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after having pleaded guilty in March 1984 to three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, would have been revoked if arrested again.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.

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