|Moscow 1997: Edward Howard, Eringer, Igor Prelin, former KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov|
UNDERCOVER WITH FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE
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.
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|
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.
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."