David H. Barnett’s Espionage Case

Topic: Politicians
Words: 1952 Pages: 7

Introduction and Basic Outline of the Case History

The name of David Henry Barnett presumably is among the strongest associations with spycraft due to the dimensions of his crime that are quite common and special in parallel. Notably, he is one of the Central Intelligence Agency officers who engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union. He pleaded guilty in 1980 and was original to serve 18 years in prison (Taubman, 1981, para. 1). He was not the first spy but only the second CIA member to have participated in such activities. Specifically, four years earlier, the FBI had apprehended Edwin G Moore II for his attempt to sell top-secret information to Soviet officials (Defense Human Resources Activity, n.d.). The low frequency of similar occasions actually makes the case outstanding.

Barnett worked for the CIA in the 1960s and traveled extensively worldwide within the framework of his responsibilities. His destinations mainly involved several countries in Asia, where he decided to stay. In 1970, he left the Agency and tried to start businesses in Indonesia, notably a shrimp factory and a furniture export company (O’Toole, 1980, para. 17). He failed both times, however, and found himself in substantial debt, which made him declare bankruptcy and search for alternative ways to make a living.

Seeking to survive, Barnett opted to sell classified data, which he had in possession, to the Soviets to alleviate his anxieties about the US administration. In 1976, in Jakarta, Indonesia, he contacted the authorities and offered to give them the identities of a range of CIA agents (O’Toole, 1980, para. 18). During negotiations at the Soviet Union’s Embassy in Vienna in the following three years, around 30 CIA personnel were divulged to the KGB. In addition, the ex-official turned over the information his colleagues had gathered during the undercover operation under the code name HABRINK. The latter aimed to collect examples of the military machinery that the Soviet Union had supplied to the Indonesians throughout the previous decade (Taubman, 1981). Another topic that Barnett touched on was the activity of the CIA in Indonesia and South Korea, including the identities of the informants in both countries.

The adventure proved to be quite profitable, notwithstanding the risks. The total sum that the Soviets paid Barnett may reach $92,000, as the Defense Human Resources Activity (n.d.) mentions (para. 1). The KGB and the former CIA officer most probably stayed in contact from 1976 to 1979. Throughout that period, the latter also applied for positions in the government on the instructions of his Soviet supervisors but did not succeed (“Espionage: Living on burrowed time”, 1980, para. 5). In 1979, however, the CIA recruited Barnett again as a content agent; therefore, he probably would have been able to divulge other secrets in the future if he had gone undiscovered at the time.

The actual end of the story, meanwhile, was not quite happy for the veteran. The reason for that was one of the KGB officers, Col. Vladimir M. Piguzov, who was stationed in Jakarta and whom the CIA previously had hired as a double agent. Soon after Barnett returned to the Agency, Piguzov provided sufficient data to identify him as a spy (Gearon, 2020). It is quite ironic that another famous intelligencer, Aldrich Ames, betrayed Piguzov himself several years later, which led to his execution (Earley, 1998). The CIA was bound to make Barnett resign in response to the request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The latter actually had begun to question the suspect even before his dismissal. Notably, the first interview occurred at his workplace on March 18, 1980 (The National Counterintelligence and Security Center, n.d., p. 172). In October, he accepted a plea deal admitting to transmitting sensitive CIA data to the Soviets. After serving ten years in jail, the spy was granted early release in 1990 and died on November 19, 1993.

Key Investigative Steps and Legal Issues

To comprehend the investigative process fully, it is critical to make a distinction between investigative tasks and thought. The former lie in acquiring information that allows for ideas and findings.

Regarding investigative thinking, Gehl and Plecas (2016) define it as “the process of analyzing information and theorizing to develop investigative plans” (Ch. 4, para. 2). It is quite apparent that the thought follows the tasks, which stages comprise the process of investigation. Before policy implementation in the inquiry, thinking includes deliberations and the determination of responsibilities.

Following the collection of the evidence, the analysis of the data, and the validation of the hypotheses, the action and proof of the reasonable grounds to believe normally are completed. In the case under review, this enabled the arrest of David H. Barnett in the end. Because criminal incidents are unpredictable, being aware of the precautions aided the investigative team throughout their inquiry. Notably, it was essential to identify the suspect and establish reasons before the arrest was possible. These procedures are mandatory, regardless of how events develop or when evidence is obtained.

It is worth noting that the type and the current condition of the event determine that of the so-called investigative reaction. Simply stated, the tactical response of the investigator normally is at the same level of intensity as the situation in which he or she is working (Gehl and Plecas, 2016). In the instance of David H. Barnett, the event is inert and passive, and the investigation was also quite slow. An investigator needs to grasp the differences between the levels of response since they involve, among other things, a variety of different response procedures, legal powers, and authority restrictions.

An experiment begins with the participants engaging in mental processes and forming judgments about the occurrences that they can observe at the outset. If the problem is urgent and demands quick and decisive tactical action or a stalemate that is possible to handle with a less crucial, longer-term, and more strategic approach depends on the circumstances. The strategic investigative reaction actually differs from tactical types of responses, as this is a lengthier and more deliberate process (Gehl and Plecas, 2016). Analyzing these situational components of an active or inactive event is referred to as categorization. Due to the passiveness of David H. Barnett’s espionage case, it apparently required strategic approaches.

Notably, the offenders were identified, and the specific offense was determined that triggered the investigators’ thoughts, pushing them to search for evidence that supported the components of the recognized crime in the issue. When the officers faced the choice of entering a potentially dangerous situation alone or waiting for reinforcements, they needed to examine the standard or benchmark. This is the necessary practice that is possible to regard as the next

stage of categorization, which lies in deciding whether to react or request assistance in specific scenarios depending on the evidence.

The plea, Trial, and Results


After participating in plea discussions with the Department of Justice, Barnett was charged with criminal conspiracy and sentenced to jail. The allegations against him initially were reduced to a single count because he had promised to furnish the government with complete information about his interactions with Soviet agents (The National Counterintelligence and Security Center, n.d.). Senior Justice Department officials said that Barnett was accommodating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other law enforcement organizations (Taubman, 1981). Using a polygraph, or a lie detector, strengthened Barnett’s honesty and forthrightness.


The case, however, was quite ambiguous both in moral and legal terms. In one respect, according to the attorney David D. Queen, Barnett did not reveal all of his knowledge of American operations to the KGB (Taubman, 1981). That was a significant step in the right direction for the nation. In contrast, he did supply the Russians with the most potentially harmful information that he had in his control at the time of the incident. This apparently was the main reason why another attorney, Dennis C. Kolenda, did not succeed in persuading the judge to be kind to his client. Neither was his cooperation with the police sufficiently helpful in requalifying the severity of the sentence.

The prosecution focused not exclusively on the fact that Barnett had provided Soviet operatives with sensitive information, which he had collected while working for the Central Intelligence Agency in Indonesia. In addition to that, as mentioned above, the Russians made him apply for Senate and House intelligence committees positions, specifically in 1977 and 1978 (“Espionage: Living on burrowed time”, 1980, para. 5). Both committees had access to a significant amount of highly classified intelligence material, which apparently was Barnett’s main motivation. Furthermore, he confirmed to prosecutors that, although he had tried to deceive his supervisors, those attempts had been fake (Taubman, 1981). He had no intention of harming the Soviet side in any as a result of his efforts. Therefore, after being arrested and charged with fraud conspiracy, Barnett was sentenced to serving 18 years in prison, although with a chance for parole.


As apparent from the above, Barnett’s integration into the Central Intelligence Agency was quite deep. Originally, the future spy ceased his service in the CIA in the early 1970s after 12 years of cooperation. In 1979, however, he accepted a new job offer from the Agency and returned to the US. Since then, his work lies in giving counterintelligence training to contractors (“Espionage: Living on burrowed time”, 1980, para. 5”). Therefore, the above possibility that he would have continued to transmit classified data to the KGB was not the only danger that could have emerged from rehiring him. A counterintelligence agent collaborating with the opposing side could have discredited the national authorities for a long while, if not forever.

In addition, the information leak that he caused compromised the covert operation HABRINK. This is the code name of the intelligence gathering organization that operated in the 1960s to collect data on the weapons that Indonesia had purchased from the Soviet Union (O’Toole, 1980). Its disclosure bore a substantial threat to national security, which actually played the biggest role in the decision on David H Barnett.

It is critical that espionage and spying operations have substantial repercussions on the leadership of the US government and that people and teams engaging in such activities are publicly exposed. Barnett, as said above, actually was not unique in these terms; only between 1975 and 1980 did around 15 people received similar acquisitions (Defense Human Resources Activity, n.d.). However, this kind of espionage is quite unusual and unlikely to occur, as only two, including Barnett himself, of those dozen and a half persons, were CIA agents.

On the contrary, Barnett’s activity may have had not solely negative results. An essential nuance is that the addressee of the classified information that the spies transmitted was the Soviet Union in the vast majority of cases (Defense Human Resources Activity, n.d.). At the time, many people were worried about Russia’s attempts to spy on the United States. Meanwhile, the evaluation of similar occasions may have aided the US government in developing an effective anti-espionage policy, which is more beneficial than harmful.


Notwithstanding the relatively high rates of espionage in the United States in the late 1970s, David H Barnett was only the second officer of the Central Intelligence Agency to have been a spy for the Soviet Union. This fact actually is sufficient to make his case outstanding; another reason is the degree of the resulting damage to national security. In brief, the CIA hired the person who had transmitted the data on one of the most essential undercover operations to the opponent to teach counterintelligence. Fortunately, he was denounced soon, but the fact that he had provided sensitive information on HABRINK to the Soviet Union determined his sentence.


The Defense Human Resources Activity. (n.d.). Espionage cases: 1975-1980. Web.

Earley, P. (1998). Confessions of a spy: The real story of Aldrich Ames. Berkley Books.

Espionage: Living on burrowed time. (1980). Time. Web.

Gearon, L. F. (Ed.). (2020). The Routledge international handbook of universities, security and intelligence studies. Routledge.

Gehl, Rod & Plecas, Darryl. (2016). Introduction to the criminal investigation: Processes, practices and thinking. Web.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center. (n.d.) CI Reader Volume III. Web.

O’Toole, T. (1980). Ex-CIA agent pleads guilty to spying. Washington Post. Web.

Taubman, P. (1981). Former CIA agent who spied for Soviets sentenced to 18 years. The New York Times. Web.

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