Miller was born in Wilmington, a working- class section of Los Angeles in 1936.He met his future wife, Paula when they were children and the two were students together at Brigham Young University. Miller majored in English and minored in Spanish. He married Paula after their graduation. He was recruited by the FBI in 1964 while still at BYU, the bureau in need of agents with clean records who knew how to speak Spanish.
Miller began working for the FBI in the mid-1960s. To say he was unremarkable as an agent would be more than charitable. By most accounts he was an embarrassment, with many of his colleagues incredulous that he was ever hired. His performance records were deemed poor overall as he struggled with everything from his weight (he stood 5’9″. 250 lbs.) to his penchant for taking three hours lunches at local 7-11 stores where he ate stolen candy bars and read comic books. He was reprimanded for his obesity problems and for misplacing his office keys. He had been found to have used his official FBI automobile to sell Amway products out of the trunk and used his FBI fuel card for personal use. His paperwork was sloppy as was his appearance. In one instance he had even lost his gun and FBI credentials. In describing Miller, former FBI Special Agent Gary Aldrich explained that “most agents assigned to Los Angeles during that time who knew Miller would probably agree that he should never have been hired in the first place. How he even got through the FBI Academy was a big mystery. But how Miller avoided losing his job for being one of the dumbest, most unkept, most unpopular misfits the agency had ever hired was not a mystery. The management should have watched Miller more carefully.” Washington Monthly found that “After 20 years with the bureau, Miller had a personnel file filled with doubts about his job performance. His superiors had repeatedly admonished him to control his ballooning weight. And in 1982, a psychologist examined Miller and told the FBI that he was emotionally unstable and should be nurtured along in some harmless post until retirement.”
Overall, he seemed to be primed to be terminated from his position. Instead, he was primed to fall into a Russian honey trap.
Miller was married with eight children but his wife Paula divorced him and he was excommunicated from the Church of Latter Days Saints because of an affair he engaged in with Svetlana Ogorodnikova beginning in 1984. Svetlana was married to Nikolai Ogorodnikova, the couple having immigrated from Russia in 1973. Miller turned over classified information to Svetlana including an FBI counterintelligence manual. In return, Svetlana provided sexual favors, $15,000.00 in cash and $50,000.00 in gold.
Miller was arrested as he was planning to travel to Vienna, Austria, where Svetlana had arranged for him to meet with a KGB agent. The Ogorodnikovas were also arrested and plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage, although Svetlana claimed that Miller never actually gave her any classified information. Nickolai was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and Svetlana to eighteen years.
Miller pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him and his first trial ended in a mistrial. After his second trial, however, he was found guilty on June 19, 1986 of committing espionage and bribery and was sentenced a month later to two consecutive life terms and 50 years on other charges. He appealed the verdict and it was overturned in 1989 when U.S. District Judge David Kenyon said that the trial judge erred in admitting polygraph evidence during the trial. He was granted $337,000.00 bail while awaiting a new trial.
Miller claimed during his trial that he was not involved in espionage, but rather was trying to turn around his lagging FBI career by trying to recruit new Russian assets in an attempt to infiltrate the KGB. He called the affair with her “the dumbest thing I did in my whole life.” Miller described her as “charming, outgoing, vivacious — and her English was atrocious.” He admitted having five affairs in a two year period, although he thought of himself as a moral man and a devout LDS member. He did acknowledge some of his shortcomings. “I was not a good FBI agent in the sense that I didn’t have sense enough to protect myself,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I try to be an open, honest person and that honesty and openness was misconstrued as a confession.”
Miller’s third trial ended with him being convicted October 9th, 1990 on all counts of espionage. On February 4th, 1991, he was sentenced to 20 years in Federal prison and his conviction was upheld on January 28th, 1993. A federal judge, however, reduced Miller’s sentence to 13 years and he was released from prison on May 6th, 1994. He was the first FBI agent ever convicted of committing espionage against the United States.