Jerry Whitworth

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Jerry Alfred Whitworth
Jerry Alfred Whitworth, circa 1985
Residence United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California
Nationality United States
Occupation United States Navy communications specialist
Criminal charge Espionage
Criminal penalty 365 years, fined $410,000
Criminal status Incarcerated
Motive Financial gain
Conviction(s) Espionage

Jerry Alfred Whitworth (born 1939) was sentenced to 365 years for his part in the Walker family spy ring,[1] which, at the time of Whitworth's arrest, U.S. authorities described as "the most damaging espionage ring uncovered in the United States in three decades" .[2]

Whitworth was born in his grandparents' house next door to the New Covenant Free Will Baptist Church in the Paw Paw Bottoms[3] of the Arkansas River, seven miles southeast of Muldrow,[4] Oklahoma.

Whitworth came from a broken home. His father left his mother and moved to California before he was one year old. He seems to have been a lonely child - at the time of his arrest, one of his teachers said that Whitworth "seemed to need a place to belong".[5] Soon after he joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17, Whitworth used his first weekend pass from Alameda Naval Air Station in California to go to Mendota to see his father for the first time since childhood.[citation needed]

By the early 1960s, Whitworth had left the navy and was a student at Coalinga College, a community college in Coalinga which is now known as West Hills College Coalinga, and was planning to go on to study engineering at the University of California. However, deciding that this would take too long, he decided to re-join the navy and make it his permanent career. He took several courses in communications and served aboard a communications relay ship, a supply ship and three carriers. Other postings included two at a naval communications center on Diego Garcia and two in San Diego.[citation needed]

Whitworth agreed to help John Walker in getting highly classified communications data in 1973; from then until his retirement in 1983, his work for the navy involved encrypted communications and required security clearance. At first, Walker told Whitworth that the information was going to Israel but, even when Whitworth learned that the material was actually going to the Soviet Union, he continued to provide it.[citation needed]

Whitworth married for the first time in 1967 but his wife left him within a year. She committed suicide in 1974 but he did not learn this until around 1980. He married a second time in 1976, to a woman 15 years his junior, and was still married to her at the time of his arrest.[citation needed]

After retiring from the navy, Whitworth studied to become a stockbroker but, just before he was arrested, he failed examinations to become a registered stockbroker.[citation needed]

Less than six months after he retired from the Navy, Whitworth seemed to try to get out of espionage. In early May 1984, he wrote to the FBI in San Francisco, using the pseudonym "Rus". He said that he had been spying for several years, passing secret cryptographic lists for military communications. He said that there were at least three other people in his spy ring and offered to cooperate with the authorities provided he received immunity. He wrote again in late May 1984, again asking for immunity and saying that the spy ring had been operating for more than 20 years. He seems to have changed his mind during that summer - his final letter, dated mid-August 1984, said that he thought "it would be best to give up on the idea of aiding in the termination of the espionage ring previously discussed".[6] However, time was running out.

John Walker's former wife reported his spying to the FBI,[7] in revenge for his failure to pay alimony. Shortly after Walker was arrested on 20 May 1985, Walker's son, Michael, and Walker's brother, Arthur, were arrested. Whitworth was arrested on 3 June 1985.

John Walker entered into a plea bargain, agreeing to testify against Whitworth, apparently mainly in return for lenient treatment of his son. But Walker also received more lenient treatment than the man he had recruited - Walker would have been available for parole in May 2015 (however, he died on August 29, 2014 in prison), but Whitworth was sentenced to 365 years.[8]