Bitter NSA worker allegedly turns spy A former Army sergeant with life in tatters stands accused of selling secrets

November 09, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Chronically short of cash. Marriage a wreck. Ordered by a court to send most of his meager Army pay to his former wife and their two children. Mad at the world.

David Sheldon Boone fit the profile. Like other accused spies before him, a shambles of a personal life apparently led Boone in 1988 to begin selling secrets -- in this case, top secret National Security Agency documents -- to a Soviet KGB spy named "Igor," according to the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Va.

Ten years later, Boone, still broke and angry, met an FBI special agent posing as a Russian spy who asked if Boone wanted to resume spying. The retired Army sergeant was enthusiastic. "When and where?" he asked, according to an FBI affidavit. And later, allegedly, "I'm at your disposal."

The tall, balding, 46-year-old is scheduled to walk into an Alexandria courtroom today to be arraigned on espionage charges.

Boone was arrested Oct. 13 in a Northern Virginia hotel after an FBI sting operation lured him from his home in Germany with the promise of cash. He was indicted Thursday. If convicted, Boone could be sentenced to life in prison.

Military service records, court documents and divorce papers tell a sketchy story of a young man from Las Cruces, N.M., who enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War, became a mediocre soldier -- "lacks attention to detail and tenacity," an evaluation report once said -- and later, facing mounting debt and anger, having just signed over his two children and his paycheck to his wife, walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington one fall day in 1988.

He walked out with a wig and mustache -- and $300 in his pocket. Over three years, selling secrets to his country's foe allegedly earned Boone $60,000.

His motivation, he allegedly told the undercover FBI agent who'd dangled another $9,000 before him: "I needed money. Plus, well, plus I was extremely angry."

Baltimore County divorce papers provide clues to his anger. He and his former wife, Stephanie, were married in Monterey, Calif., in 1973, a year after his return from Vietnam and two months after he began learning to speak Russian at the Defense Language Institute. Their son, Michael, was born seven months later; their daughter, Sarah, was born the next year.

Marital problems began in 1985. A 1988 separation agreement gave Boone's wife custody of the children and required Boone to send his wife his entire paycheck for alimony and child support. In return, she had to give him a $250 monthly allowance.

The Boones were sued four times from 1988 to 1991 by debt collectors, court records show.

The mother lost custody of the children to Baltimore County Social Services, which placed them in foster homes, according to court records. Later, the county was unable to collect child support from the mother.

Such family and financial troubles are the types of red flags NSA looks for.

Monitoring potentially destructive employees is a "constant concern" at NSA, said retired Adm. Noel Gayler, NSA's director from 1969 to 1972.

"One must, in an outfit like NSA, do the very best you can to understand your people," Gayler said. "But if he [Boone] was angry at the system, that's extremely difficult."

Boone was born in Flint, Mich., on Aug. 26, 1952. His family moved to Las Cruces, where Boone graduated from Mayfield High School in 1970, after an average four years with the "Black Knights" chess club and the "Dirt Diggers" history club, according to his yearbook. Later that year, he walked into a recruiting office in nearby El Paso, Texas, and joined the Army. After basic training in Missouri, he served a year in Vietnam, followed by training in military intelligence.

After studying Russian in California, he was assigned to a base in Germany, where he served on and off as a "signals intelligence analyst" until 1985, when he came to NSA. For three years, Boone analyzed reports based on intercepted Soviet communications.

According to an FBI affidavit, Boone regularly left NSA headquarters with 15 to 20 pages of classified documents stuffed in the liner of his Army windbreaker.

By 1988, Boone was deeply in debt and took out a loan to pay bills. Later that year, Boone learned he was again being assigned to Germany. His wife refused to go with him and the Army denied his request to house his family in his absence.

So, before leaving for his new post, according to the FBI, Boone visited the Russian Embassy -- showing an employee at the front desk his Fort Meade and Army ID badges -- and provided the first of many NSA documents.

In subsequent visits, Boone allegedly rode his motorcycle to Washington and entered the embassy wearing a wig and fake mustache. There, Boone would submit to hours of interviews with his Soviet handlers, according to the FBI. They established a method to continue the arrangement in Germany, where Boone allegedly would meet beside the Rhine River with the man he came to know as Igor.

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