Gardner Museum Heist —Blog

FBI Agent: Security Breach ‘Unprecedented’

James Martinez Associated Press June 8, 1990

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A former U.S. Army sergeant with a brilliant "criminal mind" has admitted selling secret NATO plans for the nuclear defense of Europe that were passed to the Soviet Union, an FBI agent testified Friday.

"It’s one of the most serious breaches ever - it’s unprecedented what went over to the other side," said Joe Navarro, who led the FBI’s investigation. "The ability to defend ourselves is neutralized because they have all our plans."

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

Ramsay’s attorney, Mark Pizzo, did not enter any plea on his client’s behalf. Ramsay faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted of espionage conspiracy.

Ramsay was arrested Thursday night on a downtown street following a two- year investigation.

The FBI said Ramsay worked in West Germany from 1983 to 1985 directly under Clyde Lee Conrad, 43, a retired U.S. Army sergeant convicted of treason by a West German court and given a life sentence earlier this week.

When the FBI began collecting information on Conrad in mid-1988, agents conducted the first of some 40 interviews with the cooperative Ramsay, authorities said.

"Ramsay has acknowledged that he was in fact recruited by Conrad in mid- to-late 1983 and participated in espionage activity with him," Navarro testified.

Ramsay had a high IQ, speaks fluent Japanese, Spanish and German, and has the ability to recall minute details, facts and figures from hundreds of volumes of documents, Navarro testified.

Those included sensitive 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 leaked technical manuals on military communications technology and material about the coordination of NATO forces.

"He had the unique privilege of being posted where a lot of highly sensitive information came through his hands," Navarro said. He mentioned other examples such as the sites of nuclear storage areas and contingency plans in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet bloc or a Third World nation.

The material was passed to Hungarian and Czechoslovakian agents and eventually fell into the hands of the Soviet KGB, according to FBI and Justice Department officials.

"It involves an extensive amount of information provided to the Soviet intelligence service through Eastern European surrogates," said Justice spokesman Doug Tillett in Washington.

Navarro testified that Ramsay began by photographing documents and later discovered he could record more information with a video recorder. In December 1985, the agent said, Ramsay spent a week recording some 45 hours of documents he had either stolen or copied.

Although Ramsay told the FBI he received only $20,000 for his efforts, Navarro estimated the East bloc agents paid between $2.2 million and $5 million for the information from the ring.

Authorities believe some of the money is stashed in foreign bank accounts, said law enforcement sources speaking on condition of anonymity. Investigators are trying to trace the money.

Conrad controlled the money and Ramsay wanted very much to obtain it, especially since recent financial problems forced him to live at his mother’s home in Tampa or sleep in his car, Navarro said.

FBI agents would not discuss why they investigated Ramsay and kept him under surveillance for two years before making an arrest, but Navarro said agents hoped his cooperation would lead to other suspects.

Ramsay’s last known contact with Conrad came in January 1986 in Boston, when his former boss gave him a small cow bell and told him that anyone displaying a similar bell was involved in the spy ring, the agent testified.

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

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 revealed what was found.

The FBI agent described the mustachioed, bespectacled suspect as having a "criminal mind" and no remorse for his actions.

Before joining the Army, Ramsay is believed to have participated in a 1981 bank robbery in Vermont and then fled to Hawaii, Navarro said.

He added that Ramsay said he tried "every drug under the sun" and in fact was forced out of the Army in 1985 after traces of hashish showed up in a urine test.

Ramsay was a man who had no fear of going to jail, telling FBI agents as recently as a month ago he would be able to read, get a law degree and obtain a criminal education, Navarro said.

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