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MOLE ROLE STEMMED FROM SENSE OF DUTY

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John Hall insists he's a history scholar, not a spy.

But the Albion College professor still wore a wire under his tweed coat to help the FBI bust a Smithsonian Institution curator who was stealing rare World War I items he was supposed to be protecting."My reaction was: I'm a history professor; this isn't what I do for a living," Hall told The Detroit News. "But I was also appalled at what appeared to be going on, so I decided to try to help."

The intrigue began by accident two years ago.

Hall, who teaches American history and collects military memorabilia, called Great War Militaria in Chambersburg, Pa., asking about aviation items.

He was offered two rare fabric insignia from World War I planes for $3,000. He called Alan D. Toelle, an expert in Bellevue, Wash., to determine their value and authenticity.

Toelle recalled seeing pieces exactly like the ones Hall described while doing research at the Smithsonian several years earlier. Troubled, Hall asked Toelle who could authenticate the items.

Toelle told him to call Karl S. Schneide, curator of the Smithsonian's World War I aviation collection.

"When I did, he confirmed their authenticity," Hall told the newspaper. "I felt I had no choice but to notify the FBI. Here he was, employed by the nation . . . It seemed just unconscionable."

FBI officials persuaded Hall to wear a tape recorder and transmitter, pose as a collector and meet Schneide face-to-face at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

In March 1994, Hall met with Schneide and found him to be "a little eccentric, but an interesting and engaging person."

He was also a thief.

Authorities say Schneide would accept the donations - including a WWI aviator's helmet, a WWII aviator jacket and part of an Allied plane - delete them from museum records and then sell them to a military memorabilia dealer.

Schneide pleaded guilty in December to one count of stealing 18 objects of government property between 1990 and 1994. He was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay $20,000 restitution.

The New York Times reported Schneide told authorities he took the artifacts because he believed they were not being properly cared for.

Hall, a British citizen and chairman of Albion's history department, said his espionage days are over. He's again teaching on the quiet campus 90 miles west of Detroit.