An Analysis of the Systemic Security Weaknesses of the U. S. Navy Fleet Broadcast System, 1967-1974, as Exploited by CWO John Walker

REACTION to: An Analysis of the Systemic Security Weaknesses of the U. S. Navy Fleet Broadcast System, 1967-1974, as Exploited by CWO John Walker.

In the seven-year period between 1967 and 1974, CWO John Walker ran a spy ring that escaped detection and came to light only because his alcoholic ex-wife reported him out of spite.

The 100-page long thesis, that this paper references to, was written by focusing on finding answers to why the security system of the Navy failed on multiple levels, on multiple instances.

John Walker, born in 1937, grew up with an alcoholic father who eventually abandoned the family after driving them to bankruptcy. Walker spent his teenage years engaged in petty crimes that culminated in a police chase when he was 17. His older brother Arthur Walker, who was in the Navy, convinced the judge to let John join the Navy to “straighten him out”. The Navy petty officer who was in charge, allowed him to join, in spite of knowing of his trouble with the law, as he too was of the mind that the Navy would “do him good”. This popular and prevalent mindset of the times was the first breakdown in the system that was constructed to screen out troublemakers from the Navy. Clearly, Policy was not in tune with culture.

Walker worked well on his Navy jobs, was quickly promoted, and was even granted Secret clearance within a few years. The process to grant initial Secret clearance consisted of the NAC (National Agencies Check) looking into the FBI’s criminal records database and Defense Central Index of Investigations. This was ineffective in John Walker’s case and was reduced to a cursory check that brought up no documents of legal aberrations. He was thus successfully granted Secret clearance and access to classified data.

Walker further went on to gain Top Secret clearance. Gaining a Top Secret clearance involved a field investigation by the DIS (Defense Investigative Services). A professional investigator was specifically in charge of interviewing and investigating the nominee’s credentials to spot any signs of unreliability. His report would further be analyzed by an adjudicator who would take the final call on granting Top Secret clearance. At the point in time, during his Top Secret clearance review, John Walker had been in the Navy for nine years. The investigator did find out of his juvenile records but brushed it aside as Walker seemed to have a “straight” record at the Navy and had already gained Secret clearance. The investigator interviewed his neighbors and fellow officers with questions about whether Walker had financial trouble, problems with alcohol or drugs, was homosexual, or had any contacts with foreigners. No red flags were raised in any of the interviews.

In reality, at that point in time, John Walker and his wife were alcoholics, domestically abused each other, had serious financial problems, and Walker was a notorious womanizer. However, alcohol consumption was accepted as the norm in the Navy, and the American values of “mind your own business” and do not snitch on a co-worker or neighbor, seemed to have won through. Neither the co-worker nor the neighbors seemed to think any of these factors were indicators of untrustworthiness to the Navy. Hence the checks that were in place to help raise flags in the Top Secret clearance investigation failed completely. The process relied too much on the individual discretion and value system of lay people.

Further, when investigative reports were submitted to the adjudicator, the adjudicator was told to rely on “overall common sense” to pass with clearance request. There were no clearly laid out policies or checklists or even guidelines, and again the decision was solely on an individual’s value system, analysis, and discretion.

After obtaining a Top Secret clearance, the candidate was up for reinvestigations every five years, and only then eligible for a renewal of their Top Secret clearance. In the case of John Walker, he was due for a reinvestigation in 1969. He had commenced his spying activities in 1967 and by 1969 his lavish lifestyle (funded by Soviet spying payouts) would have definitely raised red flags. However, the DIS, at that point in time, was facing severe backlogs in processing initial investigations. This caused reinvestigations to suspended for many years and the Top Secret clearance state to be continued unquestioned. This was a grave failure in the Navy security system and operations.

Finally, when John Walker did come up for reinvestigation in 1972, he expected to fail it on multiple levels. He had been living way beyond what the Navy salary would allow, abused alcohol and marijuana, flaunted his affair with numerous women, and his wife had been telling co-workers that he was a spy. John Walker, however, found an all-too-easy solution to remain undetected.

First, he stole the records of a co-worker who had cleared the re-investigation and found that all that was documented was a one-page form stamped with an FBI seal.  He got a counterfeit seal made, stole his own records, filled out his own form, stamped it with the fake FBI seal, and refiled the documents. The security officer didn’t think twice when he saw that the form was already approved by the FBI, and cleared the reinvestigation.

This clearly proved that the reinvestigation was a routine administrative task that was easily circumvented due to the poor physical security measures, lack of policy and enforcement, and lack of thoroughness and accountability.

Given all the above scenarios, it is easy to understand why the Navy security system failed on multiple levels. First in allowing John Walker to be part of the system, and later in allowing him to have Secret and Top Secret clearance. And finally why reinvestigations failed and his spying ring remained undetected.

However, they are no easy answers to what changes would allow improvements.
Should all juvenile delinquents bear the burden of their youth all their life?

Is alcohol abuse a sign of a spy?

Should people be encouraged to snitch on each other, even if it means false implying someone?

Have laws and social values evolved to encompass humanitarian issues – for instance, if Walker had been found to be homosexual would he have been reported at once, and would that have been acceptable, as a factor, for not being reliable?

Hard questions, with no easy answers. And like everything else, working towards more secure systems, especially those that involve humans, is a work in progress.


Heath, M. (2005). An Analysis of the Systemic Security Weaknesses of the U. S. Navy Fleet Broadcast System, 1967-1974, as Exploited by CWO John Walker. Masters Thesis. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U. S. Army Command and General Staff College.