Sunday, August 31, 2014

35. I SPY 3

Igor Batamirov

Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

January 1998

At 6 p.m., Howard arrived at the Baltschug Kempinski with his new girlfriend, Mila, to take Rick and me out for a "real" Russian dinner. 

Mila, from Ukraine, was a blonde knockout.  Young, curvy, vivacious:  the kind of trophy wife rich cretins like to show off in Monte Carlo. 

Mila apologized, in excellent English, for wearing sunglasses, meant to hide a bad case of conjunctivitis.  Or recent plastic surgery.  Or a black eye.   

The two had met, said Howard, on March 8th (International Women's Day in Russia) 1997, at a party.  Mila was a divorcee with a 22 month-old son. Howard found a space outside Le Romanoff.   

(You wouldn't call a decent restaurant Le Stalin or Le Khrushchev.  Not unless their specialty was boiled potatoes and cabbage.) 

Rick focused on Mila; I, on Howard, as we had pre-arranged.

Howard requested that I not mention Mila to Lena Orlova; he juggled both women. 

By chance, said Howard, he had bumped into a woman from the U.S. Agency for International Development whom he'd known in the Peace Corps many years earlier.  She met Howard a second time and told him that she had to report their encounter to the U.S. Embassy.  As a result, the embassy's legat (FBI representative) had made Howard a new offer:  Come home, admit espionage, and spend two years at a minimum-security prison. 

"Sounds like a fair deal to me, Ed," I said.  "Why not go for it?" 

"First off," said Howard, "who knows what could happen to me in prison?  And after I got out, I'd probably wind up back in Moscow because my experience and contacts are here, so why bother?"  He paused.  "Maybe in a couple years they'll offer me a better deal." 

I asked him if he still wanted to sneak back into the United States for a visit. 

Howard puffed on a Salem (was back to chain-smoking) and smiled.  "Yeah, I'd like to take a Greyhound bus tour and see the Grand Canyon.  But I'll have to be careful.  One of my KGB contacts told me, 'They [the FBI] have given up on you, they'll only get you if you show up on U.S. territory.'" 

As far as I knew, and I knew a lot, Howard's KGB contact had it right. 

From where had the Russians gotten such good intelligence? 

(The on-going spy hunt back in Washington had focused, erroneously, on a CIA officer named Brian Kelley.) 

As we ate our meals, a trio of Russian musicians performed traditional tunes, including one by Pushkin.

 Howard was so cheap, he wouldn't even order a second bottle of wine, so I took control of ordering, and the tab.  This cheered him significantly, and he opened up with an interesting tidbit on George Blake:  The British traitor had finally been venturing out of Russia for vacations abroad.  Blake marveled at the ease with which Howard traveled so freely around Europe.  So last summer he'd taken his wife on a Mediterranean cruise. 

I asked Howard about his business.   

"My KGB contacts liked to point me out as a success story," said Howard.  "Doing well, making money."

But he was not as buoyant as the summer before.  The Russian stock market had petered out, was losing money, not making any, and Howard, with his accountant mentality, defined himself by financial worth and fiscal growth. 

His enthusiasm for meeting new clients had waned in this declining market, so I needed a new lure.  Since Howard was no longer flush with cash, he would probably be willing to meet a movie producer to discuss a hefty sum for film rights to his book Safe House, wouldn't he? 

"I'm there," said Howard.  And speaking of books, his old KGB handler Igor Batamirov was thinking about writing one.   

Next day, Rick set off with Igor Prelin to meet a couple of old-fogy generals about their own scribing for publication.  He returned to the hotel and joined me for a 6 p.m. meeting with Igor Batamirov, as arranged by Howard, who'd cautioned, "Don't tell Prelin about this--he wants a piece of everything."  

Batamirov cut a formidable presence in sport coat, V-neck sweater, slacks, and English driver's cap, overcoat and woolen scarf.  His large, doughy face sat heavily upon a wide-girth double chin.  

Batamirov wore a six-piece gold puzzle ring he had acquired in Kuwait.  When I mentioned I’d once bought a similar ring, an eight-piece, at the souk in Beirut, Batamirov smiled.  His best years, in the early 1970s, he said, had been spent in Beirut. 

This former counterintelligence chief, who had run both Howard and Ames, exuded a low-key self-confidence.  He was, he knew, a master-of-the-kingdom.  Unlike Prelin, he had no need to toot his own horn.

Batamirov gazed into space as he spoke decent English, lapsing into quiet, reflective moments that added to his authoritative air.  He told me he retired from active service in 1994, after five years as counterintelligence chief.  Soon after, he divorced his wife of many years and married a woman with whom, he said, he'd enjoyed an intimate relationship for twenty-two years. 

"It was always my plan to marry this woman," said Batamirov.  "But two things had to happen first:  One, my children had to grow up, and two, I had to retire.  Otherwise it would have ruined my career." 

Batamirov knew I’d come to town to see his former boss.  He'd read Kryuchkov's book, as published in Russia, and found it "very dull." 

As for his own book, Batamirov told me of his fascination for what he called "the phenomenon and psychology of betrayal." 

"Excellent," I said.  "Sounds like a whole chapter, maybe a book unto itself." 

Batamirov responded to my questions in a deliberate, thoughtful manner, avoiding eye contact until strategic moments, when he would use such contact to conclude an important point or assess its impact on his listener.

I asked about Ames. 

Batamirov confirmed his involvement as Ames's handler. 

I asked about Yurchenko, and told him that Kryuchkov seemed to believe Yurchenko's version of his defection.

"Yurchenko is a liar," said Batamirov.  "And Kryuchkov is a fool." 

I coached Batamirov on the basic elements of a book proposal.  He listened carefully, and said he would be willing to visit the United States and meet prospective publishers. 

I knew the FBI was going to love this one.  

Edward Howard drove Rick and me back to the airport next day.  We agreed that our next meeting would take place in Havana, where Howard promised to introduce me to his Cuban intelligence pals. 

Rick and I were the only passengers flying Business Elite back to New York, a whole cabin to ourselves.

Hearing the aircraft door clunk shut was, for me, a golden moment. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

34. I SPY 2

KGB Colonel Igor Prelin

Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

January 1998

Next morning, 9:55, Rick and I found Vladimir Kryuchkov and Igor Prelin sitting stiffly on wing chairs in the lobby.

Hotel staff seemed to recognize the former KGB chairman.  (Their manners thereafter to Rick and me were impeccable.)  Kryuchkov wore the same navy-blue tie with white vertical stripe.  

We elevated to my room, 614.  Lena Orlova (Howard's assistant, our translator) arrived a few minutes later. Rick set glasses before everyone and poured mineral water. 

I provided a status report on the book:  The (dummy) publisher was not happy, I said.  We needed more, to use Igor Prelin's phrase, more silver bullets.  And so I had a final volley of questions for Kryuchkov to answer.

The former KGB chairman stirred, smiled and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  He said he had a few comments to make:  Why was it necessary to answer more questions?  According to simple logic, he said, based on what I had sliced from his original manuscript, from the interview transcripts, the new material he had written, why, it all added up to 400 pages.  Wasn't that the precise number of pages I wanted his book to be?  So why more questions? 

I replied that a number of gaps remained.  Plus we had a few new subject categories to consider for inclusion, "to satisfy the publisher." 

Kryuchkov turned to Prelin, who had been scratching rashy patches of psoriasis or eczema on his arms.  They conversed in Russian; Lena Orlova did not translate.  (Her loyalty, transparent.)  

Kryuchkov requested that he and his stooge leave the room to continue their discussion. 

When the Russians returned ten minutes later and re-rumped their rears, Kryuchkov thanked me politely for my hard work, but declined to answer any further questions. 

Prelin argued with him. 

Kryuchkov acquiesced. 

"Okay, ask a question," Prelin instructed. 

"In our last interview," I said, "you referred to the First Directorate as the White Bone.  Why White Bone?"

"We were called White Bone by other directorates of the KGB," replied Kryuchkov. 

"What does it mean?" 

"It is Russian for somebody of noble origins," said Kryuchkov.  He looked at Prelin, snapped a few words of Russian, and rose, ready to leave. 

What should have been The Kryuchkov Konfessions had become The Kryuchkov Kop-out.   

I gifted the old goat with bags of Tootsie Roll Pops and Hershey's Kisses for his grandchildren.  It sweetened him a little, but not much. 

We descended to the lobby.  While Prelin searched for Kryuchkov's car and driver, I made small talk with him about U.S. politics.  Kryuchkov expressed a fondness for Colin Powell, whom, he said, he once met.  But, he added, "a black man could never be elected President of the United States." 

Prelin returned.  The car was ready.  Kryuchkov got up from his chair and departed. Prelin remained behind.  He, Orlova, Rick and I returned to my room. 

"That went well," I muttered. 

My mind, however, was already focused on the upside:  Kryuchkov had thrown a tantrum and failed to cooperate after I'd flown all the way to Moscow.  Now the dummy publisher could bail from publishing his dull, dogmatic book without offending anyone except Kryuchkov himself, who'd already been sucked for all his worth.  Howard and Prelin would understand. 

Prelin dismissed his boss's behavior with a backhand wave, said something derogatory about "old people," and announced:  "I will answer your questions." 

His implication:  that I could us Prelin's words in the former KGB chairman's book as Kryuchkov's own. 

I shrugged, why not, let's grill this scaly weasel.

"There is no such thing as ugly women," Prelin began.  "Sometimes, there is not enough vodka."  He laughed hard, with a pretentious self-confidence betrayed by the psoriasis or eczema that had broken out on his face, neck, knuckles, and arms.  Then he opened himself up to interrogation. 

I began by reminding Prelin about the CIA officer he supposedly recruited and handled before the agent's untimely demise in Beirut. 

Prelin refused to identify this alleged spy by name, saying only that he had married, divorced, no children, parents deceased.  He suggested I read a novel he'd published, which he said was thinly veiled fiction of that case. 

"Intelligence services worldwide study my novels," said Prelin. 

In his dreams. 

"Bill Clinton visited Russia in 1970," I said.  "Have you ever seen his KGB file?" 

(President Clinton was not on the FBI's shopping list; this was my own curiosity.) 

"I was offered $100,000 by American television for information on Clinton's visit to Moscow.  But we wanted Clinton to become the president in 1992, because he was better than the other candidate [Bush, senior] from the Russian point of view." 

"You mean, what you knew about Clinton might have led to his defeat if publicly known?" 

"Yes," said Prelin.  "That's why we did not give this information." 

"A girlfriend?" 

"There were some things," said Prelin.  "I wouldn't respect him if he did not have affairs with Russian girls." 

"So just sexual adventures?" 

"You should have come to Moscow when you were 22 or 23 and KGB was in good shape.  You'd be sitting with Ames, in same prison maybe.  I can only tell you that our information [on Clinton] could have influenced the election." 

"Would it be enough to get him into trouble today?"

"Yeah, it could," said Prelin.  "But we're not interested in anything bad happening to Clinton.  With his problems now [Monica Lewinsky, impeachment], the combination would finish him." 

"What about Princess Diana?" I asked.  "An accident?" (Again, my own curiosity.)

"Ha!  It's a great motive for an assassination, for the Royal Family to have somebody in the family who has an Egyptian husband, which means the young princes would have brothers and sisters of different origins.  Diana was going to become a Moslem.  So she'd have Moslem children.  That doesn't strengthen the lot of the British Monarchy, it is strong point against.  So if you examine as Sherlock Holmes taught us, ask yourself a question:  Who gains?  You get the answer:  Royal Family." 

"Is British Intelligence capable of doing this kind of thing?" 

"Ha!  Better than any intelligence service in the world.  I consider the British the most cruel of the white population.  They are the most cruel nation." 

"With your understanding of intelligence," I said, "is this something British Intelligence would take upon itself to execute, or would they require instruction from the Royal Family?"

"You think during the Stalin era we shot anybody without instructions?  You think that Martin Luther King or Kennedy was assassinated without instructions from a higher echelon?" 

"What higher echelon?" 

"[Lyndon] Johnson knew about it."

"Is that what the KGB believes?" 

"Our organization thinks it was a plot," said Prelin.

"You are familiar with the circumstances of Princess Diana's accident.  How could that have been a staged assassination?" 

"Why not?" said Prelin.  "A few days ago the same thing was tried with a Russian provincial governor.  He was driving on a two-lane highway, they detonated a 50-gram explosive.  It's nothing to damage a car, just a simple explosive.  They were counting on a psychological effect.  The whole idea is to scare the driver." 

"Where would the explosive be?" 

"In our case, the thing went off too early," said Prelin.  "The driver got scared, but he had time to react.  Now, about Diana.  As far as I know, the experts were considering this.  Some people were blaming the paparazzi, that somebody was taking pictures in front of the car with a flash.  No.  I can put something on the windshield of your car that will have the same effect.  It will flash in an instant, and when the car is moving, when it's dark in the tunnel, such a flash will make you blind." 

"What kind of flash?" I asked. 

"Some chemicals, manganese and selenium.  It will not burn, just a bright light.  The thing is so weak, no traces.  It would be a tiny thing.  Magnetic.  Where the wipers are.  At the right place, by remote control, FLASH!"

"Has British Intelligence used this method before?"

"Ha!  They've done things better than this.  The British service were intensely trying to recruit a Soviet scientist.  It was 1976 or '77, he went to London on a delegation, they tried to recruit him.  He was there a month.  They started following him.  He went to our embassy, reported it, and they told him to go to Berne, in Switzerland.  The British followed him there, tried to recruit him again in his hotel room.  They gave him a drug, but they gave him too much and he died.  And they just threw him out of the window.  The Swiss gave the body back.  We examined it.  We found traces of the drug, proved he was dead before he went out the window.  So we know very well about the British." 

Here was the old-guard KGB's (big) mouthpiece, telling me in the space of fifteen minutes that 1) the KGB had a file on Clinton that could have prevented his election and re-election, 2) Lyndon Johnson conspired to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and 3) British Intelligence murdered Princess Diana on instructions from the British Monarchy.  

A conspiracy theorist's dream!

Friday, August 29, 2014

33. I SPY

Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

Autumn 1997

By autumn, Vladimir Kryuchkov was growing anxious.  

Why had I not yet found a publisher for his book? 

In fact, with the Bureau's knowledge, I had genuinely submitted a manuscript entitled The Kryuchkov Konfessions to senior editors at several publishing houses in the United States and Britain.  (The Bureau had no interest in whether or not Kryuchkov’s book was published in the United States; only that I do whatever felt natural to further the double-ruse: keeping tabs on Howard while de-briefing the former KGB chairman.) 

The various editors unanimously assessed the former KGB chairman's tome for what it was: dull and uninteresting.

To placate Kryuchkov and keep the ruse going, I created a dummy publishing contract through an imprint (my own creation):  Enigma Books. Kryuchkov's modest advance on royalties came from FBI coffers. 

On November 13th, Kryuchkov sealed the agreement with his signature. 

Two months after that, I returned to Russia with my designated editor, Rick K, a trusted publishing colleague whom I recruited as a witting FBI asset.  Rick had played roles in some of my private sector intelligence operations; had proven invaluable as an insertion agent and second set of eyes.   

"Don't bring your address book to Moscow," I preached to Rick what I myself practiced.  "Get an index card, scramble whatever numbers you might possibly need on it, carry it in your wallet." 

I assumed, as a matter of caution, that the FSB, Russia's security service, perused my possessions while I was away from my hotel room. 

"And bring a copy of Publisher’s Weekly," I added.  "Maybe a New York Review of Books." 

By this time, the FBI had become accustomed to my flying habits.  Their accountants squawked about my Delta Business-elite fares and $400-a-night hotel rooms.  But it was the price they had to pay for this stagehand production (stagehand being the Bureau's jargon for sting-undercover operations). 

So Rick and I flew from New York's JFK to Moscow in style and toasted our partnership-in-espionage with champagne.  

Many hours later, Moscow welcomed us. 

Rick, who met Edward Howard for the first time in the arrival area, was struck by the deep sadness he detected in this traitor's eyes.   

Howard led us to his brand new Volvo sedan, dark blue with black leather interior.  He finally got the new car promised him by Kryuchkov for publishing Safe House.   

I was lagging, so I let Rick do most of the yakking, break him into the spy game, Moscow in January.  It was cold.  Bright sunshine reflected off a fresh snowfall and bestowed upon the Russian capital a clean, fresh radiance. 

Rick commented on the construction going on everywhere. 

"That's democracy for you," said Howard, sardonically.

He dropped us at the Baltschug Kempinski.  Rick and I checked in, and hoofed in slush to Red Square, stopping at GUM department store for a beer. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon, and evening, goofing off, drinking bottles of SchneiderWeiss, first at the Beltschug Bar, then in the lobby, chuckling over whoever might be deployed to keep tabs on us. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

June 1997

Stopping once again only for room service sandwiches, coffee and tea, my session with for KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov went on till four p.m.  I filled three ninety-minute cassette tapes. 

We covered Kryuchkov's leading role in the attempted putsch to unseat Gorbachev, for which the former KGB chairman went to prison. 

"How did you feel to be so powerful one day, and in prison the next?" I asked. 

"It is like existing in another dimension," replied Kryuchkov.  "A nightmarish dream.  Except you don't wake up.  The first night, the first few days, I wasn't feeling anything.  Different emotions were fighting within me.  I felt weightless, had no physical feeling within myself.  I was not thinking personally.  I tell you, I thought very little about my family, my wife and children and grandchildren.  

"My main concern was the state problem.  I was a Komsomol member at fourteen, a Party member at eighteen, so I was brought up in an atmosphere of heroic ideas. 

"When I entered the cell, other prisoners there for other things were shocked.  It was five in the morning.  They gave me hot tea and let me go to bed.  At six when they turned on the lights, nobody woke me up, so I had a chance to sleep.  The first thing I did when I woke up was my morning exercises.  It's been a habit for sixty years now.  I exercise for one hour.  The guards, other prisoners, looked at me with shocked eyes.  I had decided to do my normal thing." 

"I hear that you are now under surveillance," I said.  "How does it feel to be subjected to the kind of treatment you once supervised yourself?" 

"I'd be offended if they were not watching me," snapped Kryuchkov. 

"I have to ask you about [Aldrich] Ames," I said. 

"Have you read what I wrote?" 

"Yep.  And I need more.  So far, five books have been written about Ames.  You, the former KGB chairman, must address it in depth for anyone in the West to take your book seriously." 

Kryuchkov obfuscated with vague generalities. 

I attempted specificity, broaching something Edward Howard had laid on me a few years earlier.  "Could the KGB have rescued Ames?" 

"This problem started when I was already out of the business," replied a terse Kryuchkov.  "This is a game, a war, without any rules." 

I was getting nowhere fast.  Another stab:  "Why did you act so quickly to arrest and execute spies identified by Ames when this would probably arouse suspicion that someone in the CIA was tipping you off?" 

Igor Prelin jumped into the fray, changing the subject. "Why only Ames?" he protested.  "Some agents were identified without his help.  We had to act, big secrets from the KGB and the Ministry of Defense were being given out.  This was a danger and threat to our people."

"Who was the worst CIA director?" I asked. "The worst for us" said Kryuchkov.  "Casey was the worst for us."

"And the best, for you?" 


"What kind of contact did you have with the CIA?"

"The first contact between representatives of Soviet and U.S. intelligence took place in December 1987, between me and Robert Gates, who was deputy director of the CIA," said Kryuchkov.  "We met in Washington, an unofficial meeting in a small restaurant.  Gates knew which brand of whiskey I drink, Chivas Regal.  We spoke in generalities about Soviet-American relations.  A couple of years later, Gates visited Moscow, and we had a meeting at a KGB guesthouse in Kolpachny Pereulok.  Gates asked me if I wish to know the CIA's view of what would happen to the Soviet Union in the year 2000.  I said yes.  In a few carefully chosen words, Gates said he doubted the Soviet Union would still exist.  He asked if I would like to see the CIA's analytical report on the future of my country.  I said I would be grateful to accept such material.  And though we later reminded Gates about his offer, we never did receive the CIA report.  I thought about Gates's tragic forecast.  And then, with some mortification, I watched it happen ten years ahead of schedule." 

"Ah," said Prelin.  "A silver bullet." 

"Let's shoot for another silver bullet," I said.  "Oleg Kalugin has written that John Cairncross is not the fifth man in Britain's Cambridge spy ring.  If not Cairncross, who was it?" 

Kryuchkov snarled at the mention of Kalugin's name.

Prelin got excited.  "Why not ask for the sixth and seventh?  There were lots of agents in Britain.  Somebody invented this five." 

"Okay, who were the sixth and seventh?" I asked.

"Aha!" said Prelin. 

"Okay, how about this:  Why wasn't the KGB able to prevent Gorbachev from giving up Eastern Europe?"  (Another question from the Bureau's shopping list.)

"We have instilled a feeling among KGB officers that they should respect the laws," said Kryuchkov.  "We were very upset with Gorbachev's actions already, but it was not of an organized character.  I don't write this in my book, but I am telling you now:  I was offered to take all the power into my hands as the KGB chairman.  I refused this, though it was possible, because it would have been a real coup." 

"What do you want your epitaph to say?" I asked.

"Just my name, date of birth, date of death." 

This was the essence of Kryuchkov:  Except to students of Sovietology and espionage, his conversation and ideas were as tedious as his pen. 

As forecasted by Howard, Kryuchkov invited me to be his guest for dinner.   Prelin, Orlova, and the former KGB chairman discussed logistics. 

Prelin turned my way.  "I come here for you at six."  He winked.  "The KGB will take care of you."  

At six on the dot I found Prelin in the lobby.  He relieved me of a bottle of Ridge Geyserville, California zinfandel I had brought as a gift for Kryuchkov. 

"I give him for you," said Prelin.   

Prelin drove a BMW.  He told me he was born in Siberia, came to Moscow in 1966 for Intelligence School.  He worked five years in Counterintelligence before joining the KGB's First Directorate, serving tours in Angola, Mozambique, and Senegal. (On my return to Washington, my report to the FBI included Prelin's comment about running a CIA officer for eight years, allegedly one of eight CIA officers who died in the Beirut embassy bombing.  I suggested they determine whom amongst the deceased CIA officers had previously served in Angola, Mozambique, or Senegal, and where precisely they had been in 1977.) 

Prelin prattled on with pompous self-importance until we arrived at Edward Howard's apartment, though this arrangement was without logic, for Lena Orlova drove with Howard in his car and I got stuck with Prelin for company, at his insistence. 

When we reached Kryuchkov's apartment building, Prelin instructed me to join Howard in his car.  He went up to fetch the boss. 

Five minutes later, a chauffeur-driven Zhiguili pulled out with Kryuchkov and Prelin in the backseat.  We would not be dining in Uncle Vlad's apartment, as Howard had thought. 

"Kryuchkov has a car and driver again," Howard commented.  "The Duma Committee on Security, run by the Communists, made Kryuchkov a consultant, and that qualifies him for a driver." 

"Prelin's a piece of work," I said. 

Howard cursed under his breath.  "These First Directorate colonels all think they're hot shit.  They all drive BMWs." 

We followed the Zhiguili to Taganka, a Moscow suburb; parked in the lot of a restaurant called Fairy Tale. Inside, the owners greeted Kryuchkov with great warmth.  They had closed the larger room of their restaurant to all but our party. 

"This is K's favorite restaurant," Howard whispered to me. 

Inside a dark dining room, a long table was spread banquet-style with three kinds of smoked Baltic fish and other appetizers. 

Howard acted very blasé about the whole affair.  He could have cared less being present; had joined us only at Kryuchkov's insistence.  (An irony of post-usefulness syndrome, common to defectors once fully debriefed:  Now that Howard had become a hot-shot stock analyst, surfing the wave of new Russian capitalism, he appeared to have no further use for them.) 

Although Howard did not seek the company of these old-guard KGB officers, he remained charmed by Kryuchkov's obvious affection toward him.

Kryuchkov gifted me with the two-volume hardcover of his autobiography, as published in Russia. 

He autographed it with this handwritten message in Cyrillic:  "To Robert, Good luck with your creative pursuits." (!) 

My new soundrel of friends and I ate by candlelight, and drank "Stalin's favorite wine" (said Kryuchkov), a Georgian rouge called Kindzmarauli.

Talk of Joseph Stalin brought cheer to the former KGB chairman.  He recalled a special moment, in 1953, when he realized he stood only one hundred feet from the tyrannical dictator.  "It was the happiest day of my life," said Kryuchkov, a tear welling behind thick glasses. 

It pleased him to report to us that a Stalin revival going on in Moscow.  Whenever Stalin's name was invoked at the ballet or the theater, said Kryuchkov, people broke into applause. 

In contrast to his adoration for Stalin, Kryuchkov said he despised Nikita Khrushchev.  But, he added, "Khrushchev, to his credit, never would have tolerated Gorbachev.  When I go out, I have no bodyguards.  I walk the streets alone.  If people come up to me, they are kind and sympathetic.  But Gorbachev dares not step one foot out of his home without five bodyguards.  The people taunt him.  They throw tomatoes at him." 

We agreed on a title for Kryuchkov's memoir.  Spy Lord:  Secrets of the KGB Chairman. 

"What will Washington think," Prelin said to me, "when the Soviet Union re-emerges?" 

"Is this something you expect to achieve militarily?" I asked. 

"No," Kryuchkov answered.  "It's what the people want."

"So you're going to re-unite through public referendum?" I said. 

"Yes," Prelin and Kryuchkov replied in unison.

"Everyone seems to be in favor of big nation-states," I said, "like a unified Europe.  But just the same, I don't think I'd use the word Soviet if I were you.  Nor Union for that matter."  My tongue was planted firmly in cheek.  "Maybe you should call yourselves the Democratic States of Eurasia?" 

Prelin concurred, while I struggled to keep a straight face. 

"The problem," said Kryuchkov, "is that your country interferes with the popular vote." 

"Ah," I said. 

"It's not right for your country to do this," added Prelin.

"Okay, here's what you do," I said.  "We have secession groups in Texas and California.  Alaska has a whole political party devoted to breaking from the federal union.  You should retaliate and give these groups your support." 

"Ah yes!" Prelin lurched forward.  "We tell Vladimir Alexandrovitch (Kryuchkov) to do this [when he was KGB chairman]!  But he does not listen!" 

And I'm sitting there thinking, What am I doing in this asylum? 

Kryuchkov launched another complaint against the United States.  "You have too many laws," he said.  "So you're not free.  We did not repress people with laws.  So we had real freedom." 

This was more surreal than a Salvador Dali painting.  I'd come through the looking glass and that's where I'd landed, at the mad KGB chairman's dinner party, as painted by Dali. 

Then Prelin jumped into his greatest gripe of all:  The American IRS was now teaching the Russian government how to collect taxes. 

Prelin complained that he had to pay "104 percent tax" on one of his projects.   

I said I did not understand how this could be possible.  "You'd lose money." 

"Yaa."  Prelin shrugged to make his point.  "But I make special arrangements, so it turns out okay."

Thankfully, the conversation reverted to books.   

I explained that the spy genre was not doing well.

"Nobody cares," I said.  "Everybody in the States says the Cold War is over." 

Prelin shook his head sadly.  “Yaa, that's what they say here, too." 

Te main course, small dumplings with meat (of what origin, I dared not ask), was served as we chatted.  Then dinner ended abruptly without offer of dessert or coffee.

Prelin had still not given Kryuchkov my gift, the bottle of wine.  I asked him about it. 

"I take care of it," he replied.  "KGB honor." 

Which meant, I suppose, Kryuchkov never got his bottle. 

I mentioned this to Howard on the drive back to my hotel. 

Howard shook his head; it was obvious he had no time for Prelin. 

"He's like a student council president," said Howard.  "Plays his role as head of the former KGB officers association to the hilt.  He crashed my last birthday party." 

Birthdays in Moscow had always been a bone of contention with Howard. 

"It's traditional that all your Russian friends drop by," he told me.  "You're supposed to give them food and vodka." 

With his tightwad character, this wasn't exactly Howard's idea of a good time.   

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

June 1997

As my Swissair jet neared Sheremtevo Airport, the clouds thickened, then darkened, and what had been a smooth cruise now became rocky and uncertain. 

I listened to the soundtrack of Russia House on my Walkman as we bumped into a final approach.   

This time Customs was a breeze, but no Edward Howard waiting in Arrivals.  A dozen-plus cab drivers descended on me, circling again and again like sharks.  (Choose the wrong driver and you'd end up mugged or dead.)  I found a wall for my back in the dark, cavernous terminal. 

Howard finally appeared, cursing traffic.  He took my bag and led me to his battered blue Volvo.  It's odometer now clocked 106,670 miles.  Howard, dressed in a suit and tie, had gained another ten pounds. 

As we drove, Howard told me the plan:  Kryuchkov would arrive at my hotel at nine next morning accompanied by Igor Prelin, executive director of the retired intelligence officers association. 

Prelin's last job at the KGB, explained Howard, was public relations chief.  Now he acted as front man for the old guard KGB-in-Exile. 

Lena Orlova a.k.a. Larissa would be on hand to translate. 

Howard said he would make the introductions, then let us get on with it, maybe return for dinner at Kryuchkov's home. 

Howard had become a stock market analyst (from traitor to trader), affiliated with a firm called Rye, Man and Gor Securities.  As director of their analytical department, he was bullish on Aeroflot stock. 

Howard told me he'd been to Cuba two months earlier and was considering the purchase of a seafront apartment in Havana. 

"Come meet me there," he said.  "I'll introduce you to some Cuban intelligence people.  Who knows, maybe there are some books in it for you." 

Howard had worked out how to retire in five years, based upon investments in the Russian stock market.

He'd already mapped out his future:  Winters in Cuba, summers at a cabin on Lake Baikal, part-time consulting by fax and e-mail.  (Five-year plans are a Russian tradition.) 

Ninety-minutes later we arrived at my hotel, the elegant Baltschug Kempinski.  I checked into my room (310) and returned to the lobby for further chitchat with Howard.  A woman plucked a harp while, around her, young Muscovites juggled multiple cell phones, Russia's newest status symbol. 

I asked Howard if he wanted to manage money for new clients.  Damn right he did.  He could set up fiduciary accounts in Cyprus, said he; and, as some Russian stocks did not require conversion to rubles, he could buy and sell them in U.S. dollars.  What's more, he'd take only a 2.5 percent commission instead of the normal five percent.  

"I'm close to the market," said Howard.  "I'm constantly on the phone to publicly-traded Russian companies to assess their activities." 

"Sounds good," I said.  "Are you willing to travel to meet prospective clients?" 

The FBI was still in a holding pattern on luring Howard to capture.  Twenty-two months had passed since we'd been frozen "maybe as long as six months."

Nevertheless, John H and I continued to scope out such opportunities in the event that we might one day get a green light. 

"Sure," replied Howard.  "I'm traveling widely." 

But, he added, no talk of travel on the phone, fax or Internet. 

I suggested we establish a code to make commo possible, and we both made identical notes:  

Gorki = Geneva (Hotel Les Amures) 

Kharkov = Zurich (Hotel Savoy) 

Minsk = Warsaw (The Intercontinental) 

St. Petersburg = Prague  (The Intercontinental) 

Samara = Havana (Hotel Nacional) 

Always 12 noon in reception, one day past the date stipulated in communication.  

Howard wanted to get into automobile insurance, which, he said, was virtually non-existent in Russia. 

"What happens when cars collide?" I asked. 

"The drivers fight it out." 

So Howard had cultivated a relationship with a Moscow-based insurance company called Rose gal, forty-nine percent owned by the Great American Life Insurance Company. 

Howard departed for a business appointment, and I retired to my room.  The view of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral was so grand, I opened the French windows and ordered room service:  Beluga Malassol Caviar 56g, Buckwheat Blinis, A Glass of Vodka Stolichnaya, 65 Deutschmarks. 

On my desk I plopped a copy of the Washington Post’s Sunday book section, Book World, a back-stopping of my legend should anyone pay a visit while I wasn't around.  

Next morning, Howard and his special guests arrived on time.  I descended to the lobby to greet them; we went straight back up to my room. 

Vladimir Kryuchkov had the cherubic face of a kindly uncle.  You would never know, looking at him, that he had been one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union. 

The 74-year-old former KGB chairman dressed like a Communist Party apparatchik in a charcoal wool suit, white shirt, navy-blue tie with a white vertical stripe, and a woolen sweater-vest.  His round, apple-cheeked face was dominated by large spectacles with heavy amber-colored frames.  A wisp of gray hair atop his bald pate stood on end. 

It was hard to believe that this short, smiling man had personally ordered the executions of spies given up by Aldrich Ames. 

As KGB Chairman, he would visit their cells the night before execution and ask, "Are you comfortable?"

Kryuchkov's sidekick, Igor Prelin, was dressed (comically, I thought) in black slacks, black silk shirt, black striped tie and burgundy shoes; slicked back hair, heavy on the grease, and a trim gray beard.  Al Capone meets Red Mafia

Lena Orlova was Howard's assistant, Larissa, a KGB agent who had been married to Glenn Michael Souther, an American defector from the U.S. Navy who committed suicide at age 32 in 1989. 

Orlova now operated as Howard's fallback date.  Plain with ivory skin and observant eyes, the odd thing about Orlova was her bobbing Adam's apple.  (Females normally do not have Adam’s apples.)  

I opened the meeting and explained my position on Kryuchkov's book:  It would have to be a memoir of his intelligence career, not a full-fledged autobiography; the American reading public could not sit through two long volumes, as just published in Russia.  It needed jazzing up, I said, a little color.  But it also needed major revelations.  Things nobody had ever known before.  The sort of thing they once called Gee whiz moments at The National Enquirer. 

"Ah," said Prelin.  "Silver bullets." 

"Right," I said. "Silver bullets." 

We needed, I said solemnly, to solve some of the great spy mysteries of the second half of the twentieth century. 

Vladimir Kryuchkov had begun his government career as a diplomat.  Posted in Hungary during that nation's repressed rebellion in 1956, he caught the eye of Ambassador Yuri Andropov, a rising star who would, in time, become Chairman of the KGB and eventually succeed Leonid Brezhnev as the Soviet Union's top banana.  Andropov became Kryuchkov's mentor, first transferring him from the foreign ministry to the KGB, then nurturing Kryuchkov's career to the top. 

In all, Kryuchkov spent 24 years in high positions at the KGB, including chief of the First Directorate, a spymaster responsible for Soviet espionage and covert operations worldwide. 

In 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev crowned Kryuchkov chairman of the KGB. 

And in August 1991, Kryuchkov showed his appreciation by conspiring to unseat Gorbachev in a failed putsch. I asked permission to tape-record our session; Kryuchkov agreed, and we began.

"I trusted Gorbachev," said Kryuchkov.  "He swore that he would not permit disintegration of the Soviet Union."

Now Kryuchkov had only profound scorn for his former boss. 

"The date of the downfall of the Soviet Union can be precisely marked to the day Gorbachev took power in 1985," he said.

Kryuchkov was convinced (a "silver bullet," Prelin interrupted) that Alexandre Yakovlev, one of Gorby's closet advisers, worked secretly for the CIA; that Yakovlev had been recruited in 1959 while an exchange student at Columbia University in New York City. 

"I brought this to Gorbachev's attention," said Kryuchkov.  "I suggested that we commence an official investigation.  What did the President of the USSR do?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing." 

With hindsight, Kryuchkov now questioned Gorbachev's allegiance to the Motherland. 

"Gorbachev was praised by American and German leaders.  He liked everybody in the West," said Kryuchkov, attempting profundity.  "So here is the question:  Did Gorbachev work for the East or West?"

Kryuchkov said that the CIA's strategy of destabilizing the Soviet Union from within is what led to its collapse.

"The KGB received trustworthy information on this point," said Kryuchkov.  "We knew that they had created a network of influence in Soviet society, a long-term program that influenced our intelligentsia and demoralized our military.  We must pay tribute to Western strategists," he added with sarcasm.  "They did not make a mistake backing Gorbachev." 

"How do you know these things?" I asked. 

I knew I was talking to the former KGB chairman, who should know these things.  But Maurice Buckmaster, the late chief of Britain's Special Operations Executive during World War II, taught me always to play the skeptic when dialoging with sources. 

"It all started with Philby," replied Kryuchkov.  Kim Philby, the infamous British MI6 operative who spied for the Russians over two decades and did untold damage to the West.  "The materials passed us by Philby were of extreme tactical and strategic importance."

"Do you ever wonder if Philby wasn't a triple agent?" I posed. 

"When Philby first arrived in Moscow, we watched his apartment, monitored his telephone conversations and opened his mail," Kryuchkov admitted.  "He did not understand everything about our Soviet reality, and many things upset him, particularly our way of life. (!)  But during his last ten years, Philby enjoyed the unlimited confidence of his Soviet friends, and there was nothing about his behavior to doubt his loyalty to communism and the Soviet Union." 

But it was another Western spy whom Kryuchkov ranked "one of our most brilliant achievements":  Aldrich Ames, a CIA mole who reported to his masters in Moscow for almost ten years. 

"Until Ames joined our side in the mid-1980s," said Kryuchkov, "we had very limited success in the hunt for foreign penetrations in our service."

Kryuchkov took no responsibility for Ames's arrest.  "During my chairmanship, Ames's security was of paramount importance." 

(Other former KGB officials believe Kryuchkov's treatment of those fingered by Ames, their recall from foreign posts, swift arrest and execution, convinced the FBI and CIA to launch a spy-hunt.) 

On the subject of famous spy cases, I asked the former KGB chairman about Vitaly Yurchenko, the KGB officer who defected to the United States from Italy in 1985, then re-defected to the Soviet Union. 

It was Yurchenko who gave up "Robert" to CIA debriefers (who included Aldrich Ames).  That codename and a description of Robert’s circumstances traced immediately to Edward Howard.

"During a walk in Rome," said Kryuchkov, "Yurchenko suddenly felt sick.  He sat down for a rest and passed out.  When he regained consciousness, Yurchenko saw strangers bending over him--everything else was a fog:  an airplane, an isolated house, the United States."

The real fog, in this instance, was Kryuchkov-created:  a tale fabricated for internal Soviet consumption.

"Nobody believes that," I said, shaking my head.

  "No?" said Kryuchkov.  "Then how about this:  Yurchenko knew what he was doing.  It was a self-appointed mission to embarrass the CIA." 

"Better," I said.  "But I've been hoping your book would be truthful." 

As Prelin translated, Kryuchkov stiffened.  Even after many months in the can, the former KGB chairman was still accustomed to sycophants who said yaa, not nyet-nyuk

We moved onto the case of Nicholas Shadrin, a Soviet naval commander who defected to Sweden in 1959 and went to work for the CIA.

In 1975 Shadrin disappeared while on a trip to Austria.

"Yes, we did kidnap Shadrin," Kryuchkov conceded.  "He had violated his oath, defected to the West and worked against the USSR.  For this crime, he was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to be shot.  In the early 1970s, our service located Shadrin in Washington and established contact with him.  He agreed to make amends and work for Soviet intelligence.  I believed he was truly remorseful and could be useful to us.  But he became too enthusiastic, and we found his behavior suspicious.  Then we received reliable information that the Americans were behind this game.  So we decided to lure this traitor out and bring him home.  Oleg Kalugin, a First Directorate colonel, was put in charge of the operation.  In meetings, we discussed how to deal with Shadrin's resistance and transport him from Vienna to Prague.  We decided to use chloroform.  But Kalugin had his own agenda.  The result was a fiasco.  Drugged unconscious, Shadrin was pulled a thousand yards in the snow at the Austrian-Czech border, then left to lay in the icy cold for twenty minutes because the car that was supposed to carry him got stuck in the snow.  Shadrin died.  My deputy flew to Prague to assess the failure of this operation.  He reported that our receiving team was upset--all except for Kalugin, who appeared satisfied by the outcome.  An autopsy determined that Shadrin had liver cancer at an advanced stage, so he would not have lived more than six months anyway." 

During a short break, Igor Prelin engaged me in conversation.  He told me he had written a novel, published in Russia, based on a true story, "about a CIA officer I ran for eight years who died tragically in Lebanon." 

"When?" I asked. 

"January 1985, the embassy bombing." 

I was surprised by the casualness with which Prelin laid such a bombshell on me. Perhaps he wanted to track where it might travel. 

I asked Prelin if Kryuchkov had been followed to my hotel. 

"They've been called off for one day."  Prelin winked.  "We have professionals in charge again." 

Prelin told me that he represented 3,600 retired KGB officers. 

"Who has better counterintelligence?" I asked him. "Russians or Americans." 

"We do," replied Prelin.  "America only catches agents through betrayal.  We catch them through hard work."