|KGB Colonel Igor Prelin|
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.
"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."
"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!