|The view from my Baltschug Kempinski hotel room|
Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence
I was amused the moment I began reading Vladimir Kryuchkov's "chapter summary" for a book he wanted to title A Life Devoted to the Cause.
"With Howard's help we were able to cut off channels through which information vital to the security of the USSR was being leaked."
The KGB's own former chairman admitting that which Howard had always denied!
Howard's Spy’s Guide and Kryuchkov's memoirs, for which Howard was the designated point-man.
For more efficient commo with Howard, the FBI's computer whiz, Tom M, had set me up with the newest Compaq PC and internet capability for exchanging e-mail with Howard, and for receiving download material from him.
I'd zapped Howard numerous e-mails for conveyance to Kryuchkov in which I urged the former KGB chairman to spice up his prose with revelations and anecdotes.
One year later, I was still waiting.
But it finally materialized, in January 1997.
Which meant time had ripened for a face-to-face encounter with Kryuchkov, in Moscow.
Which meant risking my freedom in service to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone (least of all the Bureau, in denial about such things), a senior FBI counterintelligence official based in headquarters was sending everything he could get his hands on to Moscow.
In Russia, the going rate for espionage is 20 years in the can.
But operating undercover is akin to drinking a DMT-dopamine-oxytocin-adrenaline cocktail.
The idea was to pump the former KGB chairman with questions about spy riddles the FBI hoped to solve.
A dozen-plus cab drivers descended upon me, circling over and over again and like sharks sniffing prey. (Choose the wrong driver and you'd end up mugged or dead.) I found a wall for my back in the dark, cavernous terminal.
Howard finally appeared, cursing traffic.
He took my bag and led me to his battered old blue Volvo; its odometer now clocked 106,670 miles.
Howard, dressed in a suit and tie, had gained another ten pounds since last we met.
Kryuchkov would arrive at my hotel at nine o'clock next morning accompanied by former KGB Colonel Igor Prelin, executive director of the retired intelligence officers association.
Prelin's last job at the KGB, explained Howard, was public relations chief. Now he acted as front man for the old guard KGB-in-Exile.
Lena Orlova a.k.a. Larissa would be on hand to translate.
Howard said he would make the introductions, then let us get on with it, maybe return for dinner at Kryuchkov's home.
"Come meet me there," he said. "I'll introduce you to some Cuban intelligence people. Who knows, maybe there are some books in it for you."
Don't mind if I do, new avenues of opportunity for intelligence collection.
As such, he'd already mapped out his future:
Winters in Cuba, summers at a cabin on Lake Baikal, part-time consulting by fax and e-mail.
(Five-year plans are a Russian tradition that rarely succeed.)
I checked into my room (310) and returned to the lobby for further chitchat with Howard.
A woman plucked a harp while, around her, young Muscovites juggled multiple cell phones, Russia's newest status symbol.
Damn right he did. He could set up fiduciary accounts in Cyprus, said he; and, as some Russian stocks did not require conversion to rubles, he could buy and sell them in U.S. dollars. What's more, he'd take only a 2.5 percent commission instead of the normal 5 percent.
"Sounds good," I said. "Are you willing to travel to meet prospective clients?"
Twenty-two months had passed since we'd been frozen "maybe as long as six months."
Nevertheless, John H and I continued to scope out such opportunities in the event that we might one day get a go-head.
I suggested we establish a code to make secure commo possible, and we both made identical notes:
The view of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral was so precious, I opened the French windows and ordered room service:
Beluga Malassol Caviar 56g, Buckwheat Blinis, A Glass of Vodka Stolichnaya, 65 Deutschmarks.
On my desk I plopped a current copy of the Washington Post’s Sunday book section, Book World, a back-stopping of my legend should anyone pay a visit to snoop around while I was out.