Friends don’t spy on friends, right? Sadly, in the realpolitik world we live, even though nations may be allies, if a nation believes it is in their national interest to spy upon an ally, they will. Such was the case of Steven John Lalas, a former Department of State communications officer, who was sentenced on this date, September 16, 1993, having been convicted of espionage on behalf of the government of Greece, a NATO ally.
The Case of Steven John Lalas
Lalas, was arrested in the spring of 1993 and was charged with passing sensitive U.S. government communications to the Greek government. Initially, it was thought that Lalas had worked with the Greeks from 1991 through 1993. As the FBI’s investigation continued, it was determined Lalas’ spying pre-dated his work at the State Department and found its origin dated back to 1977, during his time in the U.S. Army. Though Lalas pleaded guilty in June 1993 to the charge of espionage, he steadfastly dismissed any insinuation that he spied for money and claimed to be an ideologue who was helping his ancestral motherland, Greece. Lalas was born in Rochester, NH.
What Was Stolen?
Lalas provided the Greek government with the following:
- The identities of CIA personnel. This is especially abhorrent given Lalas no doubt was aware of the 1975 assassination of CIA Chief of Station Richard Welch.
- Defense Intelligence Agency cables about troop strength
- Department of State cable traffic containing political analyses
- Communications between U.S. Embassy in Athens and the White House
- FBI communications about counter-terrorism efforts
As a communications officer, Lalas’ access was such that all classified cable traffic between entities within the U.S. Embassy Athens and other entities in the U.S. Government were accessible to him. In 1993, the then State Department spokesperson described Lalas’ duties as “processing incoming and outgoing telegraphic communications” and “preparing and receiving diplomatic pouches.”
Greece Was Happy to Compensate
Investigators determined that Lalas, the ideologue, also wasn’t turning away regular payments from the Greek government in exchange for the information provided. Over a two-year period, he received $24,000. Lalas’ salary at the time of his arrest was $38,591 per annum.
An Insider Saw the Threat
It was not adroit counterespionage work that identified Lalas as a collaborative source of the Greek government. That said, it was an astute Foreign Service Officer from within the State Department whose Greek interlocutor dropped a comment concerning a contentious bilateral issue, that the officer recognized as having been discussion between U.S. Embassy Athens and the State Department. This individual saw something and said something. The ensuing investigation revealed that the leak of information was happening in Greece, and Lalas was eventually identified.
Lalas was arrested in May. He pleaded guilty in June, and he pledged to cooperate with U.S. authorities conducting the damage assessment. However, according to the Washington Post piece in July 1993, Lalas was less than cooperative, and indeed failed two polygraphs administered by the FBI as part of his cooperative debriefing.
It is important to remember Lalas wasn’t the only U.S. government employee who had national security clearances breaking the nation’s trust and providing information to the Greeks, an ally of the United States. Indeed in 1978, William Kampiles provided to the Greeks the specifications on the KH-11 satellite, for which he was convicted and sentenced to prison in November 1978.
Though sentenced to 14 years, Lalas was released from prison on July 8, 2005, and subsequently emigrated to Greece.