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THE SPARROW'S PREY

11:00 PM, Mar 31, 1996 • By WOODY WEST
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VcKOletta was not a classic GB "swallow," trained to ompromise foreign officials. She was a "sparrow," say, in the sense that the late Evil Empire kept as keen an eye on its citizens as Providence is supposed to on each small bird. Clayton was a target of opportunity, not too swift a boy and looking for the love of a good woman, or something approximating that.


A translator at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Violetta Seina did not rebuff the awkward advances of Clayton Lonetree, a sergeant in the embassy's Marine guard. One thing led to another, as things will, and friendly "Uncle Sasha" appeared. Presently the Marine was passing interesting data to Uncle Sasha, who was, of course, no uncle.


This was disclosed in January 1987, and the press went berserk with what was soon dubbed the "Marine Spy Scandal." The buzz was that more Marines than the 25-year-old American Indian might have been snared by the KGB and the embassy itself thoroughly penetrated. Not long after, a second I/Vood), //Vc. s't i.," associate editor -the Washington Times. Marine admitted to spying, and the reportorial pack was off in full throat as assorted government agencies scuttled for the bunkers. (The second Marine's confessional torrent could not be corroborated at all, and charges were dropped.) In 1987 Lonetree was convicted by a court-martial on charges of espionage. % That he was the first Marine to betray his country in such a fashion was not mitigated by his disclosing the nasty business himself. The sentence was 30 years, reduced to 25 for his cooperation in trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. Not that much really, it would turn out, beyond Lonetree's loathsome adventures; he had unforgivably given the Soviets useful information. Late last month, Clayton Lonetree, whose sentence had been reduced to 15 years in procedural twists, walked out of military prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. He had served eight years.


This bizarre case is reprised well by Rodney Barker in a luridly titled book, Dancing with the Devil: Sex, Espionage, and the U.S. Marines: The Clayton Lonetree Story (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages, $ 24). Barker rounds out the context and fills in the wide gaps in the news coverage of the revelations. He has talked to lots of people, read lots of trial transcript, gone to Russia and chatted with ex-KGB agents and the sparrow, Violetta.


He provides an incisive portrait of an unstable young man who scored so low on the qualifying test that he never should have been an embassy guard. But, with a nudge from a U.S. senator from Minnesota who suggested the test was " culturally biased," Lonetree got a second try and, we're told, passed -- a bit of 1 the old quota game by the Marine Corps, where quotas don't exist.


TThe author hammers the CIA for its mulish refusal to cooperate with the Naval Investigative Service. The reason would emerge while Lonetree was in prison: Aldrich Ames. Ames, as we now know, had a long and sordid career as a Soviet spy, the gang at Langley blundering about while Ames tipped off the Soviets and caused the deaths of at least 10 U.S. agents abroad. Barker contends that the KGB was not displeased at the eruption of the penny-ante Lonetree case because they felt it might provide a false trail and thus protect their cherished mole, Ames -- now serving a life sentence and complaining about how beastly his incarceration is.


The author is critical as well of a lethargic State Department, under whose jurisdiction the Marines on embassy duty fall. The Naval Investigative Service gets gentler treatment, and it was clearly a significant source for Barker. The Naval Investigative Service was excoriated on Capitol Hill (the font of incessant and, as it proved, wildly inaccurate leaks) and scourged in the press for bureaucratic feebleness.


But the most egregious player is the recently deceased William Kunstler, for whom radical causes were profound and clients incidental. Kunstler played every stop on his fardeft flute when Lonetree's parents got him into the case -- claiming the Marine was a victim of racism, ethnic discrimination, diabolical mis- and malfeasance by a corrupt U.S. government, and the perversity of the military justice system.


Indeed, Barker writes, with the evidence making Lonetree's conviction likely, Kunstler scuttled a deal that might have gotten the befuddled Marine off with five years. Such a deal would have deprived Kunstler of his podium and attentive pressies.

 

It would appear that the author has reported thoroughly, but it is disconcerting to find errors in small things with which one is familiar, as they cause one to wonder about larger ones.