'He Was Walter Mitty,' Lawyer Says : Accused Marine Spy Lived Out Fantasy

Times Staff Writer

The intrigue started with his first furtive romantic rendezvous with Violetta, his Soviet girlfriend. Taking circuitous routes, switching from trams to taxis, changing clothes along the way and watching for tails, Marine Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree practiced the counter-surveillance techniques he'd learned from his collection of spy novels.

Indeed, he was--based on his own statements to military investigators, copies of which were obtained by The Times--a sort of do-it-yourself secret agent.

"He was Walter Mitty, living a fantasy," said William M. Kunstler, one of the civilian lawyers defending Lonetree, who faced a pretrial military hearing here Wednesday on espionage charges.

But the "fantasy" got out of hand, by Lonetree's own admissions, when he began turning over top-secret documents to Soviet agents.

"After I got involved, I was unable to get out," the 25-year-old guard told investigators. And, at one point during four days of interrogations, Lonetree said: "I was somewhat afraid that the KGB would come after me."

Ultimately, he said, the Soviets gave him $3,500, offered to help him remain in the Soviet Union and later, after he was reassigned to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, tried to persuade him to return to Moscow for espionage training.

His relationship with the Soviet agents became so close that he gave one of them a code name enabling the man to call Lonetree at the embassy guard post in Vienna.

Although some of his statements are questioned by those involved in the case--his own attorneys refer to "fanciful" claims--Lonetree described in remarkable detail how he plunged deeper and deeper into the shadows of espionage in more than 23 pages of investigative notes written in the form of a statement and signed by the accused Marine Corps spy.

What remains unclear, however, is why he did it.

His own stories, as represented in the investigative reports, conflict. At one point, for example, he blames his actions on his fascination with the intrigue. Another time, Lonetree--who is of Navajo and Winnebago Indian descent--blames "hatred . . . for what the white man did to the Indian."

What is clear is that it all began with a woman: Violetta Seina, whom Lonetree described as 26 years old, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, "130 pounds, with light, sandy-brown hair to the neck, gray eyes, of Ukraine/Jewish descent, fair skin, wide cheek bones."

Their relationship began after what Lonetree described as a chance meeting on a Moscow tram when Seina, who worked at the U.S. Embassy, stayed on past her normal stop and the pair strolled around for two hours discussing American movies, books, food and life in the United States.

The relationship grew, though Lonetree says they met mostly at metro stations during those early weeks. Lonetree was later invited to Seina's home, where he met her mother and sister, and decided to extend his tour at the Moscow embassy "because of my fondness for Violetta."

Lonetree said he told investigators that in January, 1986, their relationship "took on a sexual meaning" and that until his reassignment to Vienna in mid-March they had four sexual encounters at Seina's home--all the while concerned that Soviet authorities might discover them.

"We both agreed that it was not safe for us to be seen together in public or near her house," Lonetree told investigators. "I would use counter-surveillance techniques in leaving the embassy and going to Violetta's house. . . . I wanted to protect our relationship. I learned counter-surveillance techniques from the books I have read."

Changes Coats Often

One trick he said he learned from a book on the KGB required him to wear different coats, which he would keep changing as he made his way across the city.

Lonetree said he came to know which authors and books were most true to life by comparing them to his personal experiences. "I was going through the real thing," he told investigators.

Soon after their first sexual encounter, apparently, Seina introduced Lonetree to a man named Sasha whom she called her uncle. He pretended to speak very little English at first, but Lonetree noted that his facility with the language improved substantially by their second meeting.

It was "Uncle Sasha" who persuaded Lonetree to help him identify members of the embassy staff. He said Sasha brought a folder of photographs, including some "family-type photos," of embassy personnel and asked who among them worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. Lonetree said he told Sasha he did not know, and he simply arranged the photos to show who was married to whom.

"He said if I was a friend of the Soviet Union this would help them . . . especially Violetta," Lonetree said.

Refuses Bugging Request

One way that friendship could have been demonstrated, apparently, was for Lonetree to help bug the American ambassador's office. Lonetree said he refused, but he did answer Sasha's questions about the ambassador's desk being made of wood and describing the location of the office furniture.

And Lonetree told military investigators that he failed to report the conversation because "I was interested in knowing what the KGB wanted to know."

Lonetree makes no mention of permitting or knowing about any Soviet agents being admitted inside the embassy, which he is accused of doing. In fact, he asserts that when he left Moscow for Vienna on March 10, 1986, "at this point I had never given Sasha any documents or revealed any classified information."

Nonetheless, he conceded that the Soviets did offer to help him stay in the Soviet Union. He told investigators that he planned to return for a visit after leaving the Marine Corps.

Sasha followed Lonetree to Vienna that summer and engaged in a series of clandestine meetings with the Marine in parks, seafood restaurants and churches.

Instructions on Paper

The secret rendezvous with Sasha were generally arranged at the end of each previous meeting. Lonetree said he would be given a scrap of paper with the next time and location.

Lonetree tried memorizing the information so that he could destroy the notes, but he sometimes forgot a vital detail and missed meetings, so he stopped flushing them down toilets and saved them. As a consequence, military investigators were able to recover several examples still in Lonetree's room when he was arrested.

After Lonetree missed a couple of the secret sessions in Vienna, Sasha made what Lonetree described in his statement as "a dangerous move"--he called Lonetree at work in the embassy. The Marine insisted that on any future calls Sasha should use the code name "Mr. Laurel of Finland."

"Sasha thought this was clever and was pleased," Lonetree recalled to investigators.

In ensuing weeks, Lonetree said, he was asked to turn over names of fellow Marines and other embassy personnel who used drugs, drank too much or were homosexual and "were exploitable." Lonetree said he gave the Soviets the name of only one Marine, whom he described as "a born-again Christian who used to have a drinking problem."

Turned Over Documents

But Lonetree says he also turned over to Sasha copies of the Vienna embassy phone book and the floor plan of the embassy. And more significant documents would come later.

One night, while on guard duty in Vienna, Lonetree took three "top-secret" documents from a stack of State Department records and hid them in a rooftop drain pipe back at the Marine living quarters, according to his statement to investigators.

Two weeks later, he intercepted an embassy "burn bag" with documents pertaining to European troop balance and arms reduction that were destined for destruction. Lonetree told investigators that he also hid those pink and white sheets, wrapped in plastic, in the drain pipe until all the documents were turned over to Sasha last November.

Investigators said Lonetree broke down and cried when he admitted that transaction. "Yes, I did" steal the documents and give them to Sasha, Lonetree was quoted by the investigators. "It is the truth. I am so ashamed."

Becomes Uneasy

Sometime before surrendering the top-secret documents, Lonetree said he was beginning to get increasingly uneasy about Sasha and even confronted him about whether the Soviet agent might use blackmail to force the Marine to continue cooperating.

Lonetree said Sasha assured him he was a friend but in a way that "I realized that I must . . . continue to cooperate."

The Marine then decided to use another secret agent technique--his own blackmail scheme.

"I began to think how I was going to get rid of Sasha," Lonetree said. He came up with a plan to have a local barmaid seduce Sasha in return for $100. Pictures would be taken.

However, the plan was never attempted when Lonetree and the barmaid apparently waited for each other on opposite sides of the same Vienna street, each thinking that the other had failed to show up.

Staff writer Gaylord Shaw contributed to this story.

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