Friday, July 31, 2020

39. LONDON INTERLUDE: SWEET MUSIC








Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence 

London, July 1994


Breakfast aboard British Airways from Moscow was without flavor though I managed to wash part of an omelet into my system with a quarter-bottle of champagne.  A celebration seemed in order for an assignment well done.

After checking into my room at The Britannia Hotel, diagonally across from the U.S. Embassy on Grosvenor Square, I picked up the phone and touch-keyed 1-6-0.

"Are you here?" asked John H.  

"You mean has the eagle landed?" I said.  "Yup."

"How did it go?"

"Swimmingly.  I'm in room 137.  Come over whenever you're ready."

"You kidding?  I'll be right there!" 

This was John H's reason for being in the British capital and he was very excited about whatever he would learn about my visit with Edward Lee Howard in Moscow.

Minutes later, my door knocked.  

I let John H in, closed the door behind him.

"Well?" he asked in high anticipation.

"Did you know Ed was in Santa Fe recently?" I deadpanned this.

"Really?" John H feigned nonchalance but it would have been a big deal if Howard had slipped in and out of New Mexico.

 "Yeah." I paused.  "It's a restaurant in Moscow."

John H laughed, relieved. "I'm expected at the embassy in a little while to make some calls," he said. "What I need from you is the essence."

Essentially, I told him, Edward Howard was prepared to travel around Central Europe, un-guarded, to research Spy’s Guide.

John H’s eyes sparkled, a broad smile.

"And you're not going to believe what he told me about Ames."

John H hunched over a notebook and madly scribbled as I spoke.  

When we were done, he mentioned that some of his FBI colleagues were in town. Did I mind if they joined us for dinner?

 Of course not. I buzzed the concierge to amend our dinner reservation at Quaglino's; John H split to the embassy.


A few hours later our foursome assembled in the Britannia's lobby:  Me and John H, Les Wiser and Jim Milburn, from Headquarters.  We exchanged greetings.

"So how'd it go at the embassy?" I asked John H.

 He beamed.  "Everyone's satisfied." 



Alpha 26

The three G-men climbed into the backseat of a Range Rover.

I got up front with Alpha 26, my driver, a Rasputin lookalike I call Mister Five because he enjoys all five symptoms of schizophrenia.


The maitre d' at Quaglino's led us to a table and I ordered a vintage Chateauneuf-du-Pape.





Les Wiser


John H’s colleagues had a focused interest in Aldrich Ames, not least because Wiser and Milburn led the investigation that busted the CIA turncoat.  

They lapped up what I'd learned from Edward Howard more hungrily than their spiced lamb and garlic mashed potatoes.

We walked out into the night, still light at 9:30.

"You guys fancy a nightcap?" I asked.

Mister Five drove us onward to The Savoy Hotel; I pointed out Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the Strand...


Mike McKenzie

Mike McKenzie was tickling the ivories when we strolled into the American Bar and plunked ourselves at a table next to his grand piano.             

"Sweet Music, Mike."

He obliged me with his own composition.






The others called out tunes:  As Time Goes By, Cavatina.  We drank single malt scotch whiskey, joked and laughed.

Needless to say, it was heaven compared to Moscow's hell.



In Memory of John Michael McKenzie






Best bass player I ever knew.

Modest, unassuming, kind.


Farewell, old friend.



Thursday, July 30, 2020

38. SPY'S GUIDE TO CENTRAL EUROPE







Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

Moscow, July 1994


After finishing our meal at Santa Fe, Edward Lee Howard and I returned to the Radisson Hotel and ascended its grand spiral marble staircase to the Business Center.  

Howard had brought along his copy of Richard Cote's rewrite, which I now had to edit. 

As we walked, I asked, "Do you ever get recognized by anyone, Ed?"

"Only once," Howard replied. "By a foreign student in Budapest who had just read the David Wise book about me. He freaked out."

We settled at a conference table and set to work, a page-by-page analysis.  

I noted Howard's corrections, additions, deletions; Howard chain-smoked Doral cigarettes throughout.

When we finished, Howard went off for a sauna in the hotel's health club.  

I returned to my room to empty my head into a pocket notebook.  

At 8:45 p.m. I returned to the lobby, a lavish affair with a gargantuan chandelier, beneath which a pianist tapped out musical notes that flew around the huge, acoustically-challenged room without cohesion.

Howard found me inspecting an arcade of display windows.

"What's all this about?" I motioned at Gianni Versace couture and crocodile shoes.

"The average Russian can't afford this stuff," sneered Howard with disdain. "He earns about $80 a month.  Shall we have a drink at the Press Club?"

We entered the club. Howard signed a membership book and we rumped our rears on stools at the bar.  Howard ordered Pepsis for us both.

"You do pretty well in Russian," I said.

"I do okay.  I don't speak that great, but I understand everything." 




On stage nearby, a trio of musicians performed a masterful rendition of the theme from the movie Once Upon a Time in America.  

An unexpected pleasure for me though Howard seemed oblivious to its poignancy.

"So what's next?" I said.

"What do you mean?"

"After Safe House is published.  Any plans to write another book?"

"I hadn't thought about it," said Howard.  "You have something in mind?"

"Matter of fact I do." I sipped my Pepsi. "Spy's Guide to Central Europe."

Howard smiled. "Yeah, I like that."

"A tongue-in-cheek travel guide with a spy theme," I continued. "After all, who knows Central Europe better than a well-traveled spy?"

"I could do that," said Howard.

"Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, et cetera.  Hotels and restaurants, bars and nightclubs, museums, shopping..."

"And you'd publish this yourself?" asked Howard.

"That's right. My own imprint. Enigma Books.  Nothing to do with National Press."

"Yeah, I like that."

"You research it," I said. "I'll write it.  You get the byline, because you're the spy!"

Howard smiled big. He really, truly loved this idea.

We drained our soda and sauntered out for Howard's nickel tour of Moscow.  

He parked near Red Square. Young men loitered all around, checking us out. Howard told me his Volvo had been busted into once.  

"And I had a tire slashed a couple weeks ago," he added. "Some hoodlum knew I was in a Western-style supermarket.  He thought I'd put down a bag of groceries to change my tire and then he'd grab the bag and run."




 A young man approached us, said he wanted to sell old Russian postage stamps.  We told him no, but he persisted, following us for five minutes before finding others to harass, and we wandered around St. Basil's Cathedral.





Howard pointed to a viewing stand above the Kremlin wall.  





"That's where I viewed the May Day Parade with the generals," he reminisced.  "Most of them are disgraced now."  

He pointed to another ornate building, now derelict.  "That used to be the Communist Party Museum."

We returned to where Howard had parked.  "My car is still there," he said, as if he expected it not to be.

"I guess things have changed here, Ed?"

"Yeah, it's gotten rough."

"Do you see yourself always living in Moscow?"

"No," said Howard.  "I don't know. I'd like to visit Chile, Argentina."

 "To live?"

 "I wish. But they'd find me."

 "How?"

  "Through family."

Howard drove us to his apartment in Old Town, the Arbat district, which featured narrow and dark roads. 

He exchanged greetings with his concierge, a babushka who lived on the ground floor and observed other tenants and their guests.  

Up one flight of stairs, Howard keyed two locks.

"Does Moscow have a burglary problem?" I asked.

"It's getting worse."

We entered a long corridor. I followed Howard into the first room on the right, his kitchen; he put kettle to gas fire. 

"Just as well you decided to stay at the Radisson," said Howard.  "During the summer they take turns switching off hot water in districts around Moscow.  Mine has been off for three weeks."

He showed me around his pad. On one end, a living room with a small, glass-enclosed terrace, overlooking some trees; at the other end, two small bedrooms, one transformed into a home-office.

"I guess I'll stay here tonight," sighed Howard.  

Normally, he would drive 40 minutes to his dacha.

I was glad to be staying elsewhere; Howard's apartment gave me the creeps.

We sat in the living room.

"You own this place?" I asked.

"Yeah. Yeltsin gave apartment dwellers a one-time chance to buy their apartment for a token fee. I'm told it's now worth $300,000."

"And the dacha?  You own that?"

"No." Howard shook his head. "I may lose it."

"Why?"

"Budget cutbacks.  There's two things that could happen:  One, some general wants it, they take it from me and give it to him. Or two, they just shut it down, no one lives there."

"Why would they do that?"

"It's expensive to maintain.  Constant repairs.  Full-time security.  I can see them saying, It's too expensive, shut it down."

"What would you do, live here?"

 Howard shrugged. "I'd have to."

The kettle whistled. I followed Howard back into his kitchen; he brewed two cups of English breakfast tea.

I sat at his small table. Howard remained on his feet.  A propos of nothing, he returned to The Deal we had touched on earlier in the day.

"It's awfully tempting to try to make a deal like that," said Howard. "But I've made a life here. I've been here nine years. I've set up a business. It would be hard to turn my back on that."

"If that's the case, I guess you ought to stick it out," I said.

But Howard was just rationalizing. 

"The U.S. government should have to pay me back for these nine years," he continued.  "You know, there's something called the Mole Relief Act. I think it means that if I'm proven innocent, the government would have to compensate me for the nine years of misery they've caused."

"Really?"

"Yeah, I read about it recently. The Mole Relief Act.”  He pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  “I'm going to smoke.  Let's go out on the terrace."

I followed Howard through the living room to his narrow terrace.  He grew pensive, took me through his exchange of faxes with FBI Special Agent John H.

"Maybe you could write something for me I could fax to him," said Howard.  "But there's still a problem with the Russians."

"Why?"

"My KGB contacts will say, Don't rock the boat.  They'll say, we're fine with what you're doing, but if word filters up to Yeltsin's people, it may mean trouble."

Howard wanted to take a walk, so we grabbed our jackets and aimed ourselves into a light drizzle outside.  

His street was dark and muddy.

"A couple of female news correspondents rent an apartment above me, one English, one American," said Howard. "I've invited down for drinks a few times, but they've thought of every excuse not to come."

"Do they know who you are?"

"No.  Nobody knows.  I go by the name Ed Janovich.  I keep a low profile."

Within a couple of minutes we reached Arbat's main street, a winding pedestrian precinct.  Scores of teenagers congregated on the cobblestoned path, blasted on booze. Empty beer bottles strewn around; broken glass littered the pavement. Vodka and cigarettes changed hands at a busy kiosk.  

Nearby, a roaring fire in a large trash can warmed whoever needed toasting.  It made me think of the proles in George Orwell's 1984.

"This is the most fashionable street in Moscow," said Howard.

We strolled past Baskin-Robbins, closed at this hour, about 11 p.m.  Then a pizzeria.  Howard wanted to pop in for dessert, but they were closing, too.

It seemed like Howard wanted the evening to continue, to be in my presence as long as he could; starved, perhaps, for American companionship.   

Years later, a scene in the TV series Millennium reminded me of Howard this July night in Moscow:  




The character Frank Black recognizes a devil and says, "You must be so lonely."  When the devil repeats this line to three other devils sitting inside a donut shop, they look down, recognizing the truth they all share and, one by one, they slink out into the night.





Howard and I turned around, walked past the young drunks of Arbat.  Ed bought a pack of Dorals from the kiosk and we trudged through sludge to his apartment building.

"You want to come back in?" asked Ed.

 "Nah, I'm beat.  Let's call it a night."

As he drove me to the Radisson, Howard said, "Can you believe this is the best part of Moscow?  You can't imagine what it's like in other parts of town."

Sad. So very sad. For Moscow. For Howard.


Next morning, 6:15 sharp, Howard rounded into the Radisson's forecourt.  Punctuality was a trait he shared with John H, his FBI pursuer.  

I climbed in, and we took off to the airport.

"I really like your idea about a Spy's Guide," said Howard, as I prepared to launch from his car.

"Great."

"I could take research trips myself.  Would you cover expenses?"

"Of course."

"And you think there's money in it?"

I nodded. "I'll pay your time, at least."

"Would I make a couple of thousand?" asked Howard.

"At least that."

"Then I'll do it." Howard double-parked outside the departures.  

We shook hands on Spy's Guide.

I ventured into the terminal, a gauntlet of exit hurdles to vault.  

Behind me, Edward Lee Howard returned to his austere existence as a defector.

           


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

37. EDWARD LEE HOWARD ON WHY THE KGB DID NOT RESCUE ALDRICH AMES






Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

Moscow, July 1994


After emptying my head of notes while inside my Radisson hotel room, I descended to the lobby to reconnect with Edward Lee Howard. 

We drove to Howard's office so he could check on incoming faxes.  

Howard told me his wife and son would arrive in Moscow five days hence and stay a month.  They wanted to visit St. Petersburg, he said, so he intended to accompany them and play tour guide.

"How are you able to maintain your marriage like this?" I asked.

"It's tough," said Howard.  "Mary and I see each other at Christmas and during the summer. I don't ask her questions and she doesn't ask me any. It's what you'd call mature love."

"And when she's here, it's as if nothing has changed?"

"That's right. My in-laws are coming, too," Howard added.

"Everything's cool with them?"

"It's okay now.  At first they didn't want Mary to see me again. It took some time. But we got over the emotional difficulties. I've got their support. And that's the main reason I want this book written. I just want my side of the story out there where my family can see it. Then I can move on."

"And your son?"

"We have a good relationship. We had a long talk when he was eleven, after he found a copy of the David Wise book. Lee knows I'm not a spy. I'm a political refugee."

I told Howard that National Press planned to submit his manuscript to the CIA for review.  

"They have to," I said, "to protect themselves from accusations of receiving and publishing classified material."

"I see." Howard was displeased by this news, not least because he anticipated, correctly, that the CIA would try to freeze all monies due him, and likely succeed.

Traffic had slowed because twelve large crates of bottled beer had fallen from a truck in front of us.  

Cars veered around the mess; some motorists jumped out of their vehicles to loot the few bottles that lay unbroken in the street.

A half-mile later, Howard parked and we crossed the street to his office, which was housed within a yellow cinderblock structure. "I'm in a medical building," said Howard. "It's cheap."

We walked through an unlocked front door.  

A few yards on, first door on the left, Howard keyed a single lock and we entered.  

The drab, two-room office was illuminated by dim wattage. It reeked of stale tobacco. Cigarette smoke had permeated the carpets, the furniture, and stained the walls brown.

Howard checked for faxes. None.

"Who are your clients these days?" I asked.

"Some Germans, Swedes. A Spaniard.  He paid for me to meet him in Vienna last month."

"So you manage to travel a bit?"

"Yeah," said Howard. "Neutral countries mostly, like Switzerland and Austria."

"How do you find clients?"

"Through advertising.  I started with the International Herald Tribune, but that was terrible.  I only got people who wanted to sell me things. The Economist is best."

Howard re-locked his office and we walked down the road to a Tex-Mex restaurant called Santa Fe.  

"They've only been open four months but doing pretty well," said Howard. "It's a good thing we're eating early. It'll be packed later, with a line to get in."

Santa Fe was quiet at 5:30 p.m., a few barflies.  

The maitre’d sat us with menus printed in English, priced in U.S. dollars.

I ordered Heineken; Howard, a tonic.  He lit another Doral and chained his way through dinner:  beef fajitas for him, a chicken sandwich for me.

"Your book is going to need some new hooks," I said.  "So let's talk about that now."

"Fine."

"First. Your knowledge about Russian spies inside the U.S. Government beyond Ames."

"There are plenty of them," said Howard.

"Okay, let's expand on that. Start with the American who tipped you off about your wife cooperating with the FBI during your secret trip to the U.S. in ‘86.  Where would he have worked to gain access to the documents he showed you?"

"Probably the Justice Department," said Howard. "The KGB showed me psychological studies that had been prepared by the U.S. government saying that I was suicidal.  That would have been CIA."

"Ames?"

"Maybe."

"Or the KGB could have made it up," I said.

"Why?"

"To convince you not to take the trip."

"Uh-huh," said Howard. "I guess that's possible.  But I went, and they helped me with false documents and re-entry."

"Speaking of Ames," I said.  "Why didn't the Russians rescue him?  They must have known he was under investigation."



Col. Igor Batamirov

"Yeah, they knew he was in trouble," said Howard. "Last September, one of my KGB contacts, a man named Batamirov, showed me a picture of Ames when we were at a restaurant on the river.  He asked me, 'Do you know this man?'  I said I didn't.  I should have known then something was going on.  They knew Ames was in trouble."

"So why didn't they exfiltrate Ames?" I asked.  "Like the Brits did with Oleg Gordievsky?"

"They could have," replied Howard. "It would have been very easy. The KGB wanted to get him out. It went up to [President] Yeltsin for approval and he shot it down."

I almost fell out of my chair. "Why?" I asked.



"Because it would have been too sticky politically," said Howard. "Look, when there was a $400 million aid package for Russia working its way through Congress, some Congressman tacked on a rider saying it was contingent on the Russians giving me back!  Yeltsin didn't want another one like me messing up aid packages.  It was more politically expedient to let Ames get caught than bring him here, where'd he'd become a major political and economic issue. 



Aldrich Ames

"And I'll tell you something else about Ames," continued Howard. "He wasn't the incompetent fool they made him out to be in the American press. My KGB contacts say he was a brilliant spy, very professional."

"You wrote in your manuscript that your KGB friends cracked out the champagne when Ames was caught. Why would they celebrate the loss of such an important agent?"

"You have to understand," said Howard, "these guys have been bashed away at for five years. It boosted their morale to be seen to have put one over on the CIA."

I asked again about Russian spies inside the U.S. government.

"Look," said Howard. "We have thousands of intelligence officers around the world whose job it is to recruit spies.  So does the KGB.  With all those people, and a big budget, do you think they don't recruit anyone? If they didn't, the money would stop.  Of course they have spies everywhere. When I was living in Sweden, my KGB contacts told me in advance everything that was coming down on me.  They said, You're about to be detained and arrested.  They knew!  I'll tell you, Igor Batamirov, the man Dick Cote met?  He was Ames's handler."

As Howard chewed beef fajitas, he confirmed for me what he had told the Dickster:  His book was the KGB's idea.  

"They asked what I wanted," said Howard.  "I said, Just give me a new car.  They said fine."

 I ordered a second Heineken; Ed, another tonic.  The restaurant had begun to fill up, mostly expatriate American businessmen.

Talk turned to the new capitalism in Russia, Howard's pet peeve. 

"In the old days," said Howard, "I had a little book, and in it were special vouchers and phone numbers for getting seats at the Bolshoi [ballet] or anywhere else in Moscow."

"You don't have that any more?"

"No one does," Howard griped.  "Everything is money now."