bullet  Lalas was caught only because a conscientious State Department official observed something amiss and reported it. A Greek official was aware of information that could only have come from a secret communication between the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the State Department.

Lalas: Something Wasn't Right

Steven J. Lalas, an American of Greek descent, was a State Department communications officer stationed with the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. He also served at posts in Belgrade, Istanbul, and Taiwan. Charged with passing sensitive military information to Greek officials, he was arrested in Northern Virginia on May 3, 1993.

The U.S. Government received the first tip that led to identification of Lalas as a spy as a result of an accidental slip in a conversation between an official of the Greek Embassy in Washington and a State Department official. The Greek official knew of information that could  only have come from a secret communication between the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the State Department. The State Department official recognized something wasn't right and reported it. This led to an investigation, and Lalas was later observed through a video monitoring system stealing documents intended for destruction.

Lalas originally claimed he had been recruited by Greek military officials in 1991, and that he feared for the welfare of relatives then living in Greece if he had not cooperated. Authorities later discovered that he began spying for the Greek government in 1977 while with the U.S. Army.

He passed an estimated 700 highly classified documents, including papers dealing with plans and readiness for U.S. military strategy in the Balkans and a U. S. assessment of Greece’s intentions toward the former Yugoslavia. Athens was Lalas’ fourth communications posting with the State Department. During his espionage career he earned a steady income stealing, then selling, DIA reports about troop strength, political analyses, and military discussions contained in cables between the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the White House. He also provided information from FBI communications about counterterrorism efforts, and the names and job descriptions of CIA personnel stationed overseas.

Greek handlers allegedly paid him $20,000 for about 240 documents over a three- year period ending with his arrest.

In June 1993, Lalas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage and on September 16 of that year was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison without possibility of parole. Prosecutors had recommended the 14-year sentence in return for Lalas’ promise to reveal what documents he turned over and to whom.

The full extent of his espionage activity was confirmed prior to his sentencing only after he failed two FBI polygraph examinations. Lalas is presently serving his sentence in federal prison.

Related Topic: How Spies Are Caught.

"Profile of a Spy," in Security Matters, the FBI Security Education Bulletin. Summer 1996.