Over the years I have reflected on the wild ride that surrounded Arthur’s arrest, indictment and trial. I have also thought of him – the man. I have never been able to decide if he was a spy or a sap.
There is no doubt that Arthur took classified information from his post naval employer and gave it to his brother, John. When Arthur was arrested and before he talked to an attorney, he voluntarily appeared and testified before a federal grand jury in Baltimore. He told the grand jury and everyone else who asked that he gave the “confidential” information to his brother to convince him that he had nothing of value. Arthur was paid about $6,000.00 for his efforts. Implicit in this explanation for his involvement in his brother’s espionage is the fact that he knew his brother was selling secrets to the Soviet Union. That is all most people needed to know. But was that all there was to know?
Spy or Sap? Would a real espionage agent confess to a grand jury? Was what he provided to his brother of any national security value or was it valueless as he said? “Confidential” information is the lowest level of classification. Was this a onetime event? Spying for $6,000.00?
On the other hand, he was a perfect agent. He was virtually unnoticeable in a room. He was a very low key family man whose major involvement was with his local civil league. He had a sound naval career but it was not particularly distinguished either. He had a low level security job with a government contractor. No-one would ever think of Arthur as a spy.
But the most significant factor in determining who the real Arthur Walker was is the fact that he could not convince the government that his sole involvement in this espionage was what he admitted to before the grand jury. That inability to convince the government was buttressed by Arthur’s inability to pass a polygraph examination administered by the FBI. The examination involved, among other things, contacts he had with persons he knew to be Soviet agents. According to every expert with whom we met, Arthur came back deceptive in his response to that line of questioning. This led to the belief by some that Arthur’s role was much more involved and that, in fact, he had created the spy ring before his brother’s involvement. The theory goes on that Arthur only turned the espionage activities over to his brother when Arthur decided it was time for him to step out. That was the theory; never proved.
As I said, spy or sap? I don’t know. What I do know is that the phone call from The Honorable J. Calvitt Clarke, Jr., United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia (now deceased), appointing me to represent Arthur started an adventure that I could not have ever foreseen. It involved a closed room conference where the Judge advised prosecutors that he was not beyond holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt; petitions by a group of congressmen to sentence Arthur Walker to death; banks of microphones from news agencies across the world; hang up telephone calls in the middle of the night; FBI interviews of my friends in places as far away as California about me and my habits (thank god for good friends); book offers; and, a five day trial during which, at one point, the Judge ordered the courtroom cleared of all non-essential personnel while “classified” evidence was being introduced. At the end of the day, Arthur was not immediately executed but he died in prison. He died a spy. Or was it a sap?