Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence
Moscow, June 1997
Next morning in Moscow, Howard arrived punctually at my hotel with his special guests.
I descended to the lobby to greet them; we went straight back up to my room.
Vladimir Kryuchkov had the cherubic face of a kindly uncle.
You would never know, looking at him, that he had been one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union.
The 74-year-old former KGB chairman dressed like a Communist Party apparatchik in a charcoal wool suit, white shirt, navy-blue tie with a white vertical stripe, and a woolen sweater-vest.
His round, apple-cheeked face was dominated by large spectacles with heavy amber-colored frames. A wisp of gray hair atop his bald pate stood on end as if wanting to take flight.
It was hard to believe that this short, smiling man had personally ordered the executions of spies given up by Aldrich Ames.
As KGB Chairman, he would visit their cells the night before execution and ask, "Are you comfortable?"Kryuchkov's sidekick, Igor Prelin, was dressed (comically, I thought) in black slacks, black silk shirt, black striped tie and burgundy shoes; slicked back hair, heavy on grease, and a trim gray beard.
Al Capone meets Red Mafia.
Orlova now operated as Howard's fallback date.
Plain with ivory skin and observant eyes, the odd thing about Orlova was her bobbing Adam's apple.
(Females normally do not have Adam’s-apples.)
I opened the meeting and explained my position on Kryuchkov's book:
It would have to be a memoir of his intelligence career, not a full-fledged autobiography; the American reading public could not sit through two long volumes, as just published in Russia.
It needed jazzing up, I said, a little color.
But it also needed major revelations. Things nobody had ever known before. The sort of thing they called “Gee whiz moments” at the National Enquirer.
"Ah," said Prelin. "Silver bullets."
We needed, I said solemnly, to solve some of the great spy mysteries of the second half of the twentieth century.
In 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev crowned Kryuchkov chairman of the KGB. And in August 1991 Kryuchkov showed his appreciation by conspiring to unseat Gorbachev in a failed putsch.
"I brought this to Gorbachev's attention," said Kryuchkov. "I suggested that we commence an official investigation. What did the President of the USSR do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"Gorbachev was praised by American and German leaders. He liked everybody in the West," said Kryuchkov, asking rhetorically, "So here is the question: Did Gorbachev work for the East or West?"
"The KGB received trustworthy information on this point," said Kryuchkov. "We knew that they had created a network of influence in Soviet society, a long-term program that influenced our intelligentsia and demoralized our military. We must pay tribute to Western strategists," he added with sarcasm. "They did not make a mistake backing Gorbachev."
I knew I was talking to the former KGB chairman, who should know these things.
But Maurice Buckmaster, chief of Britain's Special Operations Executive during World War II, taught me always to play the skeptic when dialoging with sources.
That woulds be Kim Philby, the infamous British MI6 operative who spied for the Russians over two decades and did untold damage to the West.
"The materials passed us by Philby were of extreme tactical and strategic importance," Kryuchkov added.
Aldrich Ames, a CIA mole who reported to his masters in Moscow for almost ten years.
It was Yurchenko who gave up Robert to CIA debriefers (who included Aldrich Ames). That codename and a description of Robert’s circumstances traced immediately to Edward Lee Howard in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
As Prelin translated, Kryuchkov stiffened. Even after many months in the can, the former KGB chairman was still accustomed to sycophants who said yaa, not nyet-nyuk.
In 1975 Shadrin disappeared while on a trip to Austria.
"Then we received reliable information that the Americans were behind this game. So we decided to lure this traitor out and bring him home. Oleg Kalugin, a First Directorate colonel, was put in charge of the operation. In meetings, we discussed how to deal with Shadrin's resistance and transport him from Vienna to Prague. We decided to use chloroform. But Kalugin had his own agenda. The result was a fiasco. Drugged unconscious, Shadrin was pulled a thousand yards in the snow at the Austrian-Czech border, then left to lay in the icy cold for twenty minutes because the car that was supposed to carry him got stuck in the snow. Shadrin died.
"My deputy flew to Prague to assess the failure of this operation. He reported that our receiving team was upset, all except for Kalugin, who appeared satisfied by the outcome. An autopsy determined that Shadrin had liver cancer at an advanced stage, so he would not have lived more than six months anyway."
"They've been called off for one day." Prelin winked. "We have professionals in charge again."
Prelin told me that he represented 3,600 retired KGB officers.
Stopping once again only for room service sandwiches, coffee and tea, my session with Kryuchkov went on till four p.m.
I filled three ninety-minute cassette tapes.
"When I entered the cell, other prisoners there for other things were shocked. It was five in the morning. They gave me hot tea and let me go to bed. At six when they turned on the lights, nobody woke me up, so I had a chance to sleep. The first thing I did when I woke up was my morning exercises. It's been a habit for sixty years now. I exercise for one hour. The guards, other prisoners, looked at me with shocked eyes. I had decided to do my normal thing."
Kryuchkov obfuscated with vague generalities.
Another stab: "Why did you act so quickly to arrest and execute spies identified by Ames when this would probably arouse suspicion that someone in the CIA was tipping you off?"
"Why only Ames?" he protested. "Some agents were identified without his help. We had to act, big secrets from the KGB and the Ministry of Defense were being given out. This was a danger and threat to our people."
"A couple of years later, Gates visited Moscow, and we had a meeting at a KGB guesthouse in Kolpachny Pereulok. Gates asked me if I wish to know the CIA's view of what would happen to the Soviet Union in the year 2000. I said yes. In a few carefully chosen words, Gates said he doubted the Soviet Union would still exist. He asked if I would like to see the CIA's analytical report on the future of my country. I said I would be grateful to accept such material. And though we later reminded Gates about his offer, we never did receive the CIA report.
"I thought about Gates's tragic forecast. And then, with some mortification, I watched it happen ten years ahead of schedule."
SPYMASTER RULE # 12: PLAY THE SKEPTIC
...with sources to determine their motivation.
(It is almost always money or revenge—ideology and conviction are like rubber bands)
You’ve got an authoritative source in front of you.
You believe everything he says because it fits with what you already know to be true.
Don’t show it.
Instead, pooh-pooh it. Be doubtful. Push for the source to fully explain how he got the information and why he believes it to be true.
Shake your head and say, “It makes no sense to me.”
Make him convince you.
Make him convince you.
People like to be believed. If the source is holding something back, he will, under pressure, come out with it.
There are only two motivations for betraying secrets: money and revenge.
People think they have conviction. But they allow it to be stretched when they need money or revenge.
As Johnny Staccato, a fictional creation of jazz critic Mike Zwerin, used to say, “Reality is money.”
Everyone needs it. If the price is high enough, and the risk diminished, people will sell.
As for revenge, it is human nature for the mistreated to strike back, and human nature trumps conviction and ideology.