Described by American media as The Year of the Spy, 1985 saw one of the biggest arrests of foreign spies and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who became infamous for espionage against the United States.
One of the most profound cases of that year was the arrest of a 29-year-old CIA clerk, Sharon W. Scranage, who was accused of passing information about the agency’s operations while stationed in Ghana to her lover, 39-year-old Michael Agbotui Soussoudis, who was a relative of then-military ruler Jerry John Rawlings.
This case shook the diplomatic relations of both countries to the core as Ghana was suspected by the United States of spying for Communist nations during that crucial point of the Cold War.
Clerk-stenographer Sharon Scranage, who had joined the CIA in 1976, was transferred to Ghana where she worked from the U.S. Embassy in Accra as a covert agent. Her troubles began in 1983 when she met and fell in love with American-educated Ghanaian citizen, Michael Soussoudis, who grew up in West Germany, went to college in New York City and was a permanent U.S. resident.
The “handsome” Soussoudis was accused of being an intelligence officer with the Ghanaian Provisional National Defence Council military government that came to power after Jerry Rawlings overthrew the elected People’s National Party government in 1981.
Soussoudis was allegedly tasked to woo and extract information from Scranage who fell for him despite caution from her superiors after they got to know about the 18-month relationship.
“Scranage said that she had told the CIA station chief in Ghana–whom she did not identify–that she was seeing Soussoudis but was instructed only “to be careful.”
“In November 1983, she said, the station chief told her that Ghanaian officials had complained that someone who fit her description was holding “secret meetings” with Ghanaian citizens. She was advised to “gradually break off” with Soussoudis, she said,” reports the Los Angeles Times on November 26, 1985.
Scranage was transferred to the CIA Headquarter in Washington where she failed a routine polygraph test that resulted in an FBI investigation. In the two days of questioning by FBI agents, she admitted to giving Soussoudis names of Ghanaians working for the CIA and information about a planned coup d’etat by a Ghanaian group expecting shipment of weapons from Libya.
According to FBI affidavits and CIA information that was declassified and approved for release in 2011, Scranage was also asked by Ghanaian officials to search through CIA files and send intelligence to Soussoudis who transferred it to Ghanaian central intelligence chief Kojo Tsikata who then passed it to Cuba, Libya, and East Germany.
A few days after her questioning, she was fired by the CIA and arrested; then she quickly helped the FBI to arrest Michael Soussoudis at the Springfield Holiday Inn in Virginia where she lured him into their trap.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, the government had arrested eight of the named Ghanaian CIA informants. The Ghanaian government also foiled the planned coup believed to be backed by the CIA and masterminded by one Godfrey Osei who was expecting a boat carrying six tons of heavy weapons that did not touch the shores of Ghana.
The eight arrested CIA informants named by news media included Colonel Bray, a military officer whose brother was a Deputy Director of the Ghana Education Service; Abel Edusei, former CEO of the state-run Ghana National Procurement Agency (GNPA), Adu Gyamfi, former Managing Director of the one-time national conglomerate, the Ghana National Trading Corporation (GNTC) and head of the Achimota Brewery Company (ABC); Major John Kwaku Awuakye, Deputy Director (Organisation and Plans) at the Ministry of Defence and one-time Acting Commanding Officer of the Base Ordnance Depot.
Others are Felix Peasah, a U.S. Embassy security investigator at the time who has had a 22-year service with Ghana’s national security; Theodore Atiedu, a police inspector for Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigation; Stephen Balfour Ofosu-Addo, a former chief superintendent of police; and Robert Yaw Appiah, a technician with the Ghanaian Post and Telecommunications Corporation.
The U.S. government believed another CIA informant was killed as a result and feared there will be serious consequences. “There were some serious consequences … They had somebody caught and we believe it’s likely they died as a result of this,” The New York Times quoted an unnamed source in its July 13, 1985 issue.
The eight suspects were slapped with sentences ranging from 25 years of hard labour to life in prison. Other implicated officials were the head of the navy and the military government’s chief of staff working at the chairman’s office, Commodore D.J. Oppong, who is reported to have fled the country, and Sam Okudzeto, a prominent lawyer. The government had frozen the accounts of these two.
The Ghanaian government also condemned the U.S. for interfering in the internal affairs of the country but called for calm and appealed to the public not to use violence against Americans, reports Associated Press on July 11, 1985.
In the United States, Scranage pleaded guilty to one count of revealing classified information and two counts of disclosing names of persons working for the CIA. She was sentenced to five years in prison, with eligibility for parole in 18 months. Her sentence was later reduced to two years and she served eight months in all.
Soussoudis was also charged with espionage and sentenced after four months in detention to 20 years in prison in November. His sentencing coincided with a breakthrough in diplomatic talks between the two countries.
The Ghana government agreed to a prisoner swap with the United States to deport the military leader’s cousin Michael Agbotui Soussoudis to Ghana for the eight imprisoned CIA informants described as “interests to the United States”.
The State Department issued a statement at the time saying relations with Ghana were good and ”we assume they will continue to be.” It also denounced reports that characterized Ghana as a Marxist state saying it was ”quite inaccurate”, reports the New York Times at the time.
Soussoudis’ sentence was reduced to time served and he was handed over to Ghanaian Ambassador Eric Otoo on condition that he quickly leaves the country. The eight CIA informants were stripped of their Ghanaian citizenship and handed over to the U.S. government officials who disclosed that they were flown along with their families to an unidentified African country.
Soussoudis returned to a rousing welcome in Accra in December and the eight Ghanaian informants and their families were later reported to have been relocated to Virginia in the United States.
Since then, nothing has been heard about Sharon W. Scranage. But for Michael Soussoudis, he co-founded the Eagle Party which was a club within his cousin’s National Democratic Congress (NDC) in 1992 ahead of the elections that brought forth the country’s fourth republic.
At the end of Rawlings’ two terms in office and a change in government, Soussoudis was arrested for possessing a weapons cache in his home after a joint police and military search following a tip-off in 2001. He stood trial on two counts of possessing explosive firearms and ammunition without authority.
However, a Fast Track High Court (FTC) in Accra acquitted and discharged him in 2005 saying the weapons — one P. Berreta pistol No. 442501, plus 50 pieces of Fiochi ammunition, one AK47 assault rifle No. 75HR5254 with 9 magazines, one SMG UZ1 rifle No. 41118 with four magazines, one Makaro Pistol No. A3586P loaded with eight rounds of ammunition, one Calibre 45 ACP Pistol No. 1482584, three fragmentation grenades marked 10B, 11B and 63, three smoke grenades 1330-B890 and one smoke grenade EHD 1-4 — were covered with valid police permit in addition to an authority note issued from the office of the President by the then Chief of Staff, to aid him “in the discharge of his duties”.
The prosecution had further questioned the duties that the accused person, who was then a businessman, was performing at the time to warrant holding such firearms. The 4-year case was the last time Michael Soussoudis was featured in the media.