Ronald Pelton was a former intelligence analyst who had worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) when he was arrested and convicted for spying for the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. Pelton exposed to the Soviets one of the US Navy’s biggest intelligence coups of the Cold War, a submarine operation known as Ivy Bells. US submarines had installed taps on submerged telephone cables in Soviet waters, allowing conversations about naval operations to be recorded and the tapes collected by periodic visits from US submarines.
Pelton informed the Soviets of the wiretap’s existence and the Soviets delayed recovering the device for some time, using their knowledge of the operation to feed false information to the Americans. The device was eventually recovered by the Soviets and is in a Russian museum, clearly marked as property of the United States Government.
Pelton resigned from the NSA in 1979, unhappy with his salary, and worked in various jobs – none involved with intelligence operations. He continued to feed information to the Soviets, based on his own memory and on maintaining contacts with former coworkers. He made several visits to the Soviet Embassy in Vienna, Austria and continued to provide information on what he remembered of American espionage activities and methods to the KGB.
In 1985, senior KGB officer Vitaly Yurchenko defected (temporarily) to the United States and revealed to the Americans that Ivy Bells had been compromised, describing in general terms the physical appearance of the former analyst who had provided the information.
The ensuing investigation soon identified Pelton as the culprit and when they confronted him he confessed to having provided classified information to the Soviets for the sum of $35,000. Charged by the federal government, Pelton was convicted in 1986 and three concurrent life sentences placed him in prison until his release in 2015.