FBI PRESS RELEASE:

U.S. Department of Justice

Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States Attorney's Office

Eastern District of Virginia


Wednesday, December 18, 1996

Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, and United States Attorney Helen F. Fahey said an FBI Supervisory Special Agent was charged today with conspiracy to commit espionage for Russia and the former Soviet Union and also was accused of attempting to commit espionage in contacts with Federal undercover agents posing as Russian spies in a "false flag" operation.

The defendant is Earl Edwin Pitts, 43, a 13-year veteran of the FBI and an attorney, who was arrested today at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on a criminal complaint charging conspiracy to commit espionage, attempted espionage, communication of classified information, and conveyance without authority of government property.

Attorney General Reno said: "America's law enforcement community has no greater asset in the fight against crime than the trust and confidence of the American people. Today's arrest shows that the Federal Bureau of investigation is prepared to meet this challenge -- to protect the national security, to maintain the integrity of our counter-intelligence efforts, and to carry out the type of vigilant self-examination that the American people demand of all of our institutions.

I am proud of the unflinching professionalism the Bureau's Agents showed in carrying out this difficult investigation. Their efforts will make America safer."

Director Freeh said: "During his FBI career, the defendant had access to highly classified information and investigations. As the Government's filing against Pitts makes clear, the success of the 'false flag' operation leaves no doubt about the continuing threat to national security that the defendant posed. The FBI must work harder and take every possible step to prevent espionage. Where prevention fails, we must do a better job of finding spies before they do major damage."

According to the affidavit filed with the complaint in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, the conspiracy began when Pitts worked on FBI foreign counter-intelligence investigations in the New York Office from January 1987 to August 1989.

During that period, the affidavit related, Pitts had access to "a wide range of sensitive and highly classified operations" that included "recruitment operations involving Russian intelligence officers, double agent operations, operations targeting Russian intelligence officers, true identities of human assets, operations against Russian illegals, defector sources, surveillance schedules of known meet sites, internal policies, documents, and procedures concerning surveillance of Russian intelligence officers, and the identification, targeting, and reporting on known and suspected KGB intelligence officers in the New York area."

According to the affidavit, Pitts said in a letter last week to his "SVRR handler," who was in reality an FBI undercover agent: "Please understand I no longer have direct access to the files concerning the events that took place during that period [of his New York assignment] and I believe I have provided you with everything that I was aware of."

According to the affidavit, Pitts is an agent of the Sluzhba Vneshney Rasvedi Rossii (SVRR), the intelligence service of the Russian Federation. "The SVRR is the direct successor of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' Committee for State Security...," or the KGB, the affidavit said.

From 1987 to the present, the affidavit said, Pitts conspired with officers of the KGB and SVRR to commit espionage. The conspiracy included numerous trips that Pitts made from Virginia to the New York area "in connection with his espionage activities," the affidavit said.

"Pitts remained an agent of the SVRR in a dormant capacity" from 1992 to the present, the affidavit said. In the 1987 to 1992 period, the affidavit said, "Pitts received from the KGB and SVRR in excess of $224,000...."

According to the affidavit, in 1987 an official at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York City, identified only as a "cooperating witness" or CW, received a letter containing surveillance information about the CW's activities and requesting a meeting with him, if he were a KGB officer, or with an actual KGB officer.

The affidavit said that the "cooperating witness" recalled that the letter contained a reference to a trip the CW had made a few days earlier to meet two high-ranking KGB officials at a New York airport.

"Review of FBI records indicates that on July 15, 1987--one week before it is believed the letter was sent to CW--Pitts conducted surveillance on the CW at another New York City airport and later reported the surveillance in a memorandum classified secret," the affidavit said.

In the affidavit, one of the FBI investigating agents said he believed it was Pitts who wrote the letter and then met with the cooperating witness, who turned Pitts over to Aleksandr V. Karpov, a high-level official with the KGB and later with the SVRR.

"The meeting between Karpov and Pitts at the New York Public Library was the beginning of five years of active espionage activity by Pitts on behalf of the KGB and SVRR," the affidavit said. Among the classified material sold by Pitts to the KGB was "secret information concerning an FBI asset who reported covertly on Russian intelligence matters," the affidavit said.

In addition to a "Top Secret" security clearance, Pitts also held "code word" clearances for "access to sensitive compartmented information" from 1989 to 1996, the affidavit said. Pitts also was granted access to Sensitive Compartmented Information in the Records Management Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., from 1989 to 1991, the affidavit said.

"In 1991, he was reassigned to the Security Programs Section, where he was responsible for supervising personnel security investigations," the affidavit said. He held that post until being transferred to the Legal Counsel Division in 1992.

The affidavit said the FBI began the "false flag" undercover operation in August 1995 following an investigation that included the FBI's debriefing of the "cooperating witness" and analysis of Pitts' financial and travel records.

"The purpose of this 'false flag' operation was to confirm Pitts' 1987-1992 suspected espionage activities and, most importantly, to determine what FBI information, projects, and operations Pitts had compromised by divulging them to the KGB and SVRR during the course of his espionage activities," the affidavit said.

"Specifically, the 'false flag' operation was designed to persuade Pitts through the use of the CW, and through the use of U.S. government personnel posing as SVRR officers, that he was being contacted again by the SVRR and then, in the course of conducting current espionage-type activities, ascertain the scope and content of his past espionage activities," the affidavit said.

"In fact," the affidavit said, "during the course of the 'false flag' operation, Pitts made numerous incriminating statements concerning his prior espionage activities...."

The affidavit related that the "false flag" operation began in August 1995 when the original "cooperating witness" went to Pitts' residence in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and told Pitts: "There is a guest visiting me. He wanted to see you. He's in my car. He's from Moscow."

An hour later, the affidavit said, Pitts met the "guest from Moscow," who was in reality an undercover U.S. intelligence officer (UCO), at the Chancellorsville, Virginia, Battlefield Visitor Center.

The undercover officer told Pitts "he was there to advise him of a mutual problem"--the SVRR was worried about the behavior of a senior SVRR official in the U.S.--and the UCO asked Pitts if he would help the SVRR, the affidavit said. The affidavit said Pitts replied: "I'll help you if I can." The undercover officer gave Pitts an envelope containing written instructions for making a so-called "dead drop," a place to leave information or materials, and a "tasking" for Pitts to accomplish in the future, the affidavit said.

"The UCO asked Pitts about his financial situation and indicated that money was available if Pitts needed it," the affidavit said. "Pitts responded by asking if the UCO had the money with him. The UCO told Pitts that he did have the money with him and Pitts stated that he 'could' use the money. The UCO gave Pitts a sealed envelope containing $15,000.00 in used, unmarked, non-sequential $100 bills. Pitts placed the envelope in his pants' pocket," the affidavit said. "The meeting ended with Pitts stating: 'I'll do what I can,'" the affidavit said.

The affidavit said that "Pitts gave persons he believed to be SVRR officers sensitive and secret classified documents related to the national defense, gave his 'SVRR [FBI]' handlers personal, medical, and family information about fellow FBI special agents, proposed strategies by which the SVRR might recruit additional agents, made plans to smuggle into the FBI Academy an SVRR technical expert, provided his 'SVRR [FBI]' handlers an FBI cipher lock combination, an FBI key and his own FBI identification badge in order to facilitate the smuggling operation, stole from the FBI a handset to a telecommunications device used to transmit classified information, and divulged a variety of classified information to his 'SVRR [FBI]' handlers. Pitts did this for money."

During the 16-month-long "false flag" operation, the affidavit said, "Pitts made 22 drops of FBI internal information and documents, of both a classified and unclassified nature, held nine telephone conversations and two face-to-face meetings with his 'SVRR [FBI]' handlers, and accepted payment of $65,000 for these services," the affidavit said.

The affidavit said that during the investigation the FBI conducted electronic surveillance and video surveillance of Pitts and also conducted a number of searches, following strict guidelines for court approval.

The affidavit said that the sensitive electronic communications device targeted by Pitts was described this way by Pitts in a letter to an FBI undercover agent: "The secure telephone model III (Stu III) is capable of encrypting telephone conversations and facsimile transmissions up to top secret." Later, the affidavit said, Pitts stole a handset from a Stu III device and left it at a "dead drop" for an FBI undercover agent.

On another drop, Pitts gave the undercover agent five pages of technical information on FBI radios, telephones, frequencies, and channels, the affidavit said.

The affidavit said Pitts gave an FBI undercover agent the name of a retired FBI agent who might be a good subject to recruit for espionage because he appeared lonely and had information on breaches in security.

"Pitts also gave extensive information on an FBI espionage investigation of an individual who passed 'Top Secret' military information to the Soviets," the affidavit said.

A search of Pitts' personally-owned computer at the FBI Academy found a letter showing his concern about possible capture and the need to be able to swiftly carry out an emergency escape plan if necessary, the affidavit said.

At the time of his arrest, Pitts was assigned to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico. He was placed on leave from the FBI pending his dismissal after being taken into custody today.

The affidavit said Pitts' wife, Mary, went to the FBI a few days after the cooperating witness' visit to the Pitts home on August 26, 1995. The affidavit said she gave statements to the FBI on Pitts' "suspicious" activities on August 26 and a copy of a letter she found in her husband's office at their home (the first "false flag" letter of instructions given to Pitts by the Federal undercover officer). Mrs. Pitts, a former FBI support employee, is not a defendant in the case.

After joining the FBI in 1983, Pitts worked in the Alexandria Field Office and the Fredericksburg Resident Agency until 1987. On completing his New York assignment, he was promoted to be a Supervisory Special Agent in 1989 and transferred to FBI Headquarters, where he was assigned to the Records Management Division until 1991. In 1992, he was assigned to the Legal Counsel Division at FBI Headquarters where he worked on DNA legal assistance matters and civil litigation. He was transferred in 1995 to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy, where his work included security briefings for FBI personnel.

Pitts is a native of Urbana, Missouri, and has a BS Degree from Central Missouri State University, a Master's Degree from Webster College, and a law degree from the University of Missouri Kansas City. He served in the Army from 1975 to 1980.

The charges against Pitts and the maximum penalties upon conviction: conspiracy to commit espionage, Title 18, United States Code, Section 794 (c), life in prison; attempted espionage, Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 794 (a), life in prison; communication of classified information by government officer or employee, Title 50, U.S. Code, Section 783 (a), 10 years in prison; conveyance without authority of government property, Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 641, 10 years in prison.

The charges against Pitts carry maximum penalties upon conviction of life in prison or death if certain statutory conditions are met. At the present time, the evidence available does not meet the statutory requirements for the death penalty.

The case will be handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Randy I. Bellows and Kathi Kahoe of the Eastern District of Virginia. #####