Early in 2002, I decided I wasn’t ready to retire from the spy biz. I could no longer operate undercover. However, I had enough expertise to teach and run others.
And, after 9/11, I felt motivated to do something.
What I did was move to London—and, from there, launch to Monaco to see Prince Albert.
Almost two years had passed since providing the Prince with the report he authorized on Russians in Monaco, which I’d hand-delivered to him at The Mark Hotel in New York City in September 2000.
Over drinks in the bar at Hotel Columbus, the Prince retained me to be his intelligence adviser. He concurred that I should endeavor to open channels of communication between myself, on his behalf, and both CIA and SIS.
I flew to Washington, D.C. to get started and, over martinis in the Chevy Chase Club, took great pleasure recruiting Clair George to be chairman emeritus of the special service I would create. (That evening, dining in the club’s Maryland Room, Clair introduced me to William Webster, former FBI and CIA director, while Al Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, dined nearby.)
Clair’s guidance during the next five-and-a-half years, as my retainer grew into the Monaco Intelligence Service, was priceless. He guided me through many a minefield.
The interesting thing about Clair was that he never came out with a whole lot of expert advice at once. He delivered it sparingly, and only when the occasion demanded.
For instance, after I had a bad experience with a Monaco would-be informant, Clair said, “Beware of sociopaths in the intelligence business. They're everywhere, and you'd never know them at a cocktail party. These are the kind we'd always watch out for in CIA. They'll sell their services to four different adversaries. You can’t hire people just off the street.”
On another occasion: “It’s not today’s problem—look at it tomorrow with fresh eyes.”
And this: “Never take it personally—it’s business.”
When, over dinner at the Chevy Chase Club, I told Clair that CIA Director Porter Goss had decreed that the protection of Prince Albert and Monaco be a doctrine at the agency, he shook his head, amazed, and said quietly, “Al will never truly understand the magnitude of what you’ve done for him.”
Clair added: “Every European intelligence service has put a question mark on your name.”
His advice: “Keep the mystery spinning.”
“You kidding?” I replied. “The less mysterious I try to appear, the more mysterious I seem to others!”
A few days before his 75th birthday, I took Clair to lunch at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. He ordered a bacon-cheeseburger (“Don’t tell Mary”) and I gave him a card (along with a bottle of Lagavulin single malt scotch whiskey) that read: It’s your birthday… and nobody gives a rat’s ass!
He howled with laughter.
I excitedly told Clair about a new intelligence principle I’d learned with reference to liaison partnerships called the Third Party Rule. Essentially, it means you don’t share any secret you’ve learned from one intelligence service with another intelligence service.
Clair took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and looked at me with amusement. “In this business,” he said, “there are no rules.”
Even though he had become legally blind from macular degeneration and was frequently attacked by his own gall bladder, Clair was always stoic, and even humorous, about the challenges of older age. “A year without lawyers and doctors,” he told me, “is one f------ good year.”
Over dinner at Citronelle in Georgetown, after the infighting had begun in Monaco, Clair had only one question: “How are you with Al?”
“Good,” I replied.
“That’s all that matters. Bill Casey used to say, ‘I have only one friend in Washington—but it’s the President.’”
We would mostly laugh, and when things took a bad twist or turn in Monaco, Clair would say, “Remember, it will all be over one day, so you might as well enjoy it.”
Another Clairism: “Remember, the proof is not in the pudding, it’s in the tasting of the pudding.”
When I revealed the depth of corruption I had uncovered among Monaco’s government ministers, Clair voiced a prediction. “You’re messing with their rice bowls,” he said. “This is how it will happen: A group will go to Albert and demand, ‘Get rid of Robert.’”
Often, like when I was having a secretive dinner, say, on the Ile St. Louis in Paris, or in the midst of cutthroat palace intrigue in Monaco, I would answer my cell phone and hear Clair’s signature greeting: “Where are you and what are you doing?”
Toward the end of my service to the Prince of Monaco, when Clair’s prophecy was becoming reality, I responded to Clair’s query thus: “Everything is going according to plan. Unfortunately, it is someone else’s plan.”
He roared with laughter. Whatever the situation, L.Q. (laugh quotient) remained a priority. When we stopped laughing, he said, quietly, “Five years is long enough to be an intelligence chief.”
Soon after, we lunched at Café Milano in Georgetown. I gave him a check, his semi-annual stipend.
“What can I do?” he asked, grateful for the extra cash.
“I think we need to overthrow Al,” I said, tongue-in-cheek. “Can your old hands handle that?”
Clair thought a moment. “That’ll get you fired,” he said.
“And, by the way,” I added. “Xanax [which Clair recommended to me years earlier for jet lag] is destroying my memory.”
“Oh yeah,” said Clair. “I forgot to tell you that.”
A crowning moment of glory for me arrived four years into my Monaco mission when, on May 23rd, 2006, USA Today published a story I engineered myself, headlining: Monaco Steers Clear of Once-Shifty Image—Beefed-up Intelligence Operation Monitors Comings, Goings.
I phoned Clair’s house to remind him to pick up USA Today.
Mary, his wife, answered—they had already seen the story. “Clair is so proud of you,” she said.
It meant the world to me.
And reminded me of something Mary had said about her husband over dinner during the early days of our partnership, when Iran-Contra simmered on a backburner: “I’m proud of Clair—I know what he has done for his country.”
Tragically, Mary lost her life, at a relatively young age, to MRSA, following a hospital visit.
Clair, the most stoic of the stoic, was devastated.
His eyesight worsened along with his health in general.
But he continued to live life his way, with bacon-cheeseburgers and whiskey.
We meant to drive to Beaver Falls together. He wanted to see it one last time and point out to me his old house and old school. We never made it.
Clair became reclusive near the end. His wife had managed their social lives, and without her, he simply gave up a social life, doting on his two daughters and three grandchildren.
Unable to deal with stairs anymore, he moved to a nearby assisted-care apartment building, and sold the modest house he had owned and felt secure within for half-a-century.
Clair loved his family, and CIA. And the Redskins.
In the early hours of August 12th, 2011, nine days after his 81st birthday, my good friend and mentor Clair George died of a broken heart.
On the first rainy day—there are not many in Santa Barbara—I draped Clair’s Burberry raincoat around me, collar up around my neck.
It fit like a glove.