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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

24. WASHINGTON CRYPTIC






Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

November 1994



At 7:30 a.m. precisely, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, I found my way to the Badge Room at FBI Headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Moments later, John H appeared. 

"Good time in Zurich?" he asked. 

"You would not believe." 

We crossed the cobble-stoned courtyard, punched our badges, and strolled past portrait paintings in oil of past FBI directors:  J. Edgar Hoover, Clarence Kelly, a ghastly William Webster... up to the fourth floor, a restricted zone, down a long corridor to the office of Allyson G, whom I'd first and last seen at Clair George's house 14 months before. 

A tall, gray-haired Special Agent-in-Charge named John Q had just replaced Allyson as Headquarters' supervisor on the Howard case.  We shook hands. John Q wore a good suit and had a green Pelikan pen clipped to his shirt pocket. 

Down another long corridor, a security guard unlocked a conference room.  John H, John Q, and I were joined at a rectangular table by Jim S, and a Bureau employee named Dick A. 

John H cued me to tell the assembled guests about myself. 

One-third into my spiel, the Bureau's counter-terrorism chief, Bob B, slipped into the room and took a seat to my left. 

When I’d finished, Dick A spoke.  He asked questions about how I might feel when, after spending time with Edward Howard and getting to know him, he got caught and put behind bars. 

"You mean sort of like the Stockholm Syndrome?" I asked. 

"Uh, yeah, that's right," said Dick A. 

(The Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon whereby hostages cultivate sympathetic and protective feelings toward their kidnappers.) 

"I'm doing a professional job," I said.  "The friendliness I establish with Howard is for one purpose only:  for luring him to capture." 

The difference for me was this:  If I had been a friend of Howard's and someone, anyone, approached me to help capture my friend, my reply would have been negative.  But this was an operation conceived and executed by myself, with the FBI's authorization and support.  Pure business. 

Dick A countered that he understood what I said, but that people never really knew how they are going to feel about this kind of thing until the climax.  The Bureau's concern: I might have a change of heart at the last minute.  So Dick A wondered, would I be willing to take a battery of tests for evaluating my state of mind? 

I looked around, incredulous.  "We've been at this over a year," I said.  "And now you want me to take a test?" 

I almost got up and walked out. 

Bob B spoke up.  He had run a few renditions with Middle East terrorists, he said, and seen a couple go south on this very issue.  So did I mind if he asked me a couple hard questions? 

No wonder nobody wanted to spend much time in the J. Edgar Hoover Building. 

"Shoot." 

Why did I think Edward Howard trusted me so much?

"Because I'm good at this." I said.  "My legend is fully back-stopped.  Howard believes I'm genuine, he trusts me.  On top of that, he likes me.  I even telephoned him on October 27th to say happy birthday."

Bob B nodded, zoomed his eyes into mine.  How many others knew what I was really up to with Howard? 

I raised a single finger.  "Just one." 

"Who?" asked Bob B. 

Clair George. 

John Q perked up from across the conference table.  "Your wife doesn't know?" 

"No." 

"Would you be willing to take a polygraph test somewhere down the line?" asked Blitzer.

I shrugged.  "Why not." 

"You know," said John H.  "The President is going to have to sign-off on this.  And someone from the White House is going to ask, Has this guy taken a polygraph?  That's why it's important." 

"It's not a problem," I said. 

Bob B launched into operational security. 

First off, how did I communicate with John H in Albuquerque? 

I telephoned him at his office on Silver Street. 

No good, said Bob B.  He wanted an anonymous cut-out number for me to call, different area code. 

Next, my own copies of reports and notes pertaining to Howard.  Where did I keep them? 

At home. Bob B fretted that the KGB might break into my house to check me out. 

Solution:  The Bureau should supply me with a safe. Finally, the rendition itself. 

To which destinations could I lure Howard?

"Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia, Helsinki, Vienna--take your pick," I said.  "He's agreed to visit all these places." 

Bob B nodded, impressed.  It gave him more than enough to work with.  "It's better that you are as detached as possible from the actual rendition," he said.  "That way, Howard himself won't know your role in this." 

I shrugged.  "However you execute this is fine by me."

We would be hold, said Bob B, until the Justice Department gave a final nod. 

Bob G, Jim S, and John H would deliver a formal presentation two weeks hence. 

But whatever their decision, said Bob B, I should continue my contact with Howard with a view toward cultivating positive intelligence from my relationship with the defector. 

Indeed, the irony of putting the KGB in Central Europe to work on Spy’s Guide was savored by all in attendance. 

We adjourned. 

"About those tests," said John H as we paced the long corridor.  "When...?" 

"Tell them to shove their battery of tests up their…" 

"Yeah, I figured as much," said John H.  


Next morning, back to Headquarters.  This time we ascended to the seventh floor.  This is where the Big Cheese Family resided. 

John H, John Q, and I strolled into the large corner office of Robert "Bear" Bryant, Assistant Director for National Security, after first meeting his deputy, John Lewis.   

Bryant had a large paunch and a mumbling growl of a voice; part grizzly, part teddy bear.  "So where are we on this?" he asked. 

John H briefed the assistant director.  John Q pitched in.  I did, too.  Specifically, I mentioned Edward Howard's new idea to write Spy’s Cookbook, a manual for double-agents. 

Bryant shook his head and growled his support for our operation.  He wanted to haul Howard in, he said, and he ventured his opinion that Budapest would be our best bet. Bryant thanked me. 

I pointed to John H.  "He’s the real hero," I said.  "This job takes patience, and this guy's got the patience of a saint." 

John H and Bryant had started their careers together as rookie special agents in Seattle.  Bryant had jumped into the fast lane and rose through the ranks; John H had plodded on, content to settle in New Mexico.  If he had any further ambition, it was to teach Sunday school in retirement. 

We stood.  Bryant shook my hand, gave me his calling card.  I now had the confidence of the Bureau's national security division at its most senior level.  

Next day I met with Joseph and Sultan at National Press.  With advance orders of under 6,000 copies, and a cool reception from sales reps, Howard's book had become more trouble than it was worth. 

Sultan favored killing it.  Joseph wanted to publish, but only if Howard's agent literary backed off and waived the remainder of his advance. 

Would I talk to Howard, they asked, and resolve this crisis?  


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