Gardner Museum Heist —Blog

FBI: Espionage Suspect Has No Scruples

James Martinez Associated Press June 9, 1990

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A former Army sergeant accused of selling NATO’s nuclear defense secrets to East bloc governments speaks four languages, has an amazing memory and has shown no remorse since he confessed, an FBI agent testified.

U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins on Friday ordered Roderick James Ramsay, 28, held until a bond hearing Tuesday on a charge of conspiracy to gather or deliver defense information to aid a foreign government.

Ramsay’s arrest Thursday night came only a day after his former Army supervisor and classified documents manager, Clyde Lee Conrad, 43, was convicted of treason in a West German court and sentenced to life in prison.

FBI agents say Conrad masterminded an espionage ring that sold highly sensitive information to Hungarian and Czechoslovakian intelligence agents, who eventually passed it to the Soviet KGB.

"I know of no other case where so much information was compromised at one time," Joe Navarro, the FBI agent who led the investigation, testified Friday.

"It’s unprecedented what went over to the other side. The ability to defend ourselves is neutralized because they have all our plans," he said.

During two hours of testimony, Navarro portrayed Ramsay as a man whose past brushes with the law included forgery, shoplifting and suspected participation in a 1981 Vermont bank robbery.

"He has a criminal mind," Navarro said. "I didn’t see any remorse over what he did - none whatsoever."

Ramsay told the FBI he made $20,000 for his spy work, but at the time of his arrest he was an unemployed cab driver so financially strapped he was living at his mother’s tiny trailer in Tampa and sometimes slept in his car, Navarro said.

While the FBI has no evidence that Ramsay participated in espionage since 1986, his vast knowledge of NATO secrets made him a "highly marketable commodity" to hostile governments, Navarro said.

Ramsay, who served under Conrad in West Germany from 1983 to 1985, admitted during about 40 interviews that he was recruited to participate in the espionage ring, the FBI said.

He helped leak documents on the use of tactical nuclear weapons by U.S. forces and NATO allies, and plans for the defense of Central Europe, the Justice Department said. Ramsay also allegedly leaked technical manuals on military communications technology and material about the coordination of NATO forces.

Ramsay is fluent in Japanese, Spanish and German and has the ability to recall minute facts and figures from hundreds of volumes of documents, Navarro testified.

He could easily recall passages from papers he hadn’t seen in five or six years and had the ability to scan a document, memorize it, then dictate it onto tape, Navarro said.

Ramsay first photographed documents and apparently discovered he could record more information with a video camera, the agent said. In December 1985, Ramsay spent a week recording some 45 hours of documents he had either stolen or copied, Navarro said.

Navarro estimated that East bloc agents paid between $2.2 million and $5 million for information from the ring.

Authorities believe Conrad stashed some of the $20,000 he said he made in foreign bank accounts, said law enforcement sources speaking on condition of anonymity. Investigators are trying to trace the money.

During the investigation, agents learned Ramsay had stashed top secret documents at his mother’s house and later destroyed them, Navarro said. The agent added that Ramsay still claims to have a tape with highly sensitive defense information.

Agents searched the home and Ramsay’s car following his arrest, but have not disclosed what was found.

Navarro said Ramsay claimed to have tried "every drug under the sun." Traces of hashish that showed in a urine test in 1985 ended his Army career when he took an honorable discharge rather than face court-martial.

Ramsay, who could face up to life behind bars if convicted, told FBI agents as recently as last week he had no fear of going to prison and could use the time to study toward a law degree, Navarro testified.

"Look out when I get out because I’m going to be an educated criminal," Navarro quoted Ramsay as saying.