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Monday, September 22, 2014

57. DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN



Albuquerque, NM



Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

June-September 2001



In June 2001, I moved from Washington, D.C. to Santa Barbara,California. 

As a result, a Bureau fracas ensued over which FBI field office would work with me and prioritize (the up-side) and administrate (the down-side) my sting operations: 

Would I remain with WFO? 

Or, with the Einhorn ruse in full bloom, should Philly take over? 

Should Ventura (the nearest FBI office to Santa Barbara) or Los Angeles oversee my work? 

Or should I revert to Albuquerque, where I'd started, not least because I was passively active on the Edward Lee Howard case?   

My diversity perplexed protocol.  

In the midst of this, Headquarters had its own idea about how to proceed with the Howard case.  I learned of this bold new initiative just one week before departing Washington, when I met at Starbucks with Special Agent James O, a Russia specialist.  He was one of the two Special Agents with whom I'd spent an engaging evening in London, along with John H, on my first rebound from Moscow six years earlier. 

The new thinking:  I may have been burned by Robert Hanssen, who was believed to have gained access to casework on Edward Lee Howard.  (Hanssen had evidently uploaded computer serials on Howard.  Big-time counterintelligence had cut in, known by one pundit in the business as smoke and urinals.  "Don't visit Russia or Cuba any time soon," I was told.  "For any reason.") 

Taking this new situation into account, a plan had been tabled for presentation to me:

On the assumption that I'd been burned by Hanssen, I would organize a rendezvous with Edward Howard in Switzerland and tell him:  Yeah, I've been working for U.S. intelligence, but I'm fed up with those bastards, and now I'm open to offers from your friends in Moscow.

Howard would most certainly convey this to his KGB friends, and my offer would undoubtedly reach a senior FSB officer named Z----, who handled all the important American agents but rarely left Russia.  I would lure Z---- to Switzerland, and the FBI would have a crack at recruiting him. 

If it sounded a tad cheesy, well, at least somebody at long last was thinking creatively.   

Should I reach out to Howard, I offered, set it up? 

No, no, no.  The Russia specialist needed more time to outline the plan to his superiors, attend meetings, obtain approvals… 

By the time the Big Cheese Family signed on to James O's proposal, in mid-July, it no longer mattered, because it had been determined at some other bureaucratic level that my operations would revert to FBI Albuquerque.

What's more, John H had been asked to step out of retirement and consult on the Howard case. 

Great news indeed. 

It suggested that the Bureau had finally resolved the "related conflict" that had stymied a Howard rendition for six years.  

Next, a phone call from Jackie J, the Special Agent assigned to Howard's case in Albuquerque.  Pregnant and unable to fly, she invited me to visit herself and John H in New Mexico. 

A few weeks later, in early September, I flew out to Albuquerque and, over Tex-Mex cuisine with my old partner John H, and Special Agent Jackie J, I recounted the odyssey I had undertaken with WFO: 

Prelin, Sokolov, the Cubans, and WFO's instruction to "stop billing as of today" despite the multiple stand-downs that would have resulted. 

They listened in awe, all of it news to them. 

What's more, they had not even heard about the Z---- Lure, conceived three months earlier by James O at Headquarters.  They knew nothing of Z----, did not care about him (nor the plan), and since Z---- was not Albuquerque’s concern, that was the end of that.

With hindsight, it's a damn good thing it did not happen.  The Bureau, given its widespread disconnection, might have lost me in a wilderness of mirrors and misconstrued an approach to the Russians as the real thing! 

"Did you know," I said, “Howard was prepared to travel to New Mexico?" 

John H and Jackie J expressed astonishment.  John H could not have known, because he had retired and was therefore out of the loop.  But news of Howard's proposed visit to his old haunts in the southwest USA had never reached Jackie J, nor the Special Agent who handled the case in between John H and herself.

Neither WFO nor Headquarters had bothered to notify FBI Albuquerque about the potential opportunity to snare Howard in their own backyard.   

"But we still have a warrant for Howard in New Mexico," said Jackie J. 

"I know," I sighed.  "Main thing, you're finally ready."

John H and Jackie J exchanged glances.   

"Well, not quite," said Jackie J.  "We can't do anything yet."  She paused.  "But we're getting real close to a green light.  We'd like you to hang in there, remain in contact with Howard till we're ready." 

The old "related conflict," apparently still unresolved.

To quote Yogi Berra:  It was deja vu all over again.

Meantime, unknown to me (until a few weeks later), Edward Howard had visited Thailand to investigate a job offer with a residential development company called AIH (Thailand), Ltd.  It promised to move him from grim Moscow to Phuket, a tropical island paradise.   

On his return to Russia, Howard's e-mails reflected his elation about the prospect of living in a beach house, driving a Jeep, and shepherding prospective buyers to new condo developments.

  

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