Sunday, August 16, 2020


Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence

Washington, D.C., November-December 1994

At 7:30 a.m. precisely, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, I found my way to the Badge Room at FBI Headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Moments later, John H appeared at my side.

"Good time in Zurich?" he asked.

"You would not believe."

We crossed the cobblestoned courtyard, punched our badges, and strolled past portrait paintings in oil of past FBI directors:  

J. Edgar Hoover, Clarence Kelly, a ghastly William Webster... up to the fourth floor, a restricted zone, down a long corridor to the office of Allyson G, whom I'd first and last seen at Clair George's house 14 months before.

A tall, young if gray-haired Special Agent-in-Charge named John Q had just replaced Allyson as Headquarters' supervisor on the Howard case.  

We shook hands.  John Q wore a good suit and had a green Pelikan pen clipped to his shirt pocket.

Down another long corridor, a security guard unlocked a conference room.  

John H, John Q, and I were joined at a rectangular table by Jim S (John H's boss in Albuquerque) and a Bureau employee named Dick A.

John H cued me to tell the assembled guests about myself.  

Bob Blitzer
One-third into my spiel, the Bureau's counter-terrorism chief, Bob Blitzer, slipped into the room and took a seat to my left.

When I’d finished, Dick A spoke.  

He asked questions about how I might feel when, after spending time with Edward Lee Howard and getting to know him, he got caught and put behind bars.

"You mean sort of like the Stockholm Syndrome?" I asked.

"Uh, yeah, that's right," said Dick A.  

(The Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon whereby hostages cultivate sympathetic and protective feelings toward their kidnappers.)

"I'm doing a professional job," I said.  "The friendliness I establish with Howard is for one purpose only:  for luring him to capture."

The difference for me was this:  If I had been a friend of Howard's and someone, anyone, approached me to help capture my friend, my reply would be go to hell.  

But this was an operation I actually conceived and was executing myself on the frontline, with the FBI's authorization and support.  

Pure business.

Dick A countered that he understood what I was saying, but that people never really knew how they were going to feel about this kind of thing until it's about to climax.  

The Bureau's concern: I might have a change of heart at the last minute. 

So Dick A wondered, would I be willing to take a battery of tests for evaluating my state of mind?

I looked around, incredulous.  

"We've been at this for over a year," I said.  "And now you want me to take a test?"  

I almost got up and walked out.

Blitzer spoke up.  

He had run a few renditions with Middle East terrorists, he said, and seen a couple go south on this very issue.  So did I mind if he asked me a couple hard questions?

No wonder nobody wanted to spend time in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.


Why did I think Edward Howard trusted me so much?

"Because I'm good at this." I said.  "My legend is fully back-stopped.  Howard believes I'm genuine, he trusts me.  On top of that, he likes me.  I even telephoned him on October 27th to say happy birthday."

Blitzer nodded, zoomed his eyes into mine.  How many others knew what I was really up to with Howard?

I raised a single finger.  "Just one."

"Who?" asked Blitzer.

Clair George.

No one objected.

John Q perked up from across the conference table.  "Your wife doesn't know?"


"Would you be willing to take a polygraph test somewhere down the line?" asked Blitzer.

I shrugged.  "Why not."

"You know," said John H.  "The President is going to have to sign off on this.  And someone from the White House is going to ask, Has this guy taken a polygraph?  That's why it's important."

"It's not a problem," I said.

Blitzer launched into operational security.  

First off, how did I communicate with John H in Albuquerque?

I telephoned him at his office on Silver Street in Albuquerque.

No good, said Bob B.  He wanted an anonymous cut-out number for me to call, with a different area code.

Next, my own copies of reports and notes pertaining to Howard.  Where did I keep them?

At home.

Blitzer fretted that the KGB might break into my house to check me out.  

Solution:  The Bureau should supply me with a safe.

Finally, the rendition itself.  

To which destinations could I lure Howard?

"Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia, Helsinki, Vienna, take your pick," I said.  "He's agreed to visit all of these places."

Blitzer nodded, impressed.  It gave him more than enough to work with.  

"It's better that you are as detached as possible from the actual rendition," he said.  "That way, Howard himself won't know your role in this."

I shrugged.  "However you execute this is fine by me."

We would be on hold, said Blitzer, until the Justice Department gave a final nod.  

Bob G, Jim S, and John H would deliver a formal presentation two weeks hence.

But whatever their decision, said Blitzer, I should continue my contact with Howard with a view toward cultivating positive intelligence from my relationship with the defector.  

Indeed, the irony of putting the KGB in Central Europe to work on Spy’s Guide was savored by all in attendance.

We adjourned.

"About those tests," said John H as we strolled the long corridor.  "When...?"

"Tell them to shove their battery up their..."

"Yeah, I figured as much," said John H.

Next morning, back to Headquarters.  

This time we ascended to the seventh floor where the Big Cheese Family resided. 

John H, John Q, and I strolled into the large corner office of Robert "Bear" Bryant, Assistant Director for National Security, after first meeting his deputy, John Lewis. 

Bryant had a large paunch and a mumbling growl of a voice; part grizzly, part teddy bear.  

"So where are we on this?" he asked, handing me his business card.

John H briefed the assistant director.  

John Q pitched in. 

I did, too.  Specifically, I mentioned Edward Howard's new idea to write Spy’s Cookbook, a manual for double-agents.

"Bear" Bryant
Bryant shook his head in disgust and growled his support for our operation.  

He wanted to haul Howard in, he said, and he ventured his opinion that Budapest would be our best bet.

Bryant thanked me.

I pointed to John H.  "He’s the real hero," I said.  "This job takes patience, and this guy's got the patience of a saint."

John H and Bryant had started their careers together as rookie Special Agents in Seattle.  Bryant had jumped into the fast lane and rose through the ranks; John H had plodded on, content to settle in New Mexico.  If he had any further ambition, it was to teach Sunday school in retirement.

We stood.  Bryant shook my hand, gave me his calling card.  

I now had the confidence of the Bureau's national security division at its most senior level.

Next day I met with Joel Joseph and Alan Sultan at National Press.  

With advance orders under 6,000 copies, and a cool reception from sales reps, Howard's book had become more trouble than it was worth.

Sultan favored killing it.  Joseph wanted to publish, but only if Howard's agent literary backed off and waived the remainder of his advance.  

Would I talk to Howard, they asked, and resolve this crisis?

I reached Edward Howard at his Dacha.  He answered, but something appeared wrong with the telephone connection.  

I hung up, touch-keyed again.

Howard answered.  Nothing wrong with the line.  It was him, incoherence-squared.  

"Call me to-mor-row," he finally managed.

When I reached him next afternoon, Howard was still plastered, in the midst of what must have been a colossal binge.  

Either I could not hear him, or he could not talk, I wasn't sure which, so I disconnected, redialed.  

Howard answered after eight rings.

"Is that you, Ed?" I asked.


 "It's me, Robert."

 "Yeah.  Ro-bert."

 "Ed, you don't sound well."

 "I'm drink-king."


 "I lost my biz-i-nez."

 "How?  What happened?

Howard lapsed into incoherence.

"When should I call you again?" I asked.

"One day."  


 "Yeah.  One day."

I tried him next day.  

Howard was no longer drunk, but suffering a mammoth hangover.  

"I was drinking."  He said, like a schoolboy caught cheating on an exam.

"For how long?"

"Four days.  Man, I need some aspirin."

"What's happening with your business?"

"I lost my office, had to move out."

"Is that why you were drinking?"

"I had a fight with my girlfriend," said Howard.

"Sorry to hear that.  Look, here's the deal on your book.  National Press will kill it unless you forego the rest of the advance."

"Okay, I'll tell my agent to back off."

"And you're still gung-ho on Spy’s Guide?"


I phoned John H, clued him in.

"For a few minutes there," I said, "I thought Howard was dying."

"That would have put you out of a job," said John H.

"It's not the way this story is supposed to end," I said.


In keeping with Bob Blitzer’s wishes to improve operational security, John H gave me a new telephone number, a ghost line with a 202 area code, created specifically for my calls to him.  

"I'm coming to Washington," said John H.  "We have a new problem."

I met John H inside Le Bon Pain on 10th Street, opposite the Hoover Building, from which only problems emanated.  

I ordered a latte to-go, and we trudged across the street, up to the fourth floor where John Q and Jim S awaited us.

Their new problem in a nutshell:  

The Justice Department was waffling, as usual, and holding up a rendition until they could be certain of the evidence stacked up against Edward Howard.  

Part of the evidence consisted of a financial log Howard kept that showed how he had laundered cash payments received from the KGB through his wife.  

John H possessed a photocopy of the log, but it had been obtained improperly, so a judge might rule that it could not be used as evidence.

The assembled G-men wanted me to travel to Moscow, stay in Howard's apartment, find the log, and photograph it as acceptable evidence.  

Their legal rationale:  I would be acting in Moscow as an extension of John H which, in effect, would serve as a search warrant.

"This has never been done before," he said.  "We're on the cutting edge, a legal precedent.  The question is, can we serve a search warrant like this.  Usually, we have to leave an actual warrant behind."

I was incredulous.  The Bureau wanted me to risk my neck to collect something they already had in their possession!

Photography of the financial log was just Part One.  

Part Two:  gaining access to Howard's computers and sucking them dry. 

"Uh, let me ask you a question," I said.  "What happens if I get caught?"

"Ah," said John Q, "that's between you and him."  

John Q excused himself so that John H could address this issue.

"I don't have diplomatic cover," I said.  "If I got caught, they'd throw me in prison, right?"

John H nodded.  "The government would negotiate to get you out."

Yeah, right.

Curiosity propelled me onward:  

Down a floor to the photo-lab, where an expert determined that the best camera for this assignment was not a miniature Minox but a run-of-the-mill Olympus Infinity.  He showed me the right distance for snapping documents.

Next, a computer-sucking lesson.  For this, a trip to Fort Monmouth in Eatontown, New Jersey, the FBI's northeast region computer center.

Tom M, the best in the Bureau, awaited me.  

Tom M had sucked the hell out of Aldrich Ames's computers.  He pulled a rectangular gizmo from his bag and plugged it into a laptop.  

"This is it," said Tom M.  "You just plug it into the parallel port.  Then you insert this special laser disk, hit a few buttons, and bang!  It sucks everything out."

Clair George gasped when I told him what the FBI wanted next.  

"This is starting to sound like a shitty novel," he said.  "What about your wife and children?  Are the feebies planning to look after them if you get thrown into the slammer for five years?  No.  You'll be on your own.  Just tell them you've lived up to your end of the bargain.  You're in this to lure Howard out, not to photograph evidence in Moscow."

Meanwhile, National Press and Howard had resolved their advance dispute:  

Howard would accept a few extra royalty points (pie-in-the-sky ) in lieu of immediate money.  

The manuscript had been readied for publication and galley proofs dispatched to Howard for final correction.

I phoned Howard for a status update.

"I have some exciting news!" Howard bubbled, out of character.  "Don't tell a soul, it's just between you and me."

"Of course."

"My friends here, you know who I mean?"

"I do."

"They've read the galleys.  And they are very impressed with how it turned out.  I told them, this book closes a chapter in my life.  And they said, no, no, no. We want you to do more of this."

"Meaning what?"

"They want to get information out through me."

"Go on."

"They have book projects they want me to handle," said Howard.  "Starting with the man whose name starts with K."

That would be Vladimir Kryuchkov, the former KGB chairman.       

"This would be ideal for us," added Howard.

"I'm in," I said. 

It was Presidents Day, a federal holiday.  I found John H at home.

"I Just spoke with The Author," I said.  "He has some interesting news."


"He told me not to tell anyone."  I paused.  "But I suppose I can tell you."

John H chuckled.

"His patron, Mister K.  You know who I mean?"

"Of course," said John H.

"He wants to write his own book.  And he wants The Author and me to help him."

John H sighed.  It meant new administrative hurdles, for sure, but he was game.  Anything to keep Howard happy and playing with us until we had a green light to cuff his wrists with hard steel.

Plus Bob Blitzer had said at headquarters, Whatever happens with Howard, keep the operation spinning for positive intelligence.