Earl Edwin Pitts was born on September 23, 1953 and hailed from Urbana, Missouri. He attended Central Missouri State University from which he received a Bachelor of Science degree. He followed this by receiving a Masters degree from Webster College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri Kansas City. From 1975 until 1980 he served in active duty for the United States Army. He joined the FBI in 1983 and worked in the Alexandria, Virginia field office. He moved on to the Fredericksburg Resident Agency and remained there until 1987 when he was assigned to the New York office. In 1989 he received a promotion (to Supervisory Special Agent) and was transferred to the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and served in the Records Management Division. In 1992, Pitts, also an attorney, was moved to the Legal Counsel Division where he handled civil litigation as well as matters that related to DNA evidence. Finally, in 1995 he was transferred to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA.
Pitts had put together a very impressive resume and was well thought of within the bureau as he was continually promoted and placed in positions with access to valuable information. He had access to Top Secret information as well as “code word” clearances for “access to sensitive compartmented information” beginning in 1989. He was also privy to “Sensitive Compartmented information” until 1991. What his colleagues and supervisors did not know was that he was betraying them and passing the information along to a Soviet contact. According to an FBI press release in 1996, while in New York, Pitts was given access to “a wide range of sensitive and highly classified operations” that included “recruitment operations involving Russian intelligence officers, double agent operations, operations targeting Russian intelligence officers, true identities of human assets, operations against Russian illegals, defector sources, surveillance schedules of known meet sites, internal policies, documents, and procedures concerning surveillance of Russian intelligence officers, and the identification, targeting, and reporting on known and suspected KGB intelligence officers in the New York area.”
In July 1987, Pitts conducted surveillance on an official at the Soviet Mission in the United States to the United Nations. He detailed this surveillance in an official report that was classified as secret (the official later became a cooperating witness with the FBI). A week letter, it is believed that Pitts contacted that Soviet official and provided him with information about the surveillance that had been conducted on him and requested that they be able to meet and\or that he be introduced to a KGB agent. The official later introduced Pitts to Aleksandr V. Karpov, a high ranking KGB agent. Pitts began meeting with Karpov in a public library and an airport in New York City. For the next five years he continued to meet Karpov, to whom he turned over classified information including the identity of an FBI agent involved in covert activities related to Russian intelligence matters. In return he was alleged to have paid approximately $224,000 by the KGB (and later the SVRR).
In 1993, the FBI became suspicious that there might be a mole in their ranks because the bureau noticed that a number of their operations ended in failure or were compromised. In some of these cases, the locales of these failures appeared similar, but outside the norms of simple coincidence. Thus, the FBI began an investigation and focused on the years between 1986 and 1990 in the area of New York City. Personnel in the New York office at the time were looked at as possible suspects. In 1995, they hit pay dirt when they conducted an interview with the official that was first approached by Pitts. He tabbed Pitts as an agent spying for Russia which prompted the FBI to look into Pitts financial accounts and monitor his travel records. Both were deemed unusual for someone at his income level. In August 1995, in order to assure that they could “catch him in the act,” the FBI launched a “false flag” undercover operation in which it lured Pitts into a sting by pretending to be Russian agents desiring to work with him again.
The operation began when the cooperating witness approached Pitts at his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He told Pitts that he had a guest from Moscow visiting him and that he wanted to meet with Pitts. Soon thereafter, Pitts met with the guest who in reality was an undercover intelligence officer (UCO). The UCO claimed to work for the SVR and requested Pitts help in looking into the behavior of an SVR agent working in the United States. Pitts agreed to help and the UCO gave Pitts information detailing the location where Pitts could leave information at a pre-designated dead drop.
The UCO also lured Pitts with financial gain, saying that “money was available.” Pitts agreed and received a payment of $15,000 in cash.
Pitts thereafter gave the UCO and other undercover agents “sensitive and secret classified documents related to the national defense.” Drawing on his knowledge of behavioral science, he gave the UCO’s “personal, medical, and family information about fellow FBI special agents” which could be used to blackmail or entice them to be turned into Russian spies. He offered a plan by which to smuggle an SVR agent into the FBI Academy in Quantico and presented them with “an FBI cipher lock combination, an FBI key and his own FBI identification badge in order to facilitate the smuggling operation.” He turned over a handset to a FBI telecommunications device that could be used to transmit classified information and a plethora of secret and classified information over the course of 22 dead drops. He also engaged in nine telephone conversations and two face to face meetings with the UCOs. In return he accepted $65,000 for his services. One other item, this one received from his personal computer at the FBI Academy, was a letter expressing a need for an escape plan if necessary.
After one of the visits to Pitts home by the cooperating witness, Pitts’ wife, Mary, approached the FBI about suspicious activity on her husband’s part. Mary Columbaro Pitts, who was a former FBI support staffer and unaware of her husband’s activities, became alarmed when she read the initial letter of instructions given to Earl by the UCO. She telephoned Tom Carter, the FBI’s resident agent in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Mary later met with him and provided Carter with statements about her husband’s suspicious activities that day and handed over a copy of the letter.
Pitts was arrested on Dec 18, 1996 by the FBI and charged with attempted espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage and lesser counts. He entered a plea arrangement in return for a reduced sentence. He claimed that he had a long list of grievances towards the FBI and wanted to “pay them back.” The prosecutors recommended a sentence of 24 1/2 years but U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis instead sentenced him to 27 years, finding his actions to be especially grievous. “You betrayed your country, you betrayed your government, your fellow workers and all of us, really,” Ellis said, glaring at the defendant. “Every time you go by Arlington (National Cemetery) … every name you see on the Vietnam Memorial … you betrayed them especially.”
As part of his plea deal, Pitts was required to participate in a series of briefings with the FBI. In one of these briefings he passed on his suspicion that Robert Hanssen was a spy, but this information was not acted upon. Pitts said of his activities “I do not wish to excuse or explain away my actions. What I did was wrong, pure and simple.” He was sent to the Federal correctional institution near Ashland, Kentucky.