The headline shocks came rapid-fire. There was hardly time to catch one’s breath. First came espionage charges against FBI agent Richard Miller. The unthinkable: for the first time in the bureau’s proud history, an agent betrayed his trust.

Next was the bizarre tale of ex-navy warrant officer John Walker, alleged ringleader of a spy ring that included his half-brother and young sailor son.

Days later, a covert operator for the CIA in Ghana, Sharon Scranage, was indicted on 18 counts of espionage.

Then FBI agents arrested Col. Wayne Gilespie, West Pointer and Vietnam veteran, for selling weapons to Iran.

The spate of cases sent tremors through Washington. Military brass promised a tightening of security, while Congress quickly voted on a capital punishment statute for spies.

The cases brought concern to the country as well. In VFW halls and hard-hat bars, in the churches and living rooms where folks still talk unashamedly about things like patriotism and duty, grief was mixed with anger. It seemed an epidemic was sweeping the very institutions most Americans revere as bastions of our values and liberties. Why?

Most commentators saw the scandals as simply individuals succumbing to age-old temptations. That is certainly plausible in a society that relentlessly pursues power, pleasure, and possessions; and such motives were apparent in each case.

John Walker played James Bond with gusto, dashing about in his plane, sailing his sloop in the company of glamorous women. His arrest crowned his fantasy, as Walker crowed giddily, “I’m a celebrity!”

Greed might have snared Wayne Gilespie. The colonel, a 29-year veteran, was about to retire and enter the arms business. Other retired officers landed cushy jobs with defense contractors, so why ...

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