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Wife Chooses Her Country Over Husband

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary Pitts had one choice and no choice, really.

Her country?

Or her husband?

As an FBI support clerk, she became suspicious that her husband, Earl Edwin Pitts, a career supervisory agent with the bureau, might be compromising the security of the United States.

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She found a letter he had left in their rural Virginia home that, FBI investigators said, indicated her husband might be giving U.S. secrets to the Russians for cash.

What she did not know, however, was that the FBI already suspected him of espionage for the Soviet Union during his posting in the bureau’s New York field office in the late 1980s. Nor did she realize that the letter she found was part of a sting operation by the FBI to determine how far her husband was willing to go to make money.

Mrs. Pitts wrestled with her dilemma. She decided to notify fellow FBI officials of her suspicions. Then, worrying all over again, she anguished over whether she had compromised her marriage.

In one of many transcripts of phone calls provided by the FBI as part of its criminal affidavit against her husband, she told a neighbor: “I probably shouldn’t have gone, shouldn’t have gone to the bureau. It will probably be the end of my marriage either way it goes. Because if he is on the up and up and he finds out that I went behind his back, we’re finished.”

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She struggled further with what the consequences would mean for her own future. “Could I have gone on with my regular and wonderful life?” she asked, according to the affidavit transcripts. No, she concluded. “It’s over. My life is over. It’s over for me.”

Mrs. Pitts had decided that her country came first. “There [are] things wrong with this country,” she told her neighbor, “but it’s still my country.”

After her 43-year-old husband was arrested Wednesday morning at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Va., FBI Director Louis J. Freeh stressed that Mrs. Pitts was not a suspect.

Rather, he said, the 16-month investigation was “certainly enhanced by the statements” she ultimately gave to the bureau. Freeh said that she has since left the bureau but declined to say why. He did say that her departure was not related to her husband’s criminal case.

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When the undercover investigation began in August 1995, a former Soviet official assigned to his country’s United Nations mission--who by then was secretly working as a “cooperating witness” for the FBI--turned up at the Pitts home to see Earl Pitts. It was the first contact of the undercover operation and it immediately drew Mrs. Pitts’ suspicions.

The affidavit said that Mrs. Pitts telephoned her sister three times that day, telling her “a man with a foreign accent came to the house” and asked for her husband, who had suddenly left home “in a panic.”

She searched his home office while he was away and found some damaging evidence--a letter sent earlier from New York in which the undercover agent proposed renewing an espionage relationship with Pitts.

When her husband returned home, she confronted him, the affidavit said. It did not record how he responded. But later that day, Mrs. Pitts’ sister asked her on the phone if the letter included “the secret stuff.” Mrs. Pitts said that it did.

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After three days of angst, Mrs. Pitts telephoned Tom Carter, the FBI’s resident agent in Fredericksburg, Va., near her home. She asked to meet with him on an “urgent and confidential matter concerning her husband,” the affidavit said.

They met. They talked for an hour. She provided Carter with statements about her husband’s suspicious activities that day. Then she handed over a copy of the letter.

Later that day she talked by phone with a neighbor. The conversation, excerpted in the affidavit, showed her uncertainty over whether she had done the right thing.

“Ahm, the thing of it is, Mary,” the neighbor said, “you did what you had to do at the time and there is no point in beating yourself.”

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But, Mrs. Pitts said, “there is no going, there is no going back now.”

“No,” the neighbor said. “No beating yourself over that.”

Then, still worrying over what she had done, Mrs. Pitts asked aloud: “What price for national security?”

She later told her husband about the meeting and he met with Carter. The affidavit said Earl Pitts told Carter that the man visiting their home was a former intelligence asset whom he had known when he was assigned to the New York field office in the late 1980s. Pitts admitted that he had received the letter but insisted that the man had been drunk when he showed up at their door in Spotsylvania.

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Pitts, who also is a lawyer, said that he met with the man at a local Wal-Mart near his home and gave him legal advice.

But “these statements were false,” the affidavit said. Instead, prosecutors alleged that Pitts met with the “cooperating witness” at a nearby Civil War battlefield park and received $15,000 in the first of $65,000 in payments in the undercover arrangement.

Pitts, according to the court documents, made 22 separate “dead drops” that provided classified information to the undercover agents. He spoke nine times with them by telephone. He met with them twice.

Using the alias “Edwin Pearl,” he also allegedly left undercover agents a series of letters and computer disks, describing his own state of mind as the arrangement progressed.

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“I appreciate your concern for my well-being but there should be no great concern on your part,” he said at one point in a letter included in the affidavit. “If I am confronted, I can use certain procedures to protect myself from any long-term harm.”

Another time he allegedly left a note reminding them of his desire for a “steady stream of payments” in small amounts. The affidavit said that he wrote: “Transactions involving large amounts of money are difficult to hide, even if they are done in cash.”

Undergirding the flow of cash and secrets, the affidavit said, was a friendly relationship that developed between Pitts and the undercover agents. In December 1995, for example, he met with the former Soviet agent at Washington’s National Airport. They discussed their previous meetings. The Russian wished him a happy holiday.

“Yes,” Pitts said. “Also Merry Christmas to you.”

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