was the doubtless wrongdoer. Maguire was to get Nicholson to rent him as his righthand man, spy on him from inside his personal division, then nail him with proof so they may lock Nicholson up for treason.

By the summer season of 1996, Maguire was working subsequent to the suspected spy.

“There have been instances after I simply wished to stab him within the neck at his desk and simply say, ‘F*** it, he’s useless. It’s over. Right here,’” Maguire, now retired from the company, tells The Impartial.

Harold James ‘Jim’ Nicholson, a longtime CIA officer and father of three, was described as ‘easy’ and ‘artful’ – and ‘mercenary – by the person who was tasked with catching him


He resisted the urge, nevertheless – and in only a matter of months, utilizing an arsenal of tips from old-school detective work to info-seeking liquid lunches, Maguire pulled it off. A spy had by no means been used to catch a spy at Langley earlier than, and there’s been no public announcement of any such feat since.

After greater than twenty years behind bars, Nicholson might be launched from jail on 26 November. He was sentenced in 1997 to 23 years and seven months for conspiracy to commit espionage – one of many highest-ranking CIA officers ever convicted of the offence. However the turncoat spy wasn’t carried out; from jail, he duped his youngest baby – a son in his mid-20s who worshipped his dad and lengthy believed he’d been railroaded – into persevering with his traitorous relationship with the Russians.

They had been caught and each convicted, the youthful Nicholson avoiding jail time with a plea deal whereas his father was slapped with eight extra years. The disgraced CIA man was additionally transferred from his comfortable Oregon facility to the hardcore Colorado jail colloquially generally known as Supermax – from which he’s scheduled to walk free after Thanksgiving.

“Jim Nicholson was what they name a double hitter: There was his first crime, which he obtained caught for, went to jail, after which from jail organized his second one,” writer Bryan Denson, who interviewed Nathaniel Nicholson, Maguire and different gamers extensively for his 2015 e-book The Spy’s Son, tells The Impartial.

Denson believes the discharge might be a “gut-check second” for the spy, who turns 73 simply days earlier than he’s scheduled to walk free.

“Possibly Jim is a greater particular person than he proved himself to be there for a bit, and possibly he will present fealty for his household and wish to, , put his grandchildren on his knee and be that man … however he’s going to be a pauper if he does it,” Denson tells The Impartial, noting that Nicholson, like several convicted spy, might be legally barred from profiting off of his crimes.

Maguire, who has extra firsthand expertise of Nicholson and his persona, is satisfied “he’s going to run.”

“He’s not going to keep right here,” says Maguire, who stays incredulous that the US authorities by no means used Nicholson as a bargaining chip to get again Individuals imprisoned in Russia like Brittany Griner and Paul Whelan. “He’ll be gone in a few weeks.”

Nicholson’s lawyer, contacted by The Impartial, stated neither he nor his shopper might remark earlier than the discharge.

Only a few turncoats have been launched from jail lately — Robert Hanssen died behind bars earlier this 12 months and Ames stays serving a life sentence with out parole. Ana Montes, who spied for Cuba and was launched in January, moved to Puerto Rico, and Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel, moved there after his 2015 launch.

After protecting Nicholson for years and actually writing the e-book on him, Denson says the spy’s subsequent steps stay “an enormous query to me.”

“Does he simply get himself plucked by the Russians and return to Moscow the place the cash’s ready for him?” Denson says. “Or does he keep right here and do proper by his household?”

As a result of Nicholson, when it comes down to it, betrayed everybody and the whole lot in his life that he purported to maintain pricey: His nation, his colleagues, his profession and, most significantly, his household and his youngsters.

Nicholson was arrested in 1996, on the eve of his forty sixth birthday, and sentenced to greater than 23 years in jail –however he then co-opted his son into persevering with his relationship with the Russians whereas he was behind bars


It’s all a far cry from the life Nicholson imagined as he idolized James Bond whereas rising up on Air Drive bases with a former Military cryptographer mom, Betty, and Air Drive serviceman stepfather, Marvin “Nick” Nicholson. Betty’s first husband and Jim’s organic father had walked away from the household, and Marvin married her when Jim was seven, formally adopting the kid.

Impressed by his household’s army historical past and the spy tales he devoured, a younger Nicholson enrolled in ROTC throughout school at Oregon State, the place he met his future spouse, Laurie, who would later give start to the couple’s three youngsters. Nicholson labored in army intelligence however left the Military in 1979 and held a civilian job briefly, earlier than becoming a member of the CIA the next 12 months.

He hauled his rising household to numerous posts overseas. From the Philippines to Romania to Thailand, his marriage grew ever extra tumultuous with allegations of dishonest on each side; by 1992, Laurie, fed up together with her husband’s egocentric ambition and infidelity, had returned to the US and filed divorce papers. She later informed Denson that “considered one of Jim’s best faults … was that he had someway accustomed himself to champagne tastes on a Budweiser funds,” he writes in The Spy’s Son.

Two years later, Nicholson walked into the Russian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the place he was stationed, the CIA below the impression he was attempting to recruit their intelligence chief. As an alternative, the veteran operative provided his personal companies to the SVR (the Russian international intelligence division that preceded the KGB) for cost – simply weeks after notorious CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames was sentenced to life in jail with out the potential for parole.

Nicholson, Denson writes in his e-book, “figured that with Ames out of the best way, the SVR could be available in the market for an additional extremely paid mole contained in the CIA.”

They had been. So started a deeply damaging double-cross that will proceed, in numerous guises, for greater than a decade.

Within the quick, nevertheless, Nicholson pulled off a few of his most damaging work. With main custody of his youngsters, he moved the household again to Virginia in 1994 and commenced working as an teacher on the CIA’s coaching facility, colloquially referred to as “The Farm.” There, he gathered intelligence on the upcoming recruits and bought it to the Russians, rendering the longer term US spies successfully ineffective going ahead. He was additionally photographing and summarizing top-secret recordsdata and stories to cross alongside, the whole lot from data about US coverage to international cables to debriefings of Ames that would show helpful to the Russians.

By 1996, US intelligence had realised it had an issue and was frantically attempting to root out the mole.

That’s when the higher-ups tapped Maguire, who was depressing at his momentary Langley desk project after years of thrilling and efficacious discipline work. He’d been recalled from abroad as authorities zeroed in on Nicholson because the mole – unaware that higher-ups had been readying him for a mammoth in-house espionage problem, he says.

“There’s a purpose that HR is solely on the second ground,” he jokes “You may’t even soar out of the window excessive sufficient; you’ll land within the bushes, break your legs and you then’ll be in HR in a wheelchair.”

He’s the kind of no-nonsense man who cracks these jokes in between explaining how he took down some of the damaging spies in historical past. He discovered the small print within the secure home after passing a polygraph from the “first-string, varsity officers … those who know their s***.”

Finally, says Maguire, “The lead agent stated, ‘We’ve obtained one other Ames.’”

Nicholson’s son, Nathaniel, travelled in his stead to meet-ups with Russians in unique locales however was spared jail by way of a plea deal after his arrest

(Nathan Nicholson)

He was instructed to “get [Nicholson] to decide you to be his deputy” and use the place to surveil and snare him – and quick.

“You’ve obtained to catch that f****r in a 12 months; we will’t afford to wait 5 years,’” Maguire says one other high-ranking superior informed him at a later assembly. “You’ve obtained to catch him doing one thing.”

Actual-life espionage, he says, is “not some swashbuckling James Bond factor,” though he famous that Nicholson, who was enamoured with 007 as a toddler, himself was “an actual womanizer,” identified for being tall, darkish, good-looking, and “very easy, very, very, artful.”

The spywork itself was extra mundane, “a methodical thoughts recreation of four-dimensional chess, and you’ve got to plan and function play,” Maguire says.

“What I had to do for this was primarily an operational assembly for eight to 9 hours a day and never make a mistake and never mess up,” says Maguire – on a regular basis anticipating clues that Nicholson could be readying to “do one thing operational.”

“I wanted to be certain that I didn’t miss something,” he tells The Impartial. “It was very annoying …an enormously straining psychological train.”

Nicholson’s MO included concentrating on youthful officers and amassing background data on them to share with the Russians, in order that they’d be weak to being satisfied to share data themselves later down the monitor on abroad missions.

“He was a intelligent man and a mercenary son of a bitch, as a result of he didn’t care what occurred to these youngsters, these younger officers … they’re working for a man who’s arrange a goal package deal on them to allow them to be approached later of their careers,” he says. “I’ve by no means seen that earlier than.”

Nicholson’s predecessor, Ames, executed “horrible” crimes, Maguire says – “however he didn’t headhunt within the constructing,”

“And we all know Jim was headhunting within the constructing.”

So was Maguire, although – and his efforts paid off after a liquid lunch in Georgetown in October 1996, not lengthy earlier than Nicholson was scheduled to make an abroad journey.

“He had a six-pack of beer on the ground of the automobile, and I’m consuming beer in his automobile on the best way again to the constructing; we’re driving round in rural Virginia, and I say, ‘Are you misplaced?’ And he goes, ‘No, no, no, and there’s a spot out right here, this is one of many days once they launch distinctive runs of stamps.’”

Nicholson hopped out at a rural publish workplace, purchased stamps, obtained again within the automobile, they usually returned to Langley, Maguire triggering a gathering with the FBI to tip them off that it appeared his boss was readying “to do one thing operational.”

“They simply guess the farm on that night time, they usually had an incredible quantity of manpower deployed and ready,” Maguire says. “And certain sufficient, he went out late at night time, left his home, left his youngsters at dwelling alone and went out … they usually really caught him within the act mailing one thing, after which that was the stamp that he purchased – and he licked it, so there was DNA on it. And he threw it within the mailbox, and earlier than the solar got here up that factor was processed and within the proof system, after which the true postcard went again within the mailbox and went on its manner to the abroad tackle, and he established a direct hyperlink to the KGB.”

Nicholson was arrested on the eve of his forty sixth birthday and sentenced in June 1997 to 23 years and 7 months in jail. His youngsters’s lives had been uprooted unceremoniously, the household dwelling in Virginia turned the other way up earlier than the oldest, Jeremi, who was in school in Oregon, flew his youthful sister, Star, and brother, Nathaniel, again to the West Coast.

Nicholson, who turns 73 this week, served as abroad case officer and teacher on the CIA’s coaching facility earlier than taking over a place at Langley, the place his righthand man was tasked with spying on him to show his treason


The youngest Nicholson was simply 12 when his father was arrested, and the spy’s mom and stepfather refused to imagine their feted, patriotic scion had carried out any mistaken. Together with the youngsters, they’d go to the imprisoned ex-CIA officer on the Oregon facility the place he was despatched, and it was there that Nathan recalled his father apologising – and explaining that he’d “simply wished to assist you youngsters out,” Denson writes in The Spy’s Son.

“Nathan by no means let go of the reminiscence of that painful heart-to-heart,” Denson writes. “Seeing his dad so sorrowful, head actually hung low, churned in his younger thoughts. He satisfied himself that the federal government will need to have pressured him to confess – even to his personal youngsters – that he spied for Russia.”

Nathan adopted his father’s footsteps into the Military, however an damage sidelined his army profession and he returned to Oregon, the place he enrolled in group school in 2005, visiting his father in jail each different Saturday. Nicholson had been cooking up methods to resume contact with the Russians, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than he enlisted his son.

Throughout one go to, he informed Nathan “that his previous associates in Moscow had been holding an account open in his identify, and that collectively they may find a way to make some early withdrawals,” Denson writes. “Jim had misplaced his freedom in service to the Russian Federation, and now he felt it was Russia’s flip to assist assist his youngsters whereas he was away. He wished to know if Nathan was prepared to serve in his stead on the skin.”

His youngest agreed “on the spot” – quickly establishing contact with the Russians by strolling into the consulate in San Francisco, earlier than travelling to conferences in far-away locales from Mexico to Cyprus, passing messages and accepting cash between 2006 and 2008 earlier than he was caught. The youthful Nicholson, at 26 years previous, narrowly prevented jail in a plea deal that helped him construct the prosecution’s case towards his father, who acquired a further eight years.

“I feel his coronary heart was actually, for a time, damaged when he realized, lastly, what his dad had carried out,” Denson, a fellow Oregonian who now considers Nathan a pal after extensively interviewing him for the 2015 e-book. “His dad made it sound prefer it was no huge deal – and this is, in fact, coming from Nathan himself. [His dad] made it sound like he was simply doing him a bit of favour, however he had to be secretive.

“I feel, in his coronary heart, Nathan most likely knew that it was mistaken, however … he’s a man who is a pleaser,” Denson says. “He loves his shut circle of family and friends and exhibits it … Nathan Nicholson is a essentially respectable man.”

Denson and Maguire, each fathers, couldn’t imagine the spy had coopted his son into crime.

“That was probably the most mercenary factor,” Maguire says, including: “He used his son and destroyed the idea of belief {that a} child has with their father.”

That ruthless streak and demonstrated fairweather loyalty solely helps Maguire’s principle that Nicholson will high-tail it out of America as fast as his treasonous toes can carry him.

“He’ll behave himself for a few weeks, he’ll get a plan collectively and work out what he wished to do,” says Maguire, including that each officer has a “long-term contact break plan” that investigators by no means uncovered amongst Nicholson’s issues.

“He is a traitor …he made his mattress. He is a spy. He doesn’t imagine within the nation. He hates the system, and he signed up with an enemy nation,” he says. “And if that’s the place he desires to have his allegiance, then ship him there and get a very good harmless man again.”

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