Thursday, September 11, 2014


Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

November 1999

Early evening, we met in the Atrium Bar of my hotel, the Beau Rivage in Geneva.

Sitting in an overstuffed armchair, sipping white burgundy, I glimpsed Edward Lee Howard through a window as he approached the hotel entrance.  Beneath a streetlamp, in his baggy clothes, Howard looked like an old man, a shadow of his former self.  He sauntered in, ordered a Coke. 

"Have a real drink if you want," I said.  "You don't have to stay on the wagon for me." 

Howard declined.  "I only drink on my birthday and New Year's." 

Howard told me he'd heard that "the guy running my case, John H, has retired." 

"What does that mean to you?" I asked. 

"They don't want me any more," Howard replied.  "It would cost forty thousand a year to incarcerate me."

Howard said he'd heard this from his KGB friends who had gotten it from American sources. 

"But they're out there," Howard added. "Like that old movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  You ever see that?"

I said I had. 

"There's a point in the movie," said Howard, "where Robert Redford looks back at the people tracking him and he says that classic line about those Pinkerton detectives.  'Who are those guys?'  That's me.  Who are those guys?

(The irony:  One of those guys was not out there, but in here, noting his every word.  It pleased me that an American traitor should feel that his trackers would never give up.  And more so that his trackers were running circles around him.) 

We taxied to Geneva's old town, to a clubby eaterie called Les Amures, and ordered raclette. 

As Howard dipped pieces of bread into molten cheese, he recounted an experience from his recent business trip to Rome. 

"I took confession at the Vatican.  I told the priest I'd broken just about every rule.  The priest asked, 'You haven't killed anyone, have you?'  I said no."  Howard's voice quavered.  "The priest told me there's still hope."

(Howard was in denial over Adolph Tolkachev, whose execution was a direct consequence of Howard’s treachery.) 

This was the nearest Howard ever got, in my presence, to showing emotion. 

We strolled down to the spy bar inside Hotel des Bergues.  I smoked a Cuban cigar, sipped armagnac (together, my favorite jet-lag remedy) while Howard finished his pack of Salems over hot chocolate.

Next day, Howard came by mid-morning for money.  He signed a receipt, as usual, for "services rendered." 

At what point, I wondered, would the Russians suspect him of tripling? 

Back at Movenpick for an early lunch, Howard confided a stock market scam in which he participated with some Australian friends.  It worked like this:  The Sydney-based broker chooses a penny stock, and puts the word out to Howard and other international friends that the stock is hot.  Suddenly, orders come streaming in from all over the world.  The Australian financial community takes note and they start investing themselves. 

"I've seen this work four or five times," said Howard. 

I plucked a Morgan silver dollar from my pocket and gave it to Howard.  "For good luck," I said. 

He was touched. 

We strolled across the lake, to a souvenir shop where Howard bought a CyberTool Swiss Army knife, a Christmas gift for a Russian friend. 

That's where we parted, in rue du Mont Blanc. 

I did not know it then, but this was the last time I would see Edward Lee Howard. 

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