In December 1996 Pitts, a 43-year-old Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent with 13 years of experience, was arrested at the Quantico training academy and charged with passing classified data to the Soviets between 1987 and 1992 for more than $224,000.
In July 1987 Pitts, a former army officer who had served in U.S. Special Forces, while assigned to the New York Field Office had approached a KGB officer at the Soviet mission to the United Nations with an offer to sell him information, including a document entitled Counterintelligence: Identifying Foreign Agents. The KGB accepted the offer. Having been paid $129,000, with another $100,000 allegedly placed in a foreign bank account, Pitts broke off contact with the KGB in 1992, but when the FBI learned of his duplicity from a Central Intelligence Agency source code-named GT/AVENGER, one of Pitts’s handlers, Aleksandr Karpov, whom Pitts had met at least nine times, was himself recruited by the FBI. A sting operation was mounted to entrap Pitts into further acts of espionage, which was complicated at the outset when Pitts’s wife Mary, an ex-employee of the FBI, reported her suspicions about her husband within two days of it being initiated. A man had called at their home claiming to be a real estate agent, but she had not believed him. Later she had searched his desk and found a letter addressed to a Soviet.
The FBI ran the operation for 15 months, during which Pitts was monitored making 22 drops of classified information in exchange for $65,000. In February 1997, after the FBI had seized his personal computer, which contained a highly incriminating letter addressed to his supposed KGB case officer, Pitts pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage; in June, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison. The prosecution conceded that all the material he had compromised had been below the level of Top Secret, so he did not have to face a life sentence.
At the time of his arrest, Pitts had been transferred to personnel security and security education, a position in which he was responsible for lecturing others on the importance of the Bureau’s security procedures. As an explanation of his own espionage, Pitts later claimed various grievances, including his posting to the New York Field Office where, he complained, his living expenses were simply too high, thus forcing him into selling secrets to make ends meet. Significantly, he asserted that he had deduced from the attitude of his KGB handlers that there must have been another, more senior penetration of the FBI active simultaneously, and although this claim was taken seriously by Special Agent Kimmel, it did not have any impact until the arrest of Robert Hanssen in February 2001. When asked who the other mole might have been, Pitts had replied, “Robert Hanssen.”