The Year of the Spy
April 16, 1985
The lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington was one cavernous hallway with medallions of oriental carpet at carefully measured intervals. A row of crystal chandeliers was strung down the city-block-long corridor, and their reflections danced in the multitude of gold-framed mirrors lining the walls. The hotel had many entrances, sitting as it did at a strategic intersection of Connecticut Avenue and De Sales Street, four blocks from the White House. A prestigious location for more than half a century, the Mayflower had served as a site for numerous presidential inaugural balls.
On this date, a new footnote was to be added to the hotel's colorful history.
In the bar just off the lobby, a man was sitting at a corner table so that he could observe the foot traffic on both Connecticut and De Sales. He had been waiting for more than thirty minutes and, nervous by nature, had already downed a couple of double vodka martinis. This waiting game went against his grain. He got up and walked into the lobby, where he stood looking down the great length of the hotel promenade, which was filling with small groups of people gathering for lunch or drinks, or just chatting.
The person he was expecting was not among the crowd.
He seemed slightly out of place in these plush surroundings. It wasn't just the Montgomery Ward polyester sports coat or the dirty Hush Puppies he wore or even his bad teeth. It was the accumulation of all these details that suggested a man who didn't belong.
He went back to the bar and lit another cigarette; he had been smoking continuously since his arrival. Pulling a letter-sized envelope out of his coat pocket, he placed it on the table, squaring its long side with the table's edge. He tapped his fingers softly on the envelope, hesitated, then picked it up and put it back into his pocket. The bar was beginning to fill up with the lunch crowd.
He checked his watch again and looked around the bar. The rich, English club atmosphere -- the dark leather and mahogany -- that was designed to cosset and relax gave him no feeling of ease or belonging.
He began to fume. This meeting had been scheduled and rescheduled three times, and now here he was being stood up like some unimportant peon.
The more he thought about the slight, the angrier he got.
The envelope in his pocket was blank; inside it, a smaller envelope had the name Stanislav Androsov written on it. Androsov was the KGB rezident in Washington -- the highest-ranking Soviet spy in America's capital. The name on the letter inside the smaller envelope was not Androsov's, however, but rather his KGB working name: KRONIN. Using this name would make it clear to the Soviet that another professional intelligence officer had written this letter, which itself was short and to the point, offering to exchange dollars for pounds of flesh: $50,000 cash for the names of three Soviet citizens working for the CIA in Washington.
Out of patience, the man drained his drink and stormed from the bar. He crossed the busy street and headed quickly to the Soviet Embassy two blocks away. When he arrived, he walked through the spiked metal gate of the ornate mansion without hesitation, even though he knew that the FBI maintained a routine observation post to note and photograph all embassy visitors. Once inside, he slipped the envelope through a glass partition to the guard on duty.
The guard opened the blank outer envelope, read the name on the inner envelope, and looked up. Without uttering a word, the guard nodded his understanding of what to do with the letter.
The deed was done.
CIA Operations Officer Aldrich Ames left the imposing structure housing the Soviet ambassador and his staff, and retired to yet another bar on Sixteenth Street.
Sante Fe, New Mexico
September 21, 1985
The thirtyish couple in a faded Olds drove in the dark, which had fallen suddenly, as it does in the high desert when the sun finishes its pyrotechnic display. The air was already crisp with fall, which at this altitude came early.
The woman, an attractive brunette with short, curly hair and blue eyes, was driving. She appeared to have been crying. In the passenger seat sat her husband -- a slender, mustached man. Cut from an Ivy League mold, he appeared unflappable.
On the floorboard by his feet sat the form of a makeshift dummy. Looking down, he mentally rehearsed how to move the form, smoothly and quickly, up off the floor, onto the seat between them, and open the latch on the car door, all in one motion -- as he had been shown by the CIA officers who had trained him three years earlier.
The car made a left off Canyon Road, approaching the escape site.
The man saw no trailing car through the right side mirror, which he had adjusted for himself, not the driver. The lack of visible surveillance always made a case officer nervous. When surveillance couldn't be seen, a well-trained operative had to wonder: Have I lost them, or are they clever enough to keep tabs on me without being seen?
The woman made another left, and they were now heading downhill, nearing the bailout point at the house with shrubbery in front.
The man had disabled the brake lights at a restaurant up the road -- standard procedure on an operational run -- so that there would be no telltale red flash when the driver slowed the car briefly for the passenger to roll out. He had also removed the bulb in the dome light of the car in their garage before leaving for dinner.
Leaning over slightly, the man moved his coat aside and brought the dummy up onto the seat. He jammed the edge of the rubber end of the plumber's plunger into the crack between the seat back and bottom cushion so the dummy would not bob and sway as the car continued on. This telltale head waggle was dubbed "the chicken effect" by the CIA's technical services people and, to a trailing surveillance car, could be a dead giveaway that the silhouette was not that of a real person.
He had taken delight in the fact that he was using, as part of the dummy, the same wig he had been given at "the Camp," an isolated compound of several hundred acres south of Washington, D.C., along the Atlantic seaboard. This was where the CIA trained all its case officers, as part of their disguise orientation, before deploying them overseas.
Resting on its head-shaped Styrofoam block, the wig completed the dummy's head. The torso was formed by a wire coat hanger attached to the handle of the plunger with duct tape. Over the hanger was draped a designer-label khaki field jacket the man had bought at a large mall in the Washington area, before they had moved to Santa Fe.
"Okay, this is it," she said, turning sharply onto the side street.
They looked into each other's eyes for a split second; then, he was gone.
In the parlance of the FBI, he was "in the wind." The Bureau had been surveilling him round-the-clock ever since a KGB defector had led them to him a month before. He had been fired from the CIA two years earlier for petty theft and lying. Since then, as a measure of revenge, he had volunteered his services to the Soviets.
The ruse he had just pulled off, with the assistance of his very capable wife, Mary -- who had been trained in such matters by the CIA so she could join her husband on assignment -- had given him a twenty-four-hour head start.
Edward Lee Howard would already be out of the country by the time the FBI realized he had defected to the Soviet Union.
Westchester County, New York
September 31, 1985
The mole sat in his windowless, soundproofed basement sanctuary, its door locked.
He unlocked the two-drawer file cabinet next to his computer and removed a small black notebook. He thumbed through it to a particular page and then placed it on his desktop, open and weighted down with a Diet Coke.
The room was his refuge and his haven -- the one place in the world where he felt totally in charge. He was the master of this space, both the twelve-by-sixteen-foot room and the window to the world that his computer opened up to him. He was a senior counterintelligence agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so there were few places he couldn't go -- in cyberspace or otherwise -- and not many files he couldn't access.
The guys at the office had no idea, simply no clue about his ability to manipulate them and the information that they all depended on. They were so busy kissing up and having their long, beer-filled lunches that they spent little time observing what actually went on around them. Fools! So busy getting their tickets punched that they were oblivious of the real danger in their midst. He had watched them get promoted ahead of schedule, ahead of him, moving up through the echelons of the bureaucracy, while he plodded on in place. The new boss especially got under his skin. The man had seemed nice enough when he first arrived at the New York Field Office. But then there had been the little barbs, the smirking and the quietness when he entered the room, and he knew that this guy, too, was part of the clique -- that group that had excluded him almost from day one.
Well, wouldn't they be surprised if they knew what he was about to do? Wouldn't they sit up and pay attention?
There was a crucifix on his desk, an ornate icon given to him by his wife on his last birthday. He had taken it into work, intending to keep it there as a symbol of all that he held dear and of the faith that he embraced along with his family. But after he had hung it on the wall behind his desk, there had been several comments -- one a clumsy reference to the separation between church and state -- and so he had brought it here, giving it a place of honor in his private sanctuary.
He returned to the business at hand. Opening a drawer in the computer desk, he pulled out a pair of white cotton gloves -- the kind used in photographic laboratories and darkrooms to handle delicate negatives. Putting them on, he picked up a stack of ink-jet computer paper and positioned it in the printer. He paused for a moment, mentally composing the first line, removing the gloves, then began his first note -- the one that would set the stage for all to follow. It would be a Valentine. He wanted them to appreciate the brilliance of the plan, yet he wanted it to be personal. He hoped they would show his signature -- they would receive it only once -- to one of their graphologists, who would be quick to point out that they were dealing with an individual of consequence and intelligence, a romantic, a man with vision, a man worth knowing. Certainly they would be able to come up with the $100,000 he needed, and quickly.
Dear Mr. Cherkashin:
Soon, I will send a box of documents to Mr. Degtyar. They are from certain of the most sensitive and highly compartmented projects of the U.S. intelligence community....
I must warn of certain risks to my security of which you may not be aware. Your service has recently suffered some setbacks. I warn that Mr. Boris Yuzhin, Mr. Sergey Motorin, and Mr. Valeriy Martynov have been recruited by our "special services."
Satisfied that he had just sealed the fate of three top spies for America, he put the gloves back on, signed the letter with a pseudonym, put it into an envelope, and sealed the flap. Clearly and carefully, he printed a name and address on the envelope, adding his own fictitious return address. He knew with whom he was dealing. He had written to Viktor Cherkashin, the KGB's chief of counterintelligence at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, and was proposing to pass his information to Viktor M. Degtyar, the press secretary at the embassy and, more important, a KGB counterintelligence officer.
He affixed the proper postage to the letter and then set it aside. He would mail it tomorrow in Prince George's County, in Maryland, on his drive down to FBI headquarters.
If his information impressed them, as he knew it would, he was certain that the Soviets would not try to find out his identity. He would prove too valuable for them to take the chance of spooking him or inadvertently doing anything to finger him.
FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen left his private world and stepped into the brighter light of early evening. He collected his wife and two of their six children for their drive to attend early evening mass and confession. He went daily with his wife and any of the children who were available. He found comfort in that.
During a span of five months and fourteen days in 1985, three Americans went over to the other side in the heat of the Cold War. Only one was known about; it would be years before the identity of the other two highly placed spies, one in the CIA and the other in the FBI, would surface.
The damage done by the three traitors to U.S. intelligence operations, specifically in Moscow, was unprecedented. The story of what happened to the men and women working in the field against this wave of treachery has never been told.
Copyright © 2002 by Antonio J. Mendez and Jonna Mendez