Moving to shut off what one official called "a massive hemorrhage" of U.S. defense secrets to East Germany and the Soviet Union, federal agents Wednesday arrested an Army specialist in electronic eavesdropping equipment and a Turkish citizen accused of serving as his courier in a six-year espionage operation.
Warrant Officer James W. Hall III, 30, whose "high-living style" first alerted U.S. authorities, was arrested by Army intelligence agents at Ft. Stewart, Ga., after detailing his espionage activities in the United States and West Germany to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Soviet intelligence officer.
Charged in Conspiracy
Huseyin Yildirim, 60, a Turkish national living in Florida who is also known as "Meister," was arrested in Tampa, Fla., by FBI agents on charges of conspiring with Hall and "others" to turn over national defense secrets to foreign agents.
Federal law enforcement sources said that Hall had been paid at least $100,000 for passing Army secrets to the East Germans and the Soviets. Hall, according to an FBI affidavit, "admitted his motivation to be greed" in a more than two-hour meeting Tuesday night with the FBI undercover agent posing as a Soviet spy.
Although intelligence sources said that it would be some time before an accurate "damage assessment" could be completed, they seemed most concerned about the loss of secrets involving capabilities for "signal intelligence," or electronic eavesdropping.
One federal law enforcement source described the alleged Hall-Yildirim operation as "a massive hemorrhage." But another rated it as "a 6 or 7" on a scale of 10, with the family spy ring run by John A. Walker Jr. that sold Navy code secrets to the Soviets as a 10.
Hall, who entered the Army as an enlisted man in 1976 and trained in signal intelligence and electronic warfare, was first assigned to Schneeberg, Germany, in June, 1977. Four years later, he was sent to Berlin, reputed to be a key listening post for military intelligence.
After an assignment at Ft. Monmouth, N.J., he returned to West Germany, this time to Frankfurt, in January, 1986, as chief of an electronic warfare and signals intelligence section. Hall became a warrant officer last February and then was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart.
Units to which Hall has been assigned engage in cryptographic analysis, electronic intelligence, voice intercept activities, communications intelligence and electronic warfare.
"The suspected espionage took place in Europe and in the continental United States," said Lt. Col. John Chapla, an Army spokesman. An intelligence source said that Hall had been in contact with East German agents in the United States.
Difficult to Prove
Evidence to support espionage allegations generally is difficult to gather unless investigators are able to catch a suspect with classified documents, in meetings with foreign agents or with some other incriminating evidence.
Hall's arrest apparently followed a lengthy investigation that allegedly culminated with his making highly incriminating statements to an FBI undercover agent who managed to convince Hall that he was a Soviet operative.
In the FBI affidavit, which was submitted to a federal court in Savannah, Ga., in support of Yildirim's arrest, FBI agent Charles B. Youmans Jr. said that information about the espionage ring had been gleaned from "seized documents, surveillance and review of video and audio monitored conversations."
The meeting between Hall and the unidentified undercover FBI agent occurred Tuesday night at a hotel in the Savannah area. Youmans said in his affidavit that Hall told the bogus Soviet operative he had been passing highly sensitive signal intelligence documents to the Soviet and the East German intelligence services since late 1982.
"He specifically stated that the 'Meister' (Yildirim) actively participated with him in the reproduction and transmittal of classified national defense documents to the East Germans," Youmans' affidavit said.
Served as Conduit
"Hall reported that the 'Meister' was his conduit for both the dissemination of intelligence documents to the East Germans and his receipt of payments in U.S. and German currency from the East Germans up until January of 1988, when Hall departed Germany for reassignment in the United States."
Hall's meeting with the undercover agent was monitored by Army intelligence and FBI agents.
During his conversation with the agent, who one source said was wearing a hidden electronic recording device, Hall described his espionage for the Soviets and East Germans in "notable detail," Youmans said.
He "boasted of the important signal intelligence information that he had passed and admitted his motivation to be greed," the affidavit said.
Hall described "his relationship with the 'Meister' and the 'Meister's' active assistance in both the copying and transmission of classified national security documents to the East Germans and the receipt and transmittal through 'Meister' to Hall of payment in consideration for the intelligence information."
Youmans said that Hall also told of "his direct contact with East German intelligence officers" at meetings in East Germany. During his last two meetings there, the East German agents instructed him to stop using Yildirim and to "cool off his activities."
But after arriving at Ft. Stewart last July, Hall said he was contacted there by Yildirim, Youmans said. Hall reportedly said that he met Yildirim in Savannah and gave him a letter for the East Germans reporting that the two had met, the affidavit said.
Youmans said that surveillance by FBI and Army Intelligence Security Command agents established that Hall and Yildirim met near Savannah last Nov. 12 and 13 and Dec. 13.
"Since their return to the United States, Hall and Yildirim have spoken by telephone in excess of five times," the affidavit said. An FBI spokesman refused to say whether their conversations had been secretly monitored and recorded.
While the affidavit and Yildirim's arrest complaint mentioned that Hall and Yildirim had allegedly conspired with "others," FBI officials said only that the investigation was "ongoing." Another source familiar with the case said that no other suspects had been identified and no other arrests are "imminent."
Although Army and FBI spokesmen said that Hall would be processed under military law and faces a court-martial, John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman, said that both Hall and Yildirim probably would be tried in federal district court.
If convicted of espionage conspiracy, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hall lived in Richmond Hill, an affluent semi-rural subdivision about 20 minutes from Savannah. Neighbors said that his wife is German and that they have two young children. Hall was born in the Bronx, N.Y.
"We thought someone had died over there when we got up this morning," said next door neighbor Parker Chapman. "There were about 15 or 20 cars over there and a lot of men running around in suits. I didn't know what was going on."
Scant information was available on Yildirim. A resident of Belleair Beach, Fla., he carried a Florida driver's license.
Staff writer Melissa Healy contributed to this story.