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Thursday, August 14, 2014

18. GOOD TO GO






Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

July 1994


My Air France flight from Paris to Moscow was a slow three hours and fifteen minutes; a path that took us over Amsterdam, up to the Baltic Sea, and across Lithuania.  

Lunch in Le Club class was surprisingly inedible; fine by me as I had no appetite.  

I was on my own, in both a literal and figurative sense, unprotected by diplomatic immunity.  If caught out as an illegal deep-cover spy by the KGB, my friends at the FBI would deny any connection to me. 

The Russian definition of spying is purposely vague, and stickier than flypaper on a humid day.  Twenty years' imprisonment is their going rate for espionage.

I carried with me a pocketful of ideas to extend my relationship with Edward Howard beyond his business with National Press Books. 

Indeed, it had been determined on a legal level that a rendition of Howard should not involve National Press, but stem from a new project I would propose. 

So I sipped a quarter-bottle of champagne and made a meal of Time and Newsweek.  

As we descended, my mood lightened.  A sunny July day in Moscow, clear skies.  The fields and lakes looked appealing from on high. 

As we landed and taxied to a terminal, I looked out my window to see Aeroflot aircraft everywhere, sleek and attractive on the outside.  Like Russia itself, the truth lay beneath the surface:  Loose seats, missing life vests; disarray and deteriorating infrastructure. 

Armed soldiers watched as we new arrivals negotiated drab corridors, down a flight of stairs to baggage collection, a madhouse. 

I hadn't checked any luggage, so I aimed myself at Customs. 

Two choices:  Green (nothing to declare) or Red (something to declare).  But Green was closed.  I took my place in one of two long lines for Red. 

"Do you speak English?" I asked the guy in front of me.

"I hope so.  I'm from New York." 

"Why is Green closed?  I have nothing to declare." 

"If you have more than fifty dollars," he said, "you have something to declare." 

"Fifty dollars?  Who has less than fifty dollars?"

"Exactly." 

"But what if I did have less than fifty dollars?" 

"You'd have even more trouble if Green was open.  They'd detain you for having so little money.  I saw this happen once." 

The Dickster was right:  Moscow defies logic.  

I was only ninth in line at Customs, but it took thirty minutes to reach Mrs. Potato-head, who stamped and re-stamped my documents in quadruplicate. 

I looked around for Edward Howard, but he found me, coming up from behind, whispering my name.  I shook his outstretched hand.   

Howard looked like a short, pudgy version of the actor Roy Scheider.  He wore mismatched clothing: red and white striped shirt, gray trousers, beige jacket, black sneakers.  He looked, well, Russian. 

We made our way to Howard's powder-blue 1987 Volvo station wagon with Russian tags:  T9415MK.  The odometer registered 52,000-plus miles, but this rusty vehicle had matured way beyond its physical age and mileage. 

Howard climbed behind the wheel, fastened his seat belt.  "Mind if I smoke?" 

"Not at all."  I paused.  "I'm staying at the Radisson.  No offense or anything, nice of you to offer your apartment, but I prefer a hotel and the services that go with it when I travel." 

"Okay.  The Radisson's good," said Howard.  "I recently joined their health club so I'm there three times a week.  It also houses the International Press Club, which I just got into." 

"Really?" 

"Yeah."  Howard dragged on his Doral cigarette, started the car.  "It's open to journalists, writers, and heads of business.  So I thought, what the hell, I've got my own business.  I went in and they accepted me.  It's kind-a funny because the U.S. Embassy is on its board!"

Watching Howard's hands, I noted his school ring and a Rolex wristwatch with stainless steel bracelet.  His fingernails were bitten to all hell. 

As he swung into airport traffic, Howard mentioned that FBI Director Louis Freeh had visited Moscow two weeks earlier. 

"I tried to get a photograph of him for my book.  I stood watching outside Lyubianka when he visited, but he didn't stop to talk to reporters, he rushed straight in.  Later I found out why:  His visit upset a lot of hardliners.  So he was asked to keep a low profile." 

Howard struggled against other motorists to merge onto a main road. 

"That's the mentality here," he commented, shaking his head.  "Beat out the next guy." 

"Is that a Muscovite trait?" I asked. 

"No, it's a Russian trait.  I don't like these people.  And they're even worse to do business with.  Things are changing too fast here."  Howard coughed, an incessant catarrh-like hack from smoking.  "Used to be, everything was based on Party privilege.  Now everything is based on money.  If you've got dollars, you can have anything you want." 

Howard seemed disgusted by this concept, not least because all he possessed had come through Party privilege. 

"Not that I was ever in love with communism," he added.  "It's just that people here aren't used to this.  Look at all these cars."  He motioned with both hands at the bumper-to-bumper traffic grid-locked around us.  "There never used to be this many cars around.  People had money, but they couldn't buy a car without the right contacts and getting on a list.  It took fifteen years to buy a car.  Now anyone with money can buy one.  And what do you get?  Traffic." 

"Things are pretty ridiculous in the States, too," I said.  "You've been away a long time, Ed.  You're probably not familiar with all the political correctness going on.  Real estate agents can't even use terms like great view any more because it may offend blind people." 

Howard chuckled.  And The Dickster said he didn't have a sense of humor… 

"I've lived half my life overseas, Ed," I said.  "You begin to see the U.S. through a different light.  You ever think of going back?" 

Howard grimaced.  He rubbed his crooked boxer's nose.  "I could beat the espionage charges.  It's all the other stuff they could put me in jail for:  inter-state flight, taxes…" 

"Taxes?"

"Yeah, uh-huh.  I went to see a tax advisor about the amnesty they're offering for overseas Americans.  I was told I could take advantage of that.  It's the state tax in New Mexico that worries me." 

I couldn't believe my ears.  This fugitive, wanted for espionage, was worried that he hadn't paid his taxes.  Plus he was under the erroneous impression that he should have been paying state tax all these years.  

I pointed out that as an overseas American, he had liability only for federal income tax, with an exemption of the first $75,000 of earned income. 

Taxes aside, was there no deal that could be made for his voluntary return?   "Alan Sultan thinks it would be great publicity for your book," I said. 

"If they'd just try me for espionage and drop all the other crap, I'd come back," said Howard. 

"Who would you deal with?" I asked.  "The FBI.  But they don't deal.  It's really the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico." 

"Have you had offers to deal?" 

"Yeah.  I got a fax over a year ago saying they wanted to come to Moscow to talk to me." 

"Out of the blue?" "Well, I had phoned an FBI guy named [John H].  I'd met him in Stockholm before the Swedes let me leave.  I guess the fax was a result of that." 

"What happened?" 

"I faxed back asking for an agenda." 

"And?" 

They faxed me saying they wouldn't give me an agenda." 

"Then?" 

"Nothing," said Howard.   "My KGB contacts said 'Why bother?'  So when the FBI didn't give me an agenda I never faxed back." 

"Forget the KGB," I said.  "They have a vested interest in you staying here.  If this guy [John H] wants to come to Moscow to talk, what have you got to lose?" 

"It's just boondoggle," said Howard.  "Those guys like taking trips.  They'll come all this way not to deal."

"You've still got nothing to lose," I said. 

"Yeah, yeah, I guess it's worth thinking about.  But I don't think the Russians would be too happy." 

"Screw the Russians, man.  It's yourself you've got to worry about." 

"I know, I know." 

Howard steered into the Radisson-Slavyanskaya's forecourt.  For a new luxury hotel, it was ugly as sin.  Howard circled twice, nipped into a space vacated by another vehicle. 

As we approached the hotel entrance by foot, Howard said, "The Russians think I'm crazy for including ***** [code name for the Black Box] in my book." 

"Why?" 

"Because they say the CIA is going to kill me for that."

"Why?  It's old news, isn't it?" 

"Yeah," said Howard.  "But the CIA may be doing the same thing in other countries today, current applications of the same technique." 

Howard stood next to me at the check-in desk; a clerk accessed my reservation.   

"I'll put you a long way from noisy renovations," said the clerk. 

"And a double-bed," I said.  "Not twins." 

The clerk fingered his keyboard.  "Can I have your passport?" 

"When do I get it back?" I asked. 

"Tomorrow." 

"No good," I said.  "I'm leaving early in the morning.  Can't you just photocopy it?" 

"No," said the clerk.  "You need a receipt for Customs when you leave Russia." 

Howard made faces.  "What crap!" he erupted.  "Foreigners stay in my apartment all the time and never show their passport." 

The clerk shrugged.  "I get it back to you tonight."  He took my passport, issued me a key. 

Howard remained in the lobby; I ascended to the sixth floor and found my way to room 6056, adjacent to noisy renovations.  I opened the door.  Twin beds.  No logic to Moscow. I emptied my head, scribbling notes about Howard in handwriting so illegible, I could barely make sense of it.  (Bad handwriting is less incriminating than encryption.) 

I returned downstairs and we drove to Howard's office so he could check on incoming faxes.  Howard told me his wife and son would arrive in Moscow five days hence and stay a month.  They wanted to visit St. Petersburg, he said; so he intended to accompany them and play tour guide. 

"How are you able to maintain your marriage like this?" I asked. 

"It's tough," said Howard.  "Mary and I see each other at Christmas and during the summer.  I don't ask her questions and she doesn't ask me any.  It's what you'd call mature love." 

"And when she's here, it's as if nothing has changed?"

"That's right.  My in-laws are coming, too," Howard added. 

"Everything's cool with them?" 

"It's okay now.  At first they didn't want Mary to see me again.  It took some time.  But we got over the emotional difficulties.  I've got their support.  And that's the main reason I want this book written.  I just want my side of the story out there where my family can see it.  Then I can move on." 

"And your son?" 

"We have a good relationship.  We had a long talk when he was eleven, after he found a copy of the David Wise book.  Lee knows I'm not a spy.  I'm a political refugee."

I told Howard that National Press planned to submit his manuscript to the CIA for review. 

"They have to," I said, "to protect themselves from accusations of receiving and publishing classified material." 

"I see."  Howard was displeased by this news, not least because he anticipated, correctly, that the CIA would try to freeze all monies due him. 

Traffic had slowed because twelve large crates of bottled beer had fallen from a truck in front of us.  Cars veered around the mess; some motorists jumped out of their vehicles to loot the few bottles that lay unbroken in the street. 

A half-mile later, Howard parked and we crossed the street to his office, housed within a yellow cinderblock structure. 

"I'm in a medical building," said Howard.  "It's cheap."

We walked through an unlocked front door.  A few yards on, first door on the left, Howard keyed a single lock and we entered.  The drab, two-room office was illuminated by dim wattage.  It reeked of stale tobacco.  Cigarette smoke had permeated the carpets, the furniture, and stained the walls brown. 

Howard checked for faxes.  None.

"Who are your clients these days?" I asked.  

"Some Germans, Swedes, and a Spaniard.  He paid for me to meet him in Vienna last month." 

"So you manage to travel a bit?" 

"Yeah," said Howard.  "Neutral countries mostly, like Switzerland and Austria." 

"How do you find clients?" "Through advertising.  I started with the International Herald Tribune, but that was terrible.  I only got people who wanted to sell me things.  The Economist is best." 

Howard locked his office and we walked down the road to a Tex-Mex restaurant called Santa Fe. 

"They've only been open four months but doing pretty well," said Howard.  "It's a good thing we're eating early.  It'll be packed later, with a line to get in." 

Santa Fe was quiet at 5:30 p.m., a few barflies.  A maitre’d sat us with menus printed in English, priced in U.S. dollars. 

I ordered Heineken; Howard, a tonic.  He lit a Doral and chained his way through dinner:  beef fajitas for him, a chicken sandwich for me. 

"Your book is going to need some new hooks," I said.  "So let's talk about that now." 

"Fine." 

"First.  Your knowledge about Russian spies inside the U.S. Government beyond Ames." 

"There are plenty of them," said Howard. 

"Okay, let's expand on that.  Start with the American who tipped you off about your wife cooperating with the FBI during your secret trip to the U.S. in ‘86.  Where would he have worked to gain access to the documents he showed you?" 

"Probably the Justice Department," said Howard. "The KGB showed me psychological studies that had been prepared by the U.S. government saying that I was suicidal.  That would have been CIA." 

"Ames?" 

"Maybe." 

"Or the KGB could have made it up," I said. 

"Why?" 

"To convince you not to take the trip." 

"Uh-huh," said Howard.  "I guess that's possible.  But I went, and they helped me with false documents and re-entry." 

"Speaking of Ames," I said.  "Why didn't the Russians rescue him?  They must have known he was under investigation." 

"Yeah, they knew he was in trouble," said Howard.  "Last September, one of my KGB contacts, a man named Batamirov, showed me a picture of Ames when we were at a restaurant on the river.  He asked me, 'Do you know this man?'  I said I didn't.  I should have known then something was going on.  They knew Ames was in trouble." 

"So why didn't they exfiltrate Ames?" I asked.  "Like the Brits did with Oleg Gordievsky?" 

"They could have," replied Howard.  "It would have been very easy.  The KGB wanted to get him out.  It went up to [President] Yeltsin for approval and Yeltsin shot it down." 

I almost fell out of my chair.  "Why?" I asked.

"Because it would have been too sticky politically," said Howard.  "Look, when there was a $400 million aid package for Russia working its way through Congress, some Congressman tacked on a rider saying it was contingent on the Russians giving me back!  Yeltsin didn't want another one like me messing up aid packages.  It was more politically expedient to let Ames get caught than bring him here, where'd he'd become a major political and economic issue.  And I'll tell you something else about Ames:  He wasn't the incompetent fool they made him out to be in the American press.  My KGB contacts say he was a brilliant spy, very professional." 

"You wrote in your manuscript that your KGB friends cracked out the champagne when Ames was caught.  Why would they celebrate the loss of such an important agent?" 

"You have to understand," said Howard, "these guys have been bashed away at for five years.  It boosted their morale to be seen to have put one over on the CIA." 

I asked again about Russian spies inside the U.S. government. 

"Look," said Howard.  "We have thousands of intelligence officers around the world whose job it is to recruit spies.  So does the KGB.  With all those people, and a big budget, do you think they don't recruit anyone?  If they didn't, the money would stop.  Of course they have spies everywhere.  When I was living in Sweden, my KGB contacts told me in advance everything that was coming down on me.  They said, You're about to be detained and arrested.  They knew!  I'll tell you, Igor Batamirov, the man Dick Cote met?  He was Ames's handler." 

As he chewed beef fajitas, Howard confirmed for me what he had told The Dickster:  His book was the KGB's idea. 

"They asked what I wanted," said Howard.  "I said, Just give me a new car.  They said fine." 

I ordered a second Heineken; Ed, another tonic.  The restaurant had begun to fill up, mostly expatriate American businessmen. 

Talk turned to the new capitalism in Russia, Howard's pet peeve. 

"In the old days," said Howard, "I had a little book, and in it were special vouchers and phone numbers for getting seats at the Bolshoi (ballet) or anywhere else in Moscow." 

"You don't have that any more?" 

"No one does," Howard griped.  "Everything is money now." 



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