John Semer Farnsworth bigraphy, stories - US Navy Officer convicted of Spying for Japan in 1930s

John Semer Farnsworth : biography

August 13, 1893 - November 10, 1952

John Semer Farnsworth (August 13, 1893 – November 10, 1952) was a former United States Navy officer who was convicted of spying for Japan during the 1930s. He was identified as Agent K in radio messages intercepted by the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Meetings with a journalist

When Commander Yamaki was replaced by Commander Bunjiro Yamaguchi on November 1935, the latter decided to pay Farnsworth on a piecemeal, rather on a retainer, basis. Faced with a sudden drop in income, and somehow having got wind that investigators were closing in on him, he approached the Washington correspondent for the Hearst newspapers, Fulton Lewis Jr. in early 1936. He proposed to Lewis that he would write a series of articles entitled: "How I was a Spy in the American Navy for the Japanese Government" for $20,000 in an apparent effort to convince him that he was a double agent. He also gave the condition that he would be given a head start to catch the zeppelin Hindenburg for Germany. Lewis promptly informed Capt. William D. Puleston, the Director of the ONI of the encounter.

The next time Farnsworth and Lewis met, the latter demanded proof of the former's relations with the Japanese. Farnsworth then called up Commander Yamaguchi in Lewis' presence and demanded money from the officer. A meeting was arranged, and Farnsworth tried to convince Lewis to accompany him by posing as a cabdriver. Lewis refused, but so anxious was Farnsworth to prove his bonafides that he took Lewis to the office where he had the confidential manual photostatted, as well as proving other corroborating evidence to his story.

Arrest, trial and conviction

Faced with this evidence, Lewis told Puleston again, who arranged for Farnsworth's arrest on July 14, 1936, was charged with selling confidential information to the Japanese. He was held on $10,000 bond until his preliminary hearing.

The case was given to a grand jury. During the grand jury testimony, it was revealed that Farnsworth had telephoned the Japanese Embassy twice on the day before his arrest. Lt. Commander Leslie G. Genhres testified that Farnsworth took the confidential study from his desk in the Navy Department on August 1, 1934. An employee of the navy photostat plant, Mrs. Grace Jamieson, said that Farnsworth made frequent visits to the plant to copy military documents.

Based on this, the grand jury indicted Farnsworth on the charge of selling to the Japanese the confidential manual, as well as conspiracy to do the same; in the indictment, the grand jury also included Lt. Commanders Itimiya and Yamaki, who promptly left for Japan. If found guilty, Farnsworth would face a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Although Farnsworth indicated that he would base his defence on an aircraft accident he had when he took courses in NAS Pensacola, making him "irresponsible", the Navy shot down that argument, saying that no record of such an accident existed. His lawyer, in turn, asked the court-martial commission to have Itimiya and Yamaki testify in Farnsworth's defence through the American Consul General in Tokyo. However, Japan refused the request, citing Japanese law prohibiting military officers from being compelled to answer questions in a foreign country.

On February 15, 1937, Farnsworth changed his not-guilty plea to nolo contendere, dispensing with a jury trial and leaving the judge to decide on the case; if the trial had proceeded, the prosecution would have been ready to prove its case by presenting a parade of witnesses and other evidence. When the judge heard the no-contest plea, he indicated that he would review the aspects of the case before he pronounced sentence. However, a few days later, Farnsworth again changed his plea to not guilty. He reasoned out that he made his plea without prior counsel and it was based on the notoriety that resulted from his case. The judge said that Farnsworth was within his rights to change his plea before sentencing and that he would hear his motion.

This was, in fact, the first of Farnsworth's attempts to have his case dismissed. His defence team withdrew, and he informed the judge that he would conduct his defence pro se. His next move was to file a writ of habeas corpus to obtain his release. He argued that the facts alleged in the indictment, under which he was convicted, did not constitute a crime. He further argued that he did not know that nolo contendere was tantamount to a guilty plea and wanted to withdraw the plea, but was met with rejection. The court was not in any way convinced of these arguments and denied his writ.

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