Thursday, July 31, 2014


October 1993

FBI Special Agent John H flew into Washington-National Airport on a rain-drenched Tuesday morning, October 12th, rented a car, and asked directions to the Holiday Inn, Chevy Chase.  

John H had never been stationed in Washington, D.C., had no desire for such a posting, and when he visited, did his business and got out of town as fast as possible. 

Initially, John H couldn't get into this Holiday Inn, only one mile from my home near Chevy Chase, because rooms allocated for special U.S. government rates were booked.  So he'd made a contingency reservation at a Marriott in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. 

"I have to do it that way," John H told me.  "If I pay full rate, the difference comes out of my pocket, thirty or forty bucks." 

And I was trying to turn this outfit into a paying client?

John H called Holiday Inn one last time and discovered they offered a rate cheaper than their USG special, so that's where he lodged.   

Nine a.m. on the dot, my phone rang:  John H confirmed his presence down the road.  (Punctuality, a principle of good intelligence work, could have been John H’s middle name.) 

Twenty minutes later, I knocked his door, room 303.  John H opened.  He wore slacks, black wing-tips, and a tie patterned with Mickey Mouse.  My kind of guy.  We shook hands and seated ourselves at a small round table by the window, overlooking the hotel's car park.
If John H had a full head of hair, he'd have looked about 35, ten years younger than his actual age. 

"The assistant U.S. Attorney, Bob G, is flying in this afternoon," said John H.  "He has to visit Headquarters, meet with people about this situation, and he wants to meet you.  It's very important that you did not initiate this book project with Ed Howard.  Otherwise, a judge might say we entrapped him." 

I shook my head.  "It's Howard-initiated.  Not only, National Press came to me." 


We hunched over leather folios and I ran John H through the events that had brought us together this cool, wet October morning.  

"Let me tell you something about Ed," said John H when I'd finished.  "I've studied him for a long time, eight years now.  He's a good liar.  Ed has lied his whole life, and it was lucky that the final polygraph beat him, because he'd been lying for years, and he's still lying.  Did you ever get a copy of the book proposal?" 

"Right here."  I tapped my folio. 

I also had a copy of a fax Howard sent to National Press inviting us to visit him in Moscow, which I produced for John H.  It was signed Mr. Roumanis, whom Howard said was the director of his consulting business, Westar, and included telephone numbers for Howard's apartment, his dacha, and his assistant, Larissa.

 John H, a Russian speaker, translated the invitation.

"Do you know who this assistant is?" asked John H.

"He mentions Larissa in his proposal." 

"Her name is not Larissa," said John H.  "It's Lena Orlova.  She's Russian, was married to an American defector from the U.S. Navy named Glenn Michael Souther, who committed suicide.  After Souther's suicide, the KGB moved Lena near Howard and they met, became lovers, and now she's his assistant."  John H glanced at the invitation, back to me.  "And this guy, Roumanis.  Do you know who he is?" 

I shook my head. "Roumanis is Howard.  An alias.  Let's move on.  There's a difference between insider stuff and classified stuff.  I'm going to give you an insider overview about where we're at on this case." 

I nodded. 

"It's never been reported, not even by David Wise in his book about Ed, The Spy Who Got Away, but we were just about to issue a warrant for Howard's arrest when he escaped.  It was his sheer good luck to have chosen that weekend to escape.  The arrest warrant should have been ready the week before, but got delayed by some grand jury hearing.  So the warrant wasn't issued till Monday.  By that time, unknown to us, Howard was gone.  We feel we've got an airtight espionage case against Howard before he escaped, and there's an important delineation between pre- and post-September 1985.  The way our case is written up, it's all about his espionage activities before September 1985.  We're sure we can convict him on that.  But we have never developed an espionage case for what he did after September 1985.  That's where you become important.  We may want to build a whole new case about his espionage post-September 1985, try him on both, and the crux of that would be his own admissions in his book proposal and whatever he tells you." 

"Got it." 

"We'd like to get updates on Howard's relationship with the Russian security services," John H continued.  "For instance, what's the fall-out of the most recent events?"  (President Boris Yeltsin had just disbanded Parliament.)  "At what point is the right time to ask (the Russians) for Howard?" 

That, in a nutshell, was the FBI's strategy on Howard:  At an opportune political juncture, perhaps with some incentive, cajole the Russians into turning him over.
"This assistant I mentioned, Lena Orlova," said John H.  "We'd like to know the details of their current relationship." 

I scribbled a note. 

"The idea," said John H, "is to draw Howard out, get him talking in these areas.  Is that how you see it?"  

"Not only," I said.  "The ultimate goal, I hope, is to capture him." 

"Good.  I'm glad you said that, because that's what I want this to be about."  John H paused.  "How do you see doing that?" 

"In his proposal, Howard says he's going to write about the KGB.  I'd like to draw him out on that and say, Hey, maybe we should talk about the KGB in a place they can't hear us, like Zurich.  Or maybe Poland.  If he'd meet me in Warsaw, maybe I'd be able to get him up to Gdansk, get him drunk, onto a boat, into international water, bam, we got him." 

"I like the way you're thinking," said John H. 

"It all comes down to how bold and daring you guys want to be," I said.  "Just tell me where you want him.  It'll be my job to get him there." 

"I'm like you," said John H.  "I'm ready to be real bold."

 Talk turned to Howard's book proposal.  "I don't know if I should be telling you this."  He paused, spread an open palm across his forehead, trying to separate insider from classified information.  "I have to be careful here, but... Howard has already written a manuscript.  I’ve seen it."

"How long ago?" 

"Uh, I have to do this without getting into sources and methods," said John H, "that's the classified part.  He wrote it about a year ago.  It's poorly written.  He's not a good writer.  And it's different from what your notes say are in this proposal." 

"How different?" I asked. 

"For a start, there's nothing about the Black Box"  (the secret mission for which CIA had specially trained Howard).  "The Black Box and other things in his proposal are classified information," said John H.  "Just by telling someone this stuff, Howard is breaking the law.  And his literary agent is breaking the law by being told this stuff." 

"So I guess that means I’ve broken the law, just by reading it," I said. 

"Uh-huh."  John H grinned.  "You got it."  

"At the moment," I said, "National Press wants to publish Howard's book next spring, only eight months from now.  I thought such an idea was ludicrous, not least because I hear Howard drinks a lot.  But now you're telling me there's already a manuscript, it becomes very feasible." 

"Where did you hear Howard drinks a lot?" asked John H. 

"Your colleague, Nick W.  And doesn't Howard call the U.S. Attorney to try to cut a deal?" 

"Where did you hear that?" 

I chuckled.  "Nick." 

"Howard called me," said John H.  "Once.  He was drunk." 

"What did he want?" 

"He wanted to make a deal.  I told him, the Bureau does enforcement, we're not allowed to make deals." 

New subject:  My expenses.  When I travel to Europe to meet Howard, a business-class seat and fine hotels.

John H raised an eyebrow. 

"I usually fly first-class," I said.  "Hell, when I went to Europe three weeks ago for a client I flew Concorde both ways.  But it isn't just that," I added.  "If you want to sting your target, you've got to throw money around, show that you travel in style.  Put yourself in their shoes:  who wants to do business with someone on a budget who watches their pennies?"  

"About how much is business-class to Moscow?" asked John H. 

I shrugged. "Maybe three, four grand." 

He noted this.  "How many trips do you think will be necessary?" 

As if I wanted a bunch of free trips to Moscow.  I'd been before; it was definitely not my destination of choice.

"As few as it takes to get him."  I paused.  "And now my fee." 

John H put down his pen, leaned back in his chair.  "In Division Five, the foreign counterintelligence division, we have a number of assets," he said.  "Most of them help us for free as patriotic citizens." 

"I respect that," I said.  "But I do private-sector intelligence for a living.  I view you as a potential client.  I'd need a grand a day to work this." 

John H noted this in his folio and glanced at his watch:  11:25.  "Shall we get an early jump on lunch?"


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


October 1993

I arrived at Clair George's house shortly before our expected guests from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  

At 10 a.m. sharp, the doorbell rang.  

Enter Nicholas W, a Section Chief from FCI (foreign counterintelligence), and Allyson G, a supervisory special agent, both from Headquarters.  They proffered calling cards and displayed much deference to the former spymaster, who opened the meeting. 

"I met Eringer around the time I retired from government," said George.  "He moved into my neighborhood and we became close personal friends."

I conveyed the offer made to me by National Press Books to handle Edward Lee Howard's book. 

Nick exchanged glances with Allyson, and then spoke.  "We already know people who have met Howard and reported to us bits and pieces of what he's said.  I'm not sure how much more we're going to get by giving you questions to ask him…"

Clair George
"Wait a second."  George put up his hand.  "This isn't about asking Howard questions--it's about trying to capture him." 

"Oh."  This stumped Nick.  "We hadn't even thought of that." 

"A unique opportunity has presented itself," I said.  "This situation is Howard-initiated.  He is seeking a publisher.  Howard's literary agent will vouch for the fact that National Press Books is the ideal publisher for his book.  By an odd quirk of fate, National Press would put me in charge of Howard's book as his editor.  Over time, I could gain Howard's trust.  And I could lure him into a trap." 

Nick warmed up to this.  "Howard could certainly use a friend," he said.  "But this isn't a Bureau decision.  This is the domain of the U.S. Attorney out in New Mexico.  He's the one who has to prosecute this case.  So he's the one who has to decide whether or not to use these kinds of tactics, how it's going to play out in court, a pretty complex thing."

"The U.S. Marshals have something called the Curved Frisbee Doctrine," I said.  "If we can lure Howard to an international corridor without violating his human rights, the courts won't object."  (I'd heard about this doctrine from Howard Safir, former chief of the U.S. Marshal Service, who'd coined the term himself after masterminding the international apprehension, known as an extraordinary rendition, of CIA renegade Edwin Wilson.) 

"It's nice of you to offer to do this," said Nick, "take trips, incur expenses…" 

"No," I said.  "This operation would be on your nickel.  I'm not planning to pursue this opportunity unless you folks sign on, cover my expenses, and hire me as a contract agent." 

"What's your deadline on this?" asked Supervisory Special Agent Allyson G, who had been filling legal pages with hand-scribbled notes.

I shrugged.  "I don't have one, but you can be sure this opportunity won't last forever." 

"We'll pass it to the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico," said Allyson.  "It'll be up to him." 

George saw Nick and Allyson to their car, and returned with a look of astonishment on his face.  "Typical feebies.  They only think in terms of collecting more incriminating information on Howard.  As if they didn't have enough!  I can't believe it didn't occur to them before they got here that we’re talking about catching Howard."  He shook his head.  "That's government today.  No imagination, no creativity."  He paused.  "It'll sound too complicated, too dangerous.  Anyone with any clout in government is just a few years away from a pension.  They never want to risk that." 

Meantime, Edward Howard phoned Joel Joseph from Moscow and pressed him for a commitment to his book proposal.   

In turn, Alan Sultan called me.  "I know how these things work," said Sultan.  "If we're going to sign him, we've got to keep up the momentum.  Otherwise another publisher will come along and we'll lose him." 

I relayed this update to Allyson G.  "It's heating up," I said.  "Can we get an answer?" 

"They seem pretty interested," said the Supervisory Special Agent.  "Others have come forward in the past with plans to trap this guy, mostly from inside the Bureau, but nothing as interesting as this.  However, we still have to get the Justice Department on board." 

It should have tipped me off there and then what it's like to work for a U.S. government agency:  you spend your life getting smacked around like the silver ball inside a pinball machine.  Hit this base, bang!  Whacked over to another post, boing!  Boomeranged someplace else, ba-da-bing!  Until, after a good battering, you drop into a black hole.  

Alan Sultan guzzled a beer when I arrived at Montgomery's Grille, about 4:15 p.m., October 5th. "Are you going to buy me a birthday drink or what?" I asked. 

"Happy birthday," said Sultan.  "Anything you want." I opted for a glass of pinot grigio. 

"I'm convinced we should do this book," said Sultan.  

"But do you really believe Howard's story that he didn't help the Russians until after he was forced to flee?" 

"Who cares?" I said.  "The guy's a traitor whichever way you cut it." 

"But I still wonder if he started off as a spy.  What do you think?" 

"I'm inclined to go with the evidence," I said.  "Howard was identified by a Soviet defector named Vitaly Yurchenko, who also identified Ron Pelton, an NSA engineer who admitted his guilt." 

"But if we publish Howard's book, won't people say we're capitalizing on treason?" 

"People can say whatever they want."  I shrugged.  "It's a publisher's job to publish interesting books.  Howard's story is a piece of espionage history." 

Sultan had another concern.  "We have to assume Howard may run a background check on us.  What will he find on you?" 

"Well, I guess he might discover that I was William Colby's literary agent."  (Colby had been director of the CIA in the mid-1970s; I represented him as a literary agent for the placement of his book on Vietnam, Lost Victory.) 

"That's what I was thinking," said Sultan.  "I don't think Howard would like that." 

"I wouldn't worry about it," I said.  "Even if the Russians check you out, and that's iffy because they probably can't stomach Howard any more, the most they'd do is send a flunky up to your office to make sure National Press really exists."  

Next morning brought a call from Allyson G.  "There's a guy in our office out west who wants to talk to you."

Ten minutes later my phone rang.  "This is John H," said a voice.  "You know my name?" 

We both chuckled.  John H's name was all over Edward Howard's book proposal; he, the special agent tasked, long-term, with tracking the fugitive traitor.  

John H had even met Howard in Sweden and, face-to-face, made a pitch for the turncoat to come home, face the music.  This case, at the top of John H’s docket, was his passion. 

"I'd like to meet with you and discuss the legal ramifications of what we're talking about here."  John H was low-key, soft-spoken.  "I have to tell you, I was negative on this when I first heard about it.  But then I learned all the details and I've come round.  I'm in Albuquerque.  I'd like to give you a ticket to fly out here.  Would that work for you?" 

No, it would not work for me, I said.  I suggested, instead, we meet in Washington, D.C. 

I wasn't about to go charging off anywhere, expending time and energy, until we set ground-rules.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014



National Press Books had its offices at Artery Plaza, a contemporary commercial building at 7200 Wisconsin Avenue, the corner of Bethesda Avenue, above Montgomery's Grille. 

I strolled into their suite of tube-lit shoe-boxy rooms.   

Joel Joseph thrust Edward Howard's book proposal at me.  "Our photocopier is on the blink," he said.  "Read it here." 

I took a desk chair and perused the proposal, entitled Safe House

A page about publicity suggested that all the big media outlets (60 Minutes, Nightline) had all, at some point, wanted to interview Howard. 

But he was holding out until he had something to sell.

This is partly what he was selling:  While serving on CIA's Neutral Countries Desk in Washington (1983), he'd learned various things, which he itemized, that, if/when revealed, would likely harm U.S. relations with several European countries.  

But Howard's piece d’resistance, what he called My Big Secret, was couched in this question:  

"Why is the CIA so hot to get me after all these years?"  

Howard's answer:  "Because of the one project that has never been revealed to the public, but will come out in this book:  The Black Box."  

He revealed this operation's codename, which remains classified, and details of the operation, which also remain classified.  

Howard had been trained by the CIA specifically to undertake this secret mission in Moscow.  

But he never made it to his target country.  Howard was fired after failing a series of polygraph examinations only weeks before his scheduled departure to the Soviet Union.  

Few disagree that his dismissal had been badly handled.  

Thereafter, Howard drank, stewed, and ultimately took this position:  They trained me to be a spy, so a spy I’m gonna be. 

Monday, July 28, 2014



The bar inside Montgomery's Grille in downtown Bethesda, Maryland was quiet the last day of September, 1993.  

I grabbed a stool and ordered a dry martini.  Wayne the barkeep, a character out of Animal House, said they were out of olives.  

Out of olives?  

I was already teed off at this saloon for becoming so popular since opening a few months earlier. 

And now no olives. 

"Okay, make it a Beefeater, rocks, lemon twist." 

Joel Joseph of National Press Books was late for our five p.m. rendezvous.  Truth be known, I didn't care if he'd forgotten.  I was in the mood for a quiet cocktail, which I'd savor this warm afternoon and be gone. 

But as I sipped my martini, Joseph appeared with his partner, Alan Sultan.  

The specialty of this duo's ten year-old publishing house was political intrigue.  They had recently published a book by James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of Martin Luther King. 

Joseph was mid-40s, graying mustache, with a paunch exaggerated by tight blue jeans.  A lawyer by training, Joseph was civil-liberties-minded and a devotee of the first amendment.  Years earlier, he had been part of a legal team that defended conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. 

Sultan was about fifteen years younger than Joseph; slim with a swarthy complexion, thick jet-black hair and trimmed beard.  He was the bean-counter at National Press, and its conscience. 

Months earlier, I'd jocularly suggested to this publishing pair that they create an imprint called Ball & Chain Books, an outlet for celebrity prisoners around the world. 

They had been trying, for several years, to lure me into their mix as an investor.  (How do you make a small fortune?  Invest a large fortune into book publishing.)  

I'd explained my philosophy about the book biz:  Each book is a business unto itself.  Bring me a single book that has serious money-spinning potential, maybe I'll pitch in. 

So Joseph had telephoned me a few days earlier to say he had such a book, was I still interested? 

"Sure," I said.  "What is it?"

"Arafat," Joseph had replied.  "We have a writer from Penthouse magazine who knows his people." 

I'd been through this kind of publishing quagmire once before, with Poland's Lech Walesa, whose disparate representatives had made three simultaneous exclusive deals. 

But I like good yarns.  So there we sat in Montgomery's Grille, Joseph and Sultan sipping white wine. 

"Did Joel tell you about our new book project?" asked Sultan. 

"Yeah," I said.  "Arafat." 

"No," said Sultan.  "Something a lot better came in yesterday."  He cued his partner with a glance. 

"Have you ever heard the name Edward Lee Howard?" asked Joseph. 

"Sure," I replied.  "The only CIA guy ever to defect to Moscow." 

"He wants to write a book," said Joseph.  "We have his proposal." 

"How long is it?" I asked. 

"Forty pages," said Joseph.  "You interested?" 

Yep.  I was interested.  But not for the same reason as Joseph or Sultan.  I was interested in nailing the traitor and putting his butt behind bars.
A much worse fate had befallen Adolph Grigoryevitch Tolkachev, the Russian scientist and invaluable CIA spy whom Howard betrayed to the Russians.  

Tolkachev had been executed. 

"Maybe," I said.  "Tell me more."  

"Howard says it wasn't his fault that he ran to the KGB," said Joseph.  "The CIA put him in a corner and he had no choice.  He says he's the only guy who's ever been trained by both the CIA and the KGB in spy tradecraft.  And get this, the KGB chief who took Howard under his wing, Kryuchkov?  He's the same guy who led the putsch against Gorbachev in 1991.  You've got to see the proposal."

Next morning, Friday, October 1, I telephoned Clair George, the CIA's former spymaster as Deputy Director  for Operations.

We had known each other three years, were working together as independent contractors on several private-sector intelligence projects. 

"You know the name Edward Lee Howard?" I said.

"You kidding?" 

"He wants to write a book."  

"Really?"   This intrigued the former spymaster. 

"Not only," I said.  "I've been invited to participate.  You see the potential here?" 

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Moscow 1997:  Edward Howard, Eringer, Igor Prelin, former KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov


JULY 2002

I phoned George Blake, a British intelligence officer who admitted spying for the communists. escaped from Wormwood Scrubs Prison in England, and beelined to Moscow in 1966.  Howard counted Blake among his few friends and looked up to him as a mentor; they shared birthday celebrations and holiday occasions.  Yet Blake sounded neither concerned nor saddened by Howard's passing.

George Blake
"Ed never really adjusted to life here," he told me with the matter-of-factness of someone discussing the weather.  "And he was drinking heavily again the last few months."

By early August, the Russians' story changed a third time.  "He was walking at sunset at the territory of his dacha, and the terrain is very steep there," a former KGB officer, Viktor Andrianov, told the Russian newspaper Pravda.  "It's likely Edward slipped and when he was falling hit his head very hard on  stone.  He was found only in the morning when everything was over."

A former CIA operations officer who had "called in a chit" from a special source  in Moscow later recounted a fourth version to me:  Howard had meant to take the stairs from his bedroom loft, but, being very drunk, he missed and flipped over the balcony's low rail.

The problem I had with this story was the rail was not low, but high, and had been installed to prevent such an accident.

It was, at a minimum, an embarrassment to the Russians that the only CIA spy to evade capture and reach Moscow did not enjoy a long, happy life.

Howard, at the market near his dacha
As Howard once told me, "KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov wants me to be a good example that he could use as positive propaganda.  He wants to be able to say, 'Here's a man who came to our side and he's happy, healthy, and successful.'" 

 If nothing else, Howard's untimely and freakish death at age fifty debunked such nonsense.

Howard may well have suffered a drunken accident, although he tried to confine his drinking to New Year's Eve and his birthday, October 27.

It is also possible that some old Russian general coveted the government-owned dacha in which Howard lived, and all that stood between him and it was Howard.

But most probably, Howard died at the hands of Russia's internal Federal Security Service (FSB).

Howard had long outlived any usefulness to his hosts; furthermore, drunk or sober, toward the end of his life, he regularly bad-mouthed Russia and Russians to all who would listen.

Robert Hanssen
Even more significant, as Howard secretly laid plans in the autumn of 2001 to relocate to Phuket, Thailand, FSB investigators might have concluded that Howard was at least partly responsible for the unmasking of their prized FBI informant, Robert Philip Hanssen.

Aleksandre "Sasha" Zhomov, chief of the FSB's American Department, was said to be obsessed with nailing those responsible.

As one cagey Polish operative told me in reference to Howard's death:  "Stairs, real or contrived, are a hallmark of the Russian intelligence services, their silencing signature."

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Left:  KGB Colonel Igor Prelin, London, 1999


JULY 2002

After a week. and a smattering of media attention, the Russians changed their story of Edward Lee Howard's death.

"There is talk of a car crash," said a former KGB official. "There's a lot of contradicting information."

Forgoing an autopsy for Howard and opting for just a quick cremation lent further suspicion to the circumstances surrounding the American traitor's death.

I telephoned former KGB colonel Igor Prelin in Moscow. 

I had met Prelin, the general-director of the retired KGB officers association, through Howard years earlier.

"What happened to Ed?" I asked.

"I know nothing!" Prelin responded, sounding like Sergeant Schultz in the old TV series Hogan's Heroes.  "They're not telling me anything," he added.

Next I phoned Lena Orlova, Howard's longtime assistant and on-and-off intimate companion for more than ten years.

Havana 1999:  Howard, Eringer, Orlova
It always seemed to me, watching Orlova and Howard together, that she had an emotional attachment to him beyond a physical relationship and beyond keeping tabs on him for Russian intelligence.

Orlova professed to know little more about Howard's demise than Prelin had.  

Odder still, Orlova was not grief stricken and was seemingly unfazed by her lover's premature death.

"What a shock," I said.

"Life is full of surprises," Orlova replied with chilling nonchalance.  She said she had last seen Howard a few weeks earlier at his dacha.

"Was he happy?" I asked.

"Was Ed ever happy?" said Orlova.  "He was Ed."

Friday, July 25, 2014



JULY 2002

On July 12, 2002, an American traitor died in a mishap (it is said) at his home near Moscow.

His name was Edward Lee Howard, and he liked to define himself as the only intelligence officer trained by both the Central Intelligence (CIA) and the Soviets' Committee for State Security (KGB).

Howard had resided in the United States until 1985 (dubbed "Year of the Spy" after eleven spies were arrested in the United States) when, fearing he was about to be arrested for selling CIA secrets to the KGB, he defected to the Soviet Union.

In addition to his concern that the FBI was gathering evidence to charge him with espionage, Howard was mindful that his five-year probation, after having pleaded guilty in March 1984 to three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, would have been revoked if arrested again.

Under the FBI's nose, Howard had executed a "jack-in-the-box" jump from the car his wife was driving.

Howard had learned this tactic during CIA training at Camp Peary, Virginia:  a dummy pops up in your place as you jump from the vehicle at a point in the road where your car temporarily disappears to anyone following behind.

Howard then flew from Albuquerque to Tucson and, using his Trans World Airlines Getaway card, flew to Copenhagen, via New York, then traveled farther east to Helsinki, and ultimately ended up in Moscow.

Howard had tried to settle in Budapest and Stockholm in the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively, but both times he bolted back to Moscow when Hungary and Sweden came under intense pressure from the U.S. government to seize and extradite him.

The Russian authorities explained Howard's death to his ex-wife, Mary, and college-age son, Lee, both of whom live  in the United States, this way:  drunk, Howard had tripped on concrete stairs leading to the laundry room of his dacha (country home) and broke his neck.

There was only one problem:  no stairs lied to Howard's laundry room, which was adjacent to his ground-floor kitchen.

The dacha, which Howard adored despite its back-drafting chimney and water pipes that froze every winter, sat about twenty miles west of Moscow, in the exclusive village of  Zhukovka.

Although Howard owned an apartment in the fashionable Arbat neighborhood of central Moscow, he rarely slept there, preferring as his full-time home the traditional summer residence with its garden, on perpetual loan to him by the state.

I learned of Howard's death one week after his supposed accident while waiting for him to respond to an e-mail of mine.

An e-blast, headed "Sad News," was sent from his e-mail address ( to family friends:  "This is Lee writing from my Dad's dacha to tell you all that he passed away on 7/12/02…. He has been cremated, and we will take his urn back to the U.S., where his mother in New Mexico will keep it… He is in a better place now."

I immediately telephoned the FBI's Albuquerque Field Office to report this unexpected twist.  The Howard investigation was run out of Albuquerque, where it had begun.  Born in New Mexico, Howard was a resident of Santa Fe when he came under suspicion of espionage.

Albuquerque's main concern was, had anyone seen the body

I quickly mustered an answer:  no, not even Howard's ex-wife and son, who had rushed to Moscow upon notification of his death.

The Russians, meanwhile, handled the matter with traditional clumsiness.  If they had nothing to hide, their actions conveyed otherwise.

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus broke the story of Howard's death first, on July 21.

"Howard's death would mark the end of one of the more memorable espionage stories of the Cold War," he wrote.

Just how memorable will evolve on this site.