The Fall of the Falcon and How Top Security Access Changed — Or Didn’t

By Jay Holmes

In the past two weeks, we looked at how two of America’s recent traitors, Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, developed from childhood friends into spies for the Soviet Union. See When Altar Boys Get Bored–The TRW National Security Disaster, and Why You Don’t Want Chemically-Enhanced Partners in Treason.

Top Secret Canstock

After their brief and all-too-productive careers as spies, Federal Marshals arrested Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee in January, 1977. By May, they were convicted of espionage. Boyce was given a 40-year sentence. Due to his higher number of convictions and the fact that he had violated his parole from prior drug dealing convictions, Lee was given a life sentence.

The trial was markedly speedy. I’ve always wondered if the federal judges and prosecutors were in a hurry to get it done and out of the news as quickly as possible. There was plenty of embarrassment to go around, and too many taxpayers might have asked too many questions too loudly about how much tax money they were giving TRW to carelessly allow so much Top Secret information stroll out their door.

Boyce and Lee were clearly guilty of espionage and deserved the infamy that came their way. In my view, they deserved worse than they got. But Boyce never should have had access to the information that he sold to the Soviets in the first place. The sloppy practices that allowed Top Secret communications and telemetry codes to be so easily stolen deserved close scrutiny by the federal government. If any such scrutiny occurred, it happened very quietly and remains a remarkably well-guarded secret. Any ramifications to TRW Corporation, the NSA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the CIA—if they occurred at all—were far better hidden than all of the Top Secret data in their collective care.

Boyce and Lee started serving their sentences at Terminal Island federal prison in California.  After a while, Boyce was moved to a jail in San Diego. I assume that the move was to make it easier for investigators to do follow up interrogations, as they were never certain that they had the full story. Counter Intelligence agents in the FBI and CIA likely wondered if there were even more spies at TRW.

On July 10, 1979, Boyce was transferred to a federal prison in Lompoc, California. Neither Boyce nor Lee was fond of prison life. The social status of a convicted traitor in prison is close to that of a pedophile. Life was appropriately unpleasant for them at the bottom of the prison social ladder.

Boyce was smart enough and patient enough to carefully plan an escape. He took up jogging and ran laps to build his endurance. On January 21, 1980, Boyce escaped from Lompoc prison. He ran all night to gain as much distance as possible. He stole some clothes from a clothes line and managed to elude capture.

After Boyce’s escape, Lee was moved to a higher security federal prison in Marion, Illionos.  Lee claims that that ended his “friendship” with Boyce.

Now free but on the lamb, Boyce faced serious challenges. How would he escape the notice of alert passerbys or the occasional FBI agents and US Marshals that he might run in to in his day? How would he eat? Boyce’s one career skill, the “my FBI daddy got me this job” option, was no longer available to him.

Boyce started on a new career in bank robbery as the cornerstone of his financial planning. He befriended a single mom with a strong anti-establishment, anti-social outlook, and she became his bank robbing assistant.

Generally, bank robbers plan and execute profitable enough robberies to net enough cash to keep them from having to take the risk too often. Bank robbery is a dangerous crime. It can easily escalate to multiple murders, which then attract the interest of major law enforcement assets such as the FBI and state police. Bank robberies in Western states have an additional risk. Sometimes an impatient customer doesn’t like having his busy schedule interrupted by a snotty little bank robber, and he simply pulls a weapon and shoots the crook. Unfortunately, Boyce never robbed a bank that I happened to be standing in, so I never got the chance to shoot him. Neither did anyone else.

Boyce and his pickup team of latter day bank robbers may not have been too clear on the best model for successful heists, but they managed to rob 17 banks without being killed or captured. I have to give them credit for getting away with their hides intact.

Boyce developed the alias of “Anthony Edward Lester.” He knew he couldn’t live as a fugitive in the US forever, so he took flying lessons and planned to fly to the Soviet Union. He naively believed that the KGB would offer him an active commission as an officer in the Soviet military.

The USSR always maintained reputable training facilities for military officers. They turned out well-trained, intelligent officers, and Boyce would not have been given any sort of real commission. Might they have given him some cute medals and certificates to hang on the limited wall space of a small apartment in Moscow? Sure. Would they have given him a manuscript to sign off on and then publish it for him? You bet they would have. Would the Soviets have been so dumb as to treat Boyce like a real adult and make him an active officer in the KGB or Soviet military? Unfortunately, they were always smarter than that. The Soviets would have probably propped him up for propaganda purposes, but his life in the USSR would have been little better than life in a federal prison in the US.

As Boyce slowly increased his piloting skills, the FBI and US Marshals Service were each conducting “manhunts” for him and closing in. In August of 1981, the feds received a viable tip from one of Boyce’s  bank robbery teammates that Boyce was in Port Angeles, Washington. A task force of eighteen US Marshals, six FBI agents, and a US Border Patrol agent was formed and began a systematic investigation in Port Angeles.

On August 21, 1981, two US Marshals pulled into a drive-in restaurant, The Pit Stop. There sat Christopher Boyce. The temptation to immediately draw down on him must have been intense. The Marshals were calm and disciplined. They called for back-up. Once they had five agents in place, they arrested Boyce. Boyce received another conviction for his escape and was returned to prison.

In recent years, both Boyce and Lee were paroled. Their life as spies is over, but questions remain about their cases. Why was there apparently no negative consequence to the people at TRW who were responsible for the handling and security of the Top Secret information? TRW has since been involved in other scandals, including illegal dumping of dangerous chemicals and hazardous work place practices. They and many other companies with histories of shabby security practices remain beneficiaries of multibillion dollar defense and intelligence contracts.

TRW in Asia

Boyce and Lee were amateurs. Lee all but begged to be caught. But were there other and more sober employees at TRW and other contractors that remain at large? Since 9-11, we have seen sweeping changes in law enforcement and politics. The US Congress and the past and present Presidents all claim a desperate need for more invasive domestic surveillance in order that we might survive one more day. And yet we have the same open borders and the same sloppy handling of our own top secrets.

As I send this article to my fearless warrior-editor, TRW and other federal contractors are in a legal fight over alleged improper bidding practices by TRW in its attempt to gain yet another huge contract for the next generation of US spy satellites. It is my considered opinion that what occurred at TRW in the 70s could still be happening there today, and at any other contractor that handles secret information for the US government. Private Bradley Manning has demonstrated that it can just as easily still be happening with government employees, as well.

Remember the old saying about closing the barn door after the horse has escaped?  The Falcon has long fallen, and the Snowman melted, but in our ever-increasing zeal to know everything about every citizen, have we even bothered to close the barn door?  I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.


6 comments on “The Fall of the Falcon and How Top Security Access Changed — Or Didn’t

  1. tomwisk says:

    Again, allowing multinational companies access to classified information regardless of their function in the system is not only stupid but it is too much of a temptation for high school drop-outs to look for their moment in the spotlight. Snowden had the potential of becoming another Oswald. A trip to the USSR, disillusionment, return home, discovery he’s a loser and the reach for the brass ring. In Oswald’s case it was a political assassination, Snowden doesn’t seem to have the cojones to do anything that rash but you never know.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Tomwisk. I agree about our lack of caution with classified data. Some of the technology no longer even needs to be stolen. We paid how many billions in bailout party money to GM after their decades of horrendous mismanagement. This was done in the name of “saving American jobs.” GM then turned around and not only expanded factories in communist China, but opened engineering and advanced research facilities there. All that happened as China was becoming more transparently expansionist.

      It’s not just the continuing mess at TRW, GM, and other international corporations, it’s open season on American technology and classified information. The root responsibility belongs to our elected officials.

      Not only have we failed to “close the barn door,” but US taxpayer money is being used to herd the cattle out of the barn for foreign benefit. All this while Americans become less employed for lower wages and with greater national debt on their shoulders.

      • tomwisk says:

        Yep the fox has left the hen house and we have egg on our faces. Ecuador? Aren’t there some malleable malcontents down there who could expedite Mr Snowden’s, er, sudden , cover departure?

  2. Dave says:

    A sobering reminder of what happens when someone is immune from the consequences of their actions. How often is anyone at the top of a corporation held criminally liable for those acting on behalf of its investors? It is, in fact, an ethics violation for attorneys working at a company to reveal information about their client’s illegal activities. I’m not anti-business, but I have a problem with companies that invest in lobbying to buy influence so that public funds are redirected to benefit a select few or purchase immunity.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Dave. it’s amazing that as transparency in public funding becomes ever more occluded, the average voter has less and less privacy from the government that we employ and pay to represent us.

      • Dave says:

        What amazes me the most is that most people consider this an issue of politics. It reminds me of a magician directing attention away from the real action. Our elections become louder and louder political theater, while quietly our ability to actually influence the responsiveness of our government is disappearing quickly. And almost no one seems to be disturbed by it. On the right, it’s about national security. On the left, it’s underpinned by a belief that more government can be part of the solution. Underneath, though, it’s all about the money. History says it is all about us getting screwed.

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