Former sergeant first class arrested for espionage
Aug. 23, 1988
As a hard-working noncommissioned officer in the G3 War Plans Section of the 8th Infantry, Sgt. 1st Class Clyde Conrad was known simply as “Mr. Plans.” Conrad had spent nearly 16 of his 20-year Army career in Germany, most of it in the 8th Infantry Division. He was well-liked, trusted, and respected by peers, subordinates and supervisors alike. Many of his supervisors had even pulled bureaucratic strings to keep him at this sensitive assignment.
Comfortably fluent in German, he married a German woman with two children of her own in 1969, and they had a third child a few years later. With his instant family, Conrad found that his Army paycheck did not quite meet the need. That need, combined with his a top secret security clearance, access to a vault full of classified documents, and the keys to a classified photocopier made him a perfect target for recruitment as a spy.
That call came in 1975. His boss was Sgt. 1st Class Zoltan Szabo, an American Soldier of Hungarian descent – a decorated Vietnam veteran whose real loyalties were with the Hungarian Military Intelligence Service. He had been selling U.S. secrets to his homeland since 1971.
When Szabo retired from the U.S. military, he needed someone else on the inside to carry on his espionage activities. Szabo approached Conrad and asked if he wanted to earn some extra money. Conrad accepted. Szabo then helped Conrad make contact with two Swedish citizens who were also Hungarian-born. They helped Conrad set up a courier system which ultimately hand-delivered more than 30,000 top secret materials to the communist governments of Hungary and Czechoslovakia between 1975 and 1986. These documents then made their way to Moscow and the Soviet KGB.
The damage was irreparable. Conrad sold NATO’s war plans, including detailed descriptions of nuclear weapon locations and movements of troops, tanks and aircraft. These documents were so sensitive that had a major conflict broken out, Western Europe would have had no recourse other than to surrender.
Over the course of 13 years, Conrad recruited a number of low-paid enlisted Soldiers, targeting them by promising them large amounts of money. Many of them joined the spy ring. Some did not, but none of them reported the contact to authorities.
Four years after Conrad turned traitor and began selling secrets, the CIA learned that Moscow was in possession of U.S. war plans. The CIA warned the Foreign Counterintelligence Agency, or FCA, which began looking for a traitor in their midst. Because of the nature of the leaked material, the FCA focused on V Corps as the likely source of the breach.
In 1985, counterintelligence agents were able to develop a profile of the perpetrator. They then drew up a list of suspects and in 1986 identified Clyde Conrad, who fit the profile perfectly.
Conrad was living well-above his means, depositing large sums of money in numerous bank accounts, with take-home pay of $764 a month. He had no second job and a wife who did not work, but he had two new cars in the driveway and enough cash on hand that he did not notice when his retirement pay had not been deposited for several months in a row. Conrad had to have another source of income.
The Army was convinced Conrad was their man, but there were other problems. The Justice Department required Army counterintelligence to build an enormous amount of evidence to ensure conviction. Living as a civilian in Germany, Conrad could not be arrested by the military police and the American FBI had no jurisdiction in Germany. In order to prosecute him, the Army had to bring German authorities in on the case, and there was no telling how the German police would react.
Patience and perseverance paid off, however, and on Aug. 23, 1988, the German police arrested Conrad at his home. The trial, held in German courts and prosecuted by German lawyers, ended with Conrad being convicted of high treason and espionage in 1990. He was sentenced to life in prison for committing the most serious act of espionage ever perpetrated against NATO.
Clyde Lee Conrad committed treason against his country and the uniform he wore for 20 years. Over the course of 13 years, he is reported to have received more than one million dollars for selling his country’s secrets. His punishment was the stiffest sentence a German court had ever handed down for espionage.
But Conrad’s life sentence only lasted eight years. On Jan. 8, 1998, at 50, he died of heart failure in a German prison.