The NSA Has a Long History of Smearing Leakers as 'Sexual Deviates'
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But as later news reports and NSA files would show, the duo quickly soured on Soviet life, concluding they made a mistake. Over the years, they repeatedly attempted to return to the U.S. if the government wouldn’t charge them with a crime (no deal, said the feds). They introduced themselves to visiting Americans, including touring band leader Benny Goodman, seeking their aid in returning. In a Soviet newspaper interview, Martin called his defection “foolhardy,” but said he wasn’t ashamed. He told another person the Russians actually didn’t trust him, “for he is under constant surveillance by them and given work only of the lowest order of priority,” NSA files state.
Cohort Mitchell, who spoke little Russian, had become morose and a heavy drinker, some sources said, willing to do whatever it took to get out of the country. The NSA and other agencies spied on the ex-spies for decades. By 1975, according to government files, Martin was hitting the bottle, too. “Martin was described by one source as being ‘totally on the skids,’ an incurable alcoholic, and surrounded by degenerates and devoted to the practice of sexual perversions” – though not the homosexual kind of old. Once a fit 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Martin had become a “sweaty … seedy” man of over 200 pounds.
They later melded into Soviet life. And then they died. Mitchell lived the longest, spending four decades in Russia. When he died at age 72, he was buried in St. Petersburg in November 2001. Martin, it turned out, returned to American soil in 1987. A diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico states: “William H. Martin died of cancer at Hospital Del Mar in Tijuana on January 17, 1987.” He was three months short of his 56th birthday, and was able to depart the Soviet Union a few years earlier apparently by using an Australian passport. “Burial,” the cable noted, “took place in the United States.” No location or details were provided.
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The defections would mark a historical turning point in employment protocol at Fort Meade, and the purging and persecution of homosexual government workers. In 1960 the NSA immediately began searching for any other sexual deviants in its ranks, eventually firing 26 employees suspected of being security risks because of their alleged perversions. Looking back, some of the defectors’ neighbors and co-workers told investigators that if they’d been more vigilant about the pair’s sexual proclivities, maybe they’d have been more suspicious of their patriotism. The media happily ran with the story. Among others, the Los Angeles Times reported the two were likely part of a ring of homosexuals who “recruit other sex deviates for federal jobs.” Hearst papers referred to “the two defecting blackmailed homosexual specialists” as a “love team.” The defectors had unwittingly revived a lavender wave set in motion by an infamous 1951 exposé, “Washington Confidential.” That best-seller called D.C. “a garden of pansies” with 6,000 homosexuals on the government payroll, stating that “if you’re wondering where your wandering semi-boy is tonight, he’s probably in Washington.” Adding to the riptide was a HUAC report that concluded Martin was “sexually abnormal; in fact, a masochist,” while Mitchell, who had once posed for nude color slides perched on a velvet-covered stool, had supposedly been outed by his psychiatrist.
In some places, the lavender defector story lives on today. A 1991 Pentagon study of paraphilia (kinky or bizarre sexual behaviors) issued by the Defense Security Service and accessible online named Martin and Mitchell as “publicly known homosexuals” who betrayed their country. Some political and religious websites refer to the two as gay, and a 1997 book, “The Homosexual Revolution,” informs readers that the two “were homosexuals who had been permitted access to classified information.”