Monday, September 15, 2014


Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

Early 2001

The chicken curry had gotten so bad at Saigon Gourmet, we could have been chowing down in Havana.

The we, Luis Fernandez and me.  The chicken may have been rabbit.  Or cat.

Flakester was already seated, scribbling into a notebook, when I arrived.

I sat down, told him I’d been conceptualizing a TV situation comedy based around a spy bar called Spooky’s Safe House. 

"Above the bar," I explained, "a sign says Fake ID Accepted.  The only public phone has a plaque that says Secure Line.  Of course, it's bugged by the management."

Fernandez's eyes bugged; talk of espionage made this dandiprat nervous.

"And Ed Howard says he's going to give me the raincoat he used when he escaped from the FBI in 1985," I added.

Flakester's round head bobbed around in all directions, eyeballs popping from their sockets.  Then he chuckled about Robert Hanssen. 

"The Cold War never ended," said Flakester.  He lowered his voice.  Had I attended the Free Cuba Embassy reception?

I told him I had planned to attend, but got called out of town at the last minute, missed it, sorry.  I added that receptions are terrible places for making meaningful contact with people. 

"If you're really serious about this," I said, "I could phone one or more of the names on your list, go see these folks, really talk to them."

"You could do this?"  Flakester's eyes brightened.  He agreed that receptions are impersonal, and blamed that stupid idea on Luis Abierno.  "I would like you to meet Jorge Garcia."

"What is your objective for my making contact with Garcia?" I asked. 

(I wanted to see if these buggers were any better than the FBI with real goals.)

"We like to expose how they orchestrate terrorist operations against Cuba," said Fernandez.  "They plan assassinations of our leader.  And economic espionage.  They have paramilitary branch.  Follow the money," he added, as if this were an original phrase.

"Okay," I said.  "Supposing I go see Garcia.  What's in it for me?  I think I deserve a box of Cuban cigars, at least."

"Of course!"  Fernandez bubbled with joy.  "I get you cigars."

Clinched:  I'd spy for the Cubans in exchange for cigars.  It would be the Double Ruse:  While rusing the Castro-Cubans for the FBI, I'd ruse the Free-Cubans for the Castro-Cubans, but I'd really be rusing the Castro-Cubans.

"When you come to Cuba?" asked Fernandez.  "Abierno is waiting for you."

"I don't know," I said.  "I'm busy with things.  Maybe Rick K will go instead of me.  He's coming into DC next week.  Would you like to see him again?"

"Yes, of course."

Fernandez, fat bastard, cleaned his plate.  And this time (for once) picked up the check.

When I met Fernandez a week later with Rick K, I began by promising him a six-foot tall blonde beauty with blue eyes, but only if he participated in a weekend getaway to Reykjavik, where young Icelanders go berserk every weekend. 

"Yeah?" said Flakester, eyes-a-bulge.

Yep.  But the hapless Fernandez lived in fear of his wife, who apparently kept him on a short leash.

Flakester should have been on a leash at the Daily Grill in Georgetown.  He slobbered and whined, dipping into a large chicken potpie between diatribes, ultimately gobbling everything in sight.  Again, he made a pitch for me to travel to Havana.  A bit strong, I thought.

I told him I'd already spent enough time and expense on Cuban project development; that Luis Abierno should get his butt to Washington with all the material they promised me long ago through Pedro.  I sipped my dry martini, Beefeater, olives and smoked a Hemingway Short Story, the flavorful Arturo Fuente cigar.

Fernandez insisted they needed something more from me.

Like what?

"I'd like you to meet Hays," said Fernandez.

"Who?  I thought you wanted me to meet Jorge Garcia?"

No, the plan had changed.  "We like you to talk to Hays."

Denny Hays, was executive-director of the Cuban-American National Foundation.

"What do you want me to talk to him about?" I asked.

"We want to know about his motivation and plans."

Most astonishing, Flakester said this in front of Rick K, whom he barely knew.

Had he brought payment:  my cigars?

"No, I forget," said Fernandez.  "You drive me back to my office?"

This was calculated on his part, the only sign of cleverness I ever discerned in Flakester.  

A free ride back to his car.

I drove Fernandez to 16th Street, but declined to enter the building with him for my "payment" at this late hour.

Bottom line:  He thought he'd recruited a spy, but no cigars.

I never did try to see Denny Hays.  And I never saw Luis Fernandez again.  This operation no longer had legs.  

Because of Hanssen, I would not visit Cuba, nor would the FBI sanction such a trip, for the same reason. 

And without a well-conceived, forward-thinking plan from the Bureau, I wasn’t about to place myself between Cuban Intelligence and the anti-Castro Cuban community. 

The FBI discussed bouncing Flakester's butt back to Cuba but, ultimately, he was so ineffectual, it wasn’t worth the trouble.

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