The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, May 21, 1995                   TAG: 9505210044
SECTION: FRONT                    PAGE: A7   EDITION: FINAL 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   57 lines


A retired high-level KGB officer says the Walker spy ring caused a breach in U.S. security that was unprecedented in the history of espionage. But he draws sharp distinctions among the roles played by various members of the ring, and brushes off Arthur Walker's involvement as inconsequential.

Of the four men convicted in the case, the two most important by far were the ringleader, John Walker, and his friend Jerry Whitworth, said Boris Solomatin, who as deputy director of Soviet foreign intelligence operations played a key role in the ``handling'' of Walker and his associates.

Solomatin was interviewed for an article in The Washington Post Magazine last month by Pete Earley, a Northern Virginia author who wrote a book about the Walker case.

The reason John Walker and Whitworth were so important, Solomatin said, was that they provided the Soviets cryptographic information that allowed them to decipher top-secret U.S. message traffic.

``For more than 17 years, Walker enabled your enemies to read your most sensitive military secrets,'' he said. ``We knew everything! There has never been a security breach of this magnitude and length in the history of espionage.''

But the material provided by Arthur Walker, John's brother, and by Michael Walker, John's son, pales beside the code-breaking secrets that came from John Walker and Whitworth, Solomatin said.

``There is absolutely no comparison between the information given by them and these other two fellows - the brother and the son,'' he said. ``Their information was inferior. . . . ''

Solomatin also drew a distinction between the Walker case and the case of Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent who revealed names of Russians working for the CIA.

``Information from Ames would have been used to identify traitors,'' he said. ``. . . Walker's information not only provided us with ongoing intelligence, but helped us over time to understand and study how your military actually thinks.''

Did Walker's activities lead to any American deaths? Solomatin's comments lend weight to the argument that they did not - even though the potential existed.

Some of the codes John Walker sold the Soviets could have been used to decipher plans for U.S. bombing raids and troop movements in the Vietnam War. If the Soviets had passed that information to their North Vietnamese allies, it could have contributed to U.S. battlefield losses.

But ``the handing over to the Vietnamese, in any form, of information or data which we got from Walker was contrary to our own interests because it could lead to him being exposed,'' Solomatin said. ``And to run the risk in this would be silly.''