The Spy's Son:

The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer
Ever Convicted of Espionage
and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia

In a stunning piece of reporting, Denson has unraveled one of the strangest spy stories in American history and written a haunting book as fast paced and exciting as the best spy novel. It will keep readers awake as he takes them deep into a world of international espionage populated by KGB and CIA agents, American spy catchers, and a family they’ll never forget — and it’s all true.
— Robert Lindsey, author of The Falcon and the Snowman

About The Spy's Son

Jim Nicholson joined the CIA in 1980. In 1994, he switched teams.

Jim Nicholson joined the CIA in 1980. In 1994, he switched teams.

Award-winning investigative reporter Bryan Denson tells the riveting true story of a father-son spy plot, a modern-day tale of espionage and betrayal that reads like a novel. The Spy's Son takes readers deep inside the world of spies and spy catchers, a dysfunctional CIA family, and the secret cat-and-mouse games still playing out between the United States and Russia.

Jim Nicholson was a CIA “blue flamer,” a hotshot case officer on the rise. But his career took a sinister turn during a 1994 posting in Malaysia. There, looking for love in the middle of a messy divorce and custody battle, the spy nicknamed “Batman” found himself in a pinch for money. To make ends meet, he secretly volunteered to sell some of his nation’s most closely guarded secrets to his counterparts in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR. After two decades of patriotic dedication as a military officer and then a covert operator for the CIA, Jim became his agency's highest-ranking Judas.

The CIA eventually reassigned Jim to run counterterrorism operations in the agency's headquarters building at Langley, Virginia. By day, he and his team gathered intelligence on Middle East terrorist organizations that eventually morphed into al Qaeda. By night, Jim was just another single dad driving a minivan home to dine with his kids. But late at night, when the children were asleep, he secretly typed encrypted notes into his personal laptop, including highly classified files stolen from the CIA, to prepare for his next meeting with the SVR. In late 1996, the FBI arrested Jim, and a federal judge sentenced him to a long prison term. He remains the highest-ranking CIA officer ever to betray his country.

Behind the bars of the federal prison in Oregon, Jim plotted a second act of betrayal. The former mole systematically groomed the one person he trusted most to serve as his stand-in: his youngest son, Nathan. When asked to smuggle messages out of prison to his old friends from Russia, Nathan saw an opportunity to be heroic, to make his father proud, and to explore the clandestine world he had only heard about.

But there was more going on between Jim and the Russians than Nathan could have fathomed, and Jim kept him in the dark.

Their plot, and its aftermath, would change everything. 

Photo by Beth B. Nakamura, 2015

Photo by Beth B. Nakamura, 2015