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Former U.S. spy talks Snowden's future
07:36 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Convicted spy Christopher Boyce was jailed for 40 years for espionage in 1977 after selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union. In 1985, his story was turned into a Hollywood film – “The Falcon and the Snowman” - starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. Released in 2003, Boyce is currently working on his memoirs “The Falcon and The Snowman: American Sons.”

Story highlights

Former spy and fugitive Christopher Boyce sold U.S. state secrets to the Soviets in the 1970s

On the run for two years, he was eventually arrested and jailed for 40 years for espionage

Out on parole in 2003 after serving 25 years, he is currently writing his memoirs

He says NSA leaker Edward Snowden is 'doomed' and has entered a world where he can trust no one

CNN  — 

Sitting alone in a hotel room, unable to contact friends or family or even walk the teeming streets of Hong Kong without looking over his shoulder, there can be few who can claim to know the fear and isolation that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is living through.

One man, however, is better qualified than most.

Former spy, fugitive and convicted traitor, Christopher Boyce sold U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and dodged U.S. authorities for almost two years until his arrest in 1977 at the age of just 22.

Young, idealistic and driven by a mixture of political conviction and outlaw excitement, Boyce eventually received a 40-year sentence for espionage. In 1980, he escaped from the federal penitentiary in Lompoc, California and, while on the run, carried out a string of bank robberies in Idaho and Washington state – crimes for which he says he carries a greater weight of remorse than for those of espionage.

Released on parole in 2003 after serving 25 years, Boyce now lives on America’s West Coast and is working on his memoirs – “The Falcon and The Snowman: American Sons” – scheduled for release this year.

NSA: Taps thwart 'dozens' of attacks

NSA defends surveillance

  • While Edward Snowden’s leaks allege that U.S. intelligence has been hacking networks around the world for years, the NSA’s stated position is that the administration, Congress and the courts are all aware of and have oversight of the NSA programs exposed by Snowden. NSA has also rejected his claims they can tap into the phone or computer of any U.S. citizen, saying that legally obtained phone records have helped to thwart “dozens” of terrorist events.

    In it he outlines how, in 1974, a clean-cut college kid – the son of a respected former FBI agent – lands a job at aerospace and defense firm TRW in Southern California where he sees misrouted Central Intelligence Agency cables that allegedly discuss destabilizing the Australian government – then led by the center-left government of Gough Whitlam.

    Whitlam’s government was famously and controversially deposed in 1975 in what some argue amounted to a constitutional coup d’etat. The then governor-general, the British queen’s representative in Australia, Sir John Kerr – who occupied a largely ceremonial office – invoked the rarely-used queen’s reserve powers to fire a democratically elected government to resolve a long-standing political deadlock in the country.

    According to accounts by Boyce, the governor-general was casually referred to in CIA circles as “our man, Kerr.”

    Only a few years earlier, Australia had been a key U.S. ally in the Vietnam War and Whitlam’s government had already raised ire in Washington by withdrawing Australian troops within hours of taking office in 1972.

    By 1975, the Whitlam government was asking uncomfortable questions about key U.S. military installations based in Australia and Boyce claims that the CIA had the Whitlam government firmly in its sights.

    Appalled that the U.S. secret services would use its powers of surveillance and secret influence to depose the government of a U.S. ally, Boyce teamed up with a childhood friend – Andrew Daulton Lee – and embarked on a journey that made them one of the Cold War’s most infamous spy teams.

    The slow descent of the two former altar boys into a world of mistrust, madness and cold isolation was turned into a Hollywood hit for Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, who starred in the 1985 movie “The Falcon and The Snowman.”

    While 35 years separate his ill-starred foray into espionage and Snowden’s decision to reveal the secret surveillance plans of the National Security Agency (NSA), Boyce told CNN he has a good idea what Snowden might be going through.

    “I feel for the guy, and for what his life is going to become. I pity him,” Boyce said.

    “He’s in for a world of hurt, for the rest of his life. I feel sorry for him. He’s going to go through life not being able to trust anybody. And I think that in the end, it’ll end badly for him – one way or another, they’ll get their hands on him. He’s going to pay for it. He’s doomed.”

    In one of only a handful of interviews Boyce has given since his arrest in 1977, he told CNN this week about his own motivations three decades ago and what Snowden is likely to face psychologically now he is pitted against the world’s most powerful secret service.

    CNN: When you see Snowden on the television, do you immediately recognize your situation in it?

    Christopher Boyce: The major difference between Snowden and myself is that I didn’t come out publicly with my information. Also, my motives were different. I was sworn to revenge. It certainly was a far different time and place. Up to that point in my life, my view of the (U.S.) Federal Government was that it had only gotten worse.

    I grew up in a different time – watching the Kennedy assassination, watching the race riots on television, and watching the U.S. government slide into the Vietnam War – which was, to me, just about the most idiotic,