A court cleared retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Bothwell of espionage charges Monday after prosecutors said he had duped Soviet agents with useless material.
Bothwell, 59, who retired from the Navy in 1965, had been charged under the Official Secrets Act with arranging to communicate information calculated to be useful to an enemy.
He was arrested Feb. 16 as he tried to leave for Vienna. Formerly of Narberth, Pa., Bothwell lives in Bath, England, and runs an import-export business.
Prosecutor Michael Bibby told Bow Street Magistrates Court that police acted on a tip “from a very good source” that Bothwell was passing North Atlantic Treaty Organization secrets to the Soviet Union.
Accused by Soviet Aide
News reports at the time said his arrest was based on disclosures by Viktor Gudarev, a Soviet trade mission member who defected earlier in February in Athens. U.S. officials identified Gudarev as a colonel in the Soviet KGB secret police.
Bibby offered no evidence against Bothwell in court, and a formal verdict of innocent was given.
“He was a CIA agent with the U.S. Navy in Greece but left in 1972 to set up a shipping business,” Bibby said. “He had legitimate business with the Russians, but pressure was put on him by them to supply information.”
Bothwell’s attorneys declined to to say what form the pressure took but denied it was blackmail.
Made to Look Authentic
Bibby said the accused “has admitted passing information to the Russians but denied it was information of a damaging nature. It could have been obtained by anyone, but he packaged it up to make it seem authentic.
“He also admitted making dead letter drops to the Russians, but it is now conceded that any information he did pass was to dupe the Russians.”
At a hearing in March at which he was granted bail, Bothwell said the information that he gave Soviet agents was obtained from Newsweek magazine and Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.