Monday, July 13, 2020

25. SPOOK WRITER







Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

May 1994, Washington, D.C.



I telephoned Edward Lee Howard and reached him at his dacha. 


The Guardhouse outside
Edward Lee Howard's dacha
 near Moscow

In the absence of a face-to-face meeting at this juncture, would he be prepared, I asked, to engage in an editorial discussion over the phone?

"Yeah I could do that."







"I have a list of things I'd like to discuss with you."

"Shoot."         


ME:  “You mention a trip to Cuba where you give insights into the CIA.  It would be interesting to have those same insights in your book.  A few pages about that would help your book.”

EH:  “Okay.”

ME:  “Tell your reader what you told the Cubans.”

EH:  “Oh, okay.”

ME:  “Another place, you refer to your relationship with Vladimir Kryuchkov.  I think you need to personalize this, convince the reader just how close you are with the former KGB chairman."

EH:  “Okay.”

ME:  “At the moment you come across like an angry man.  I don't think that's how you want to convey yourself in this book.  I think you need to lighten up, allow yourself some levity.  Humor is the best way to make a point.  Don't hold back.  Let it rip.”

EH:  “Yeah, I agree.”

ME:  “Now, this business about how an American court could never convict you.  Yet you refuse to return.  How do you reconcile that?”

EH:  “I have a probation problem, a firearm conviction.  And the other thing is, my life would be destroyed anyway.  Plus I think some of my former CIA buddies would get me.”

ME:  “Get you?”

EH:  “I would be hit by a truck.”

ME:  “Okay, detail those thoughts in writing.  Reviewers are going to look for holes.  We need to make sure they're all filled.”

EH:  “Okay.”

ME:  “Good.  Now, what you really need to address is the [Aldrich] Ames case.  A good overview from your unique perspective.” 

EH:  “Right.  Okay, I'll do that.”

ME: “Do you think you were compromised by [Vitaly] Yurchenko to conceal Ames?”

EH:  “What?”

ME:  “Did he give up information about you to divert attention from Ames?”

EH:  “Okay, I understand.  You know, I wrote the first part of this book a few years ago.  I was doing it for Kryuchkov.  He asked me to write this book.  The book he wanted was 'Glory to the Soviet State.'  Fortunately, it never got published.  Now I'm able to address these points and do my best job.”


New writing arrived from Howard addressing my points, answering many of John H’s questions. 





Also, photocopies of his passports:  one, Russian; the other, a phony U.S. passport fabricated by the KGB under the alias Steve Roth, which Howard used when he secretly visited the United States in 1986.  

The package also included photographs of Howard's dacha, which detailed the security apparatus around him.

Joseph and Sultan invited me to a meeting at their offices and intended to ambush me about producing a finished Howard manuscript (it was now April 1994) for autumn publication.

I took the offensive.  "You need a ghostwriter," I said.  "Though I guess in this case, we should call it spook writer."

"Why a writer?"

"Because Howard's manuscript sucks.  It needs to be completely rewritten."  

I explained that Howard's manuscript lacked cohesion.  Some of it was penned in 1988 (propaganda from Kryuchkov), part of it in 1990, and so on.

"We need a publishable manuscript no later than June 15th," said Sultan.  "Do you think we'll get it?"

"Honestly?" I said.  "No.  Howard thinks he's done his job.  The only way to do this right is hire a ghost to work with Howard and rewrite the whole thing.  You don't believe me?"  I plunked part of Howard's slapdash manuscript on the table.  "Read for yourself."



Later that afternoon, Joseph phoned me in a state of near panic.  "We can't show this material to our sales reps!  It's awful!  Do you have other chapters that are any better?"

"Nope," I said.  "It's all like that.  That's what I've been trying to tell you guys for three months.  Howard can't write.  We need a ghost."

Joseph responded by redefining my role as editor, arguing that the manuscript needed heavy editing.

I differed, pointing out that my accepting the role of editor had been based on Howard's proposal, which included a section of clean, crisp, professional sample writing, very unlike what Howard had delivered.

"Howard and his literary agent misled you," I said.  "You need to hire a ghost."

"We have no budget for a writer," said Sultan, who had joined the conference call.  "You know what our cash flow is like.  We just don't have the money."

I suggested that they confront Howard and his literary agent and point out that the manuscript was deficient, not what they promised; that it was unacceptable and would be rejected unless they found a ghost at their own expense to rewrite the book.

"It's too late for that," said Joseph.

"And we don't want a confrontation," added Sultan.

"In that case, there's only one solution."  I paused, striving to increase L.Q.   "The Dickster."

"The who?" they asked in unison.

"A book doctor I know.  The Dickster works fast and, more important for you guys, he works cheap."

"Could you talk to him?" asked Joseph.         

One minute later, I connected to Richard N. Cote at his home in South Carolina.  I outlined our project and its pitfalls.

"Can you do it?" I asked.

"Sure!"

The Dickster calculated about $10,000 worth of work.  

I negotiated him down to two grand plus two royalty points, a phenomenally low price for the job ahead.

I phoned National Press.  "It's a great deal," I said.

But they had no cash flow, nothing.  Could I cough up the two grand?

Yeah, right.  I'd already coughed up more than $500 in Fed Ex, phone and fax expenses, not to mention my time.  If I weren’t working secretly for FBI foreign-counterintelligence, I'd be a world-class moron.

"Maybe I could pitch in $500," I said.

I didn't think the Bureau would go for this, nor was it worth collecting 22 sets of initials from various cheeses; this operation was evolving fast and needed greasing.




Joseph and Sultan began questioning The Dickster's credits.  He had authored a handbook about how to score with women through personal ads.  

That's why I called him The Dickster.

"Look," I said.  "How many ghostwriters do you know who would be ready to start immediately, who will travel to Moscow, conduct extensive interviews, transcribe them, and rewrite a whole manuscript in six weeks for $2,000 and pie-in-the-sky royalties?"


Next I phoned John H in Albuquerque.  "All hell has broken loose my end."

"Really?" he said.  "What now?"

"National Press has seen Howard's material and finally realize they don't have a book.  They're going nuts."

I ran John H through the new scenario:  

Richard Cote enters the picture as an unwitting participant on our behalf, travels to Moscow in May to work with Howard for ten days.  I give Dickster the right questions to ask, the book gets saved.  I travel to Moscow in July to meet Howard for an editing session, get him busy on my own book idea (our lure) and then we're off and running in a new direction.  Literally.  Someplace we can nail Howard.

No new approvals needed, all National Press driven.

National Press signed an agreement with Richard Cote, and I wrote a fax to Howard explaining this new development.



Three days later, on May 19th, the Dickster arrived in Bethesda for a working editorial luncheon at Montgomery's Grille.

Cote was all business in a navy blazer, gray flannel trousers, blue button-down shirt, chili-pepper-patterned tie and black penny loafers, with pennies tucked into their bands.  

The Dickster was big and round and came equipped with a twitchy neck and a set of rules that kept him regimented and organized.

Over lunch (crab cakes for me, kebabs for Cote and Sultan, a chicken sandwich for Joseph) The Dickster took notes.

"Are there a bunch of defectors who hang together, play poker on Wednesday nights?" I posed.  "Find out.  Howard has written that he's good friends with George Blake, the British spy.  Are there others, as in other defectors?  Also," I added, "do a week in the life of Ed Howard.  How does he live?  We need this kind of color to bring his manuscript alive."

"I'm a lawyer," said Joseph to Cote.  "Ask Ed if he wants to make a deal to come back here."

Cote noted our concerns and summed it up:  

"I'm going to tell Ed that this is his one shot to tell his story, that he won't get another, and that he'd better make use of it and hold nothing back."

Two hours later, Alan Sultan dropped The Dickster at Dulles International Airport for a 6 p.m. flight to Paris and a connection to Moscow.