On this date in espionage history – December 18, 1996 – Earl Edwin Pitts was arrested at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. Pitts, a senior FBI special agent, was charged with espionage on behalf of the USSR/Russia. Pitts wasn’t recruited by the KGB/SVR. Like many an insider who breaks trust, he absconded with sensitive materials and found a willing buyer: the Soviet Union’s KGB.
Pitt decides to commit espionage
In the winter of 1986, Pitts a GS-12 earning $35,000, was assigned to the counterintelligence (CI) unit within the New York Field Office – he was part of the team of FBI special agents, analysts, and special surveillance group (SSG). The unit numbered over 300 FBI employees.
The CI unit’s duties are to uncover espionage operations of the KGB/GRU officers at the Soviet mission to the United Nations, the Soviet Consulate General New York and a gaggle of non-official entities which were used by Soviet intelligence officers for cover. Pitts, a member of the Squad I9 was focused on the Soviet intelligence officers at the United Nations.
Pitts was also a very disgruntled man who felt unappreciated. As the Washington Post reported in September 1996, when Pitts was assigned to New York, he found housing in Greenwood Lake, NY, a two-hour commute from his office, as that was what he could afford. He and his wife were overextended, living on credit card debt and money he borrowed from family. He told the Washington Post, he had “an overwhelming urge to lash out and strike out. I realized at that time that the way to hurt the FBI was to screw with its secrets. I wanted to get my punches in. I wanted to hurt them.” He continued how in March 1987 he decided he would become a traitor, “It happened very early one morning. I was lying there awake, and working for the KGB suddenly changed over from being an abstract possibility to something that could really be done . . . It was almost like it became a given that this would happen. It became like any other operation had to be. I had to consider what the upside and the downside was . . . How to carry it forward became a practical problem.”
Pitts commits espionage
In late-June/early-July 1987, Pitts had clandestinely dropped a note offering secret information into the car of a Soviet intelligence officer and never received a response. He had to come up with a different approach.
On July 15, 1987 Pitts observed the arrival of a senior KGB officer and his being met by a Soviet diplomat Rollan Dzhikiya. Pitts wrote a letter to Dzhikiya (who the FBI had mis-identified as being KGB), in which he told him, how he had seen him at JFK and how he believed he had information in which he and his colleagues would be interested.
Pitts included within the letter, as an additional form of bona fides, one page of an FBI’s “Soviet Administrative List” classified Secret. The list contained, according to court records, “names, dates of birth, posting, in-country/travel/out-country status, file number, FBI office of origin, FBI squad, FBI Case agent, and the known or suspected intelligence affiliation of each Soviet official assigned to Soviet legations in the United States, including the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York, New York.” His note concluded with, should there be interest, the KGB should meet with him at New York City’s 42nd Street library on a given date.
Dzhikiya showed up at the library, met Pitts and after a brief introduction, he walked Pitts to another section of the library and introduced Pitts to KGB officer, Aleksandr Vasilyevich Karpov. Dzhikiya then excused himself.
Karpov was a senior KGB officer, Chief of Line KR (counterintelligence) within the New York’s KGB ‘rezidentura’.
Thus began five years of espionage, during which Pitts had multiple meetings with the KGB. Pitts received over $124,000 in cash from the KGB, and according to Pitt’s confession, the KGB was holding over $100,000 in an escrow account in Moscow.
FBI discovers they have a CI problem
Circa 1995, Rollan Dzhikiya, retired from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and took a commercial job for a Moscow company in New York.
Dzhikiya had no desire to return to Russia following the demise of the USSR and wanted to cement his status in the U.S. Not having just fallen off the cabbage truck, Dzhikiya knew he had something to peddle to the U.S. government to facilitate his request to stay in the U.S. permanently.
He gave the FBI Earl Pitts.
Dzhikiya, identified in the court documents as “Cooperating Witness (CW)”, shared with the FBI the story of how he came to know Pitts and Pitts’s introduction to the KGB. This revelation from Dzhikiya set the counterespionage wheels turning within the FBI as the allegation, described an event which happened in 1987 and was accusing a senior special agent of espionage.
The FBI opened a CI investigation.
They reassigned Pitts from FBI Headquarters where he had access to classified information to the FBI training academy in Quantico where his access to classified information was much reduced. The FBI Washington Field Office then put together a complex false flag operation which from start to finish would take 16 months and cost almost $1 million, culminating in the arrest of Pitts.
He’s from Moscow
On a Saturday afternoon, August 26, 1995, the doorbell rang at the Pitts Virginia house. Mary Pitts answered and encountered a man who asked, “Can I see your husband.” That man, was Rollan Dzhikiya. When Pitts came to the door, Dzhikiya said, “There is a guest visiting me. He wanted to see you. He’s in my car. He’s from Moscow.” The first meeting with the “Man from Moscow,” who was in reality an FBI special agent, occurred at nearby Chancellorsville battlefield. At that meeting Pitts was provided a sealed envelope which contained instructions to for a dead drop to be loaded on September 9, and to signal that the site was “loaded.” Also included in the letter was ostensible tasking from the “SVR” for Pitts. In addition, Pitts was given $15,000 in $100 bills. Pitts ended the meeting with, “I’ll do what I can.”
When he got home, he was confronted by Mary Pitts, his spouse and shared with her the letter. Three days later, August 29, Mary reported the meeting to the FBI, characterizing it as very suspicious and describing the letter.
Over the course of the ensuing 16-months, Pitts would have 22 additional deliveries of classified information, two face-to-face meeting and a number of telephone calls, and accepted $65,000. The goal of the FBI ruse was to acquire sufficient information to convict Pitts of espionage, both past and present.
Pitts is arrested, pleads guilty and is sentenced
On December 18, 1996 Earl Pitts was arrested in his office at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. The FBI affidavit filed at the time of his arrest noted how Pitts’s access during his period of espionage was solid gold from the Soviet perspective. His access included, “recruitment operations involving Russian intelligence officers, double agent operations, operations targeting Russian intelligence officers, true identities of human assets, operations against Russian illegals, defector sources, surveillance schedules of known meet sites, internal policies, documents, and procedures concerning surveillance of Russian intelligence officers, and the identification, targeting, and reporting on known and suspected KGB intelligence officers in the New York area.”
Pitts pleaded guilty to espionage charges in March 1997 and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. He would not serve all 27 years. He was released on December 20, 2019. Meanwhile, Rollan Dzhikiya, now 80+ years-of-age, continues to reside in the U.S.