|Albert: The Hideout Prince|
On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco
I awakened early the next morning following a long day of "termination" upheaval.
JL arrived at M-Base; Muhlberger appeared at 7:30 sharp, followed several minutes later by Subraud and Gottlieb.
The police chief was stunned by our news.
He drew a deep breath, sat back in his chair.
Everyone agreed on one main point:
I had not heard from the Prince; it was not over until he said it was over.
At ten minutes past eight I sent the Prince this text:
I have heard from Palmero. I should hear from you directly and talk this through.
I saw Muhlberger to the elevator.
He looked me in the eye, and said, “This story is not over.”
When I rejoined the others, Subraud said, “Palmero is a rat. You must fight.”
But the joy of this job had long since vanished, most of it with JLA’s departure six weeks earlier.
In the weeks since, we had been more consumed with our own survival than our mission—just like any other bureaucracy not allowed to do its real work.
I had a long-standing lunch scheduled that day with Iztok P, who had recently retired as Slovenia’s intelligence chief but had traveled to Monaco with Bosnia’s intelligence chief, Almir D—the person Iztok from Montenegro had consulted to validate our intelligence on Philippe Narmino’s money trail.
In the lobby of Hotel Columbus, we went through it again.
Almir confirmed the routing: Middle East-Germany-Bosnia-Croatia-Bosnia-San Marino.
It may no longer have mattered, but that afternoon we created a new liaison partnership, with Bosnia.
Clair George phoned me that afternoon, eager for an update.
“Everything is going according to plan,” I said. “Unfortunately, it’s not my plan.”
I phoned JLA to tell him our news.
I asked JLA what he had done with our reports on Biancheri and Narmino.
“I had to turn over all my files.” He’d given them to Palmero. “I asked him a few days ago if he had read them," JLA added. “He was not interested, does not want to know.”
That evening I strolled through Christmas Village along the port, my stomach knotted. It was cold and, despite this festive ambience, the stall vendors seemed ugly and mean; I sensed danger lurking in the shadows.
Back in M-Base, I turned out the lights, lit all the candles and listened to the sad violin strains of Heartstrings from Songs From a Secret Garden.
JL appeared at nine o’clock.
“We’re having a wake,” I said.
Forty minutes later, my original deputy Piers arrived from London. Although no longer my right-hand man, he still contributed to our service on a pro bono basis.
“Glad you’re here,” I told him. “Starting to feel lonely.”
I was truly grateful that he would sleep in the next room.
We moved our commiseration to a portside restaurant called Tender To for a late dinner and a bottle of Barolo red wine.
Next morning, I met my agent HUNT for a cappuccino at Crock In.
He was disgusted, if not surprised, by my news.
Later, another old friend of the Prince, Mike Powers, put it this way:
“I’ve been making excuses for Albert my whole life.”
JL received a gnarly message on his cell phone from Thierry Lacoste, delivered at two in the morning, denouncing JL as a “two-faced bastard” for working with me.
The Prince had not called, despite my having left half-a-dozen messages on his two mobile phones and with Madame Viale at the Palace.
So I sent him this fax:
13 December 2006
Dear Prince Albert,
As you may know, Claude Palmero notified me on 11 December that you have instructed him to terminate my service to you.
If this is true, I am saddened and surprised that you have chosen not to deliver this news personally.
I have worked very hard on your behalf during the last five years, and I feel that I have contributed much with little personal gain to myself.
This was based on the predication that you desired to be informed by me on matters pertaining to criminal activities within the principality, and that you intended to do something about those involved with criminal activity.
Furthermore, it is a great shame to close down an entity that has given you access to fifteen intelligence services in countries of strategic importance to Monaco.
Its value is much, much higher than the funding I have received to put all the right pieces into place. I did this for you because I believed in the new ethic you wished to install in your country.
I have discovered from sources that influential people around you may have poisoned your trust in me.
I always told you that the measure of my effectiveness to you could likely be based upon how vehemently others might try to discredit me.
I suspect this is what has occured, because your indifference is otherwise unexplainable.
You always said that if I would fall victim to a disinformation campaign, I would have the opportunity to know what has been said and dispute any false allegations.
If this is the case, or even if you have chosen to terminate this relationship because of its cost, I hope you will meet with me, if only for a few minutes, so I can fully understand what you feel has gone wrong.
As you may remember, I had two meetings scheduled for you tomorrow at M-Base.
At the risk of embarrassing you and/or our visitors should you not appear, I have cancelled both visits.
Again, I hope you will grant me the courtesy of meeting this afternoon or this evening.
As I discussed with Claude Palmero, the dismantling of the infrastructure—M-Base, local and international relationships, etc—is going to take some time and expense, but if this is your desire, I shall, with great disappointment, begin the process.
However, before I commence the steps necessary to do so I must hear from you that this is what you truly want, and whether you wish that I transfer these relationships or conclude them.
Respectfully yours, (Signed.)
Frank Schneider from Luxembourg phoned at quarter-past-two from Nice Airport to report his arrival, as previously scheduled.
I requested he proceed directly to M-Base.
Frank possessed a creative mind; I wanted him to absorb our unwelcome news in advance of the dinner we’d planned.
He arrived forty-five minutes later and I briefed him on our uncertain status.
Frank was shocked.
I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning out the safe and shredding documents originating from our liaison partners. Who knew what might happen next?
I spoke with LIPS on the hotline and assured him we would safeguard the CIA’s cryptographic equipment until it could be collected.
He was astonished that we were truly in closedown mode.
“We tried, took chances, did something,” I told him. “I’d rather do it right and get pushed out after four-and-a-half years than do nothing and stick around for ten.”
LIPS concurred. “You should hold your head high,” he said, the usual lip service.
In the midst of this, the Paris station chief of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, arrived in Monaco for a prearranged meeting.
As if in an old spy movie, I met Josey that evening near a carousel in the Christmas Village below M-Base.
We walked to nearby Fusion for cocktails.
Josey seemed enthusiastic to grow the liaison into a strong relationship.
I was completely honest and told him our meeting could be superfluous as we were struggling for survival.
Pending Frank’s OK, I invited Josey to join Frank and me for after-dinner drinks at Le Beefbar.
At 7:30, I met Frank, joined by Piers my in the bar at Hotel Columbus.
Frank had, in the interim, phoned his chief and now relayed to me that Marco Mille was “pissed off” by our news.
Said Marco, it was an embarrassment for him to have opened doors for us to other intelligence services only to have them closed, so soon and with such abruptness.
“You can’t close it down,” Frank told Piers and me. “All countries have problems with corruption, but they find a balance.”
Frank continued to talk about the international ramifications of closing down the Monaco Intelligence Service, and the harsh reaction that should be expected from other countries and their intelligence services.
“What would such an action say about Monaco, about the Prince?” posed Frank. “It would say he was not serious, was disingenuous, does not wish to fight corruption, but is happy for Monaco to exist as a criminal state. These doors have been opened,” added Frank. “You cannot just close them. The French, too, would be embarrassed, having signed off with Marco—and others—to meet you, establish contact. To now close those doors would make France very uncomfortable. Phone the Prince,” he urged. “Point out the reality and tell him to grow up, get a grip.”
Frank told us that Marco had offered to do this himself, and to meet with the Prince to point out a) the importance of MIS and its relations with other services and b) how ridiculous and dangerous it would be to terminate these relationships.
“Once you’re lucky enough to be invited into this club, you don’t suddenly leave,” said Frank. “You will be considered a pariah from then on.”
We walked over to Le Beefbar for steak and Pomerol.
Bolstered by Luxembourg’s encouragement, we decided to keep our service alive—at least until Marco Mille could meet with the Prince for a reality check, or until the French could react.
We drew up a plan:
After the holidays I would travel to Paris and brief the DST chief on this development; I would then travel to Luxembourg to consult, and together—with Marco—travel to Monaco and request an audience with the Prince.
Furthermore, we would stick to our plan for a Club of Monaco meeting of micro-states in early February, as scheduled.
In other words, we’d behave as if nothing happened—as if Palmero had not terminated us.
When I rose to use the men’s room, I heard Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Mr. Bojangles playing in the background.
It flashed me back to dear, sweet Terri Hart, a high school friend who, at the tender age of 16, perished (along with her parents and siblings) in a Turkish Airlines crash near Paris in March 1974.
This sudden, unexpected memory caused my eyes to well with tears. (No doubt, I had a lot of pent-up emotion in me from this rollercoaster of a week.)
I said a quick prayer for Terri, dried my eyes and soldiered on back to the table, no one the wiser.
Josey, from Mossad, phoned at 9:15 and Frank sanctioned his joining us.
So along came Josey and we ate soufflés, drank fine red wine and laughed like maniacs till past one a.m.
Nine-thirty next morning.
I'm in the Priority Lounge at Nice Airport, awaiting my EasyJet flight to London when my cell phone jingles.
The caller: Prince Albert.
“Aren’t we supposed to be meeting today?” he asks.
I can scarcely believe my ears.
“Albert,” I say, “I’ve been told by Palmero we’re out of business, that we must shut down.”
“Oh, no—he wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I needed to talk to you.”
About money, he added. And also a complaint from the police chief that I was working his turf.
Police Chief Muhlberger?
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I had to cancel both meetings today because after hearing Palmero’s news I could not be certain you would appear and I could not risk embarrassing you and inconveniencing our visitors. Didn’t you get my messages?”
The Prince tells me he had not heard any of my phone messages.
“What about my fax?”
He had not seen the fax either. (Intercepted? And if so, by whom? Palmero, perhaps, it it made no sense.)
This is, apparently, the first Prince Albert knows of any possible disruption. Which also makes no sense.
“So Palmero acted without your authority?” I ask.
“Palmero doesn’t know how complicated this is,” he replies, skirting the question. “I’m going to bawl him out. Are you just arriving?”
“No, I’m leaving—it’s been a rather dramatic week.”
“When can we meet?” he asks.
There is no point, we agree, in my retrieving checked baggage and returning to Monaco (the last place I wanted to be).
Instead, we make a plan to meet after the holidays, in early January.
I found Piers at the other end of the lounge.
“You’re not going to believe this…” I began, as if in a surreal dream.
At this juncture I felt we’d won a major power play—an inoculation against whatever would come next.
It didn’t kill us, so it should have made us stronger, right?
The Prince should have ended it then.
It would have been the humane thing to do and given me the luxury of time to discreetly channel our liaison partnerships to SIGER.
What he did instead—not confronting his pivotal swing away from our service—was unforgivable.
I arrived back in London bullish and buoyant, if emotionally bruised.
One thing about a crisis, you’re able to identify your true friends (and your real enemies).
That evening I met Ian M in the Cigar Bar at the old Churchill Hotel on Portman Square and recounted the events (for me, a cathartic exercise) of the last four days.
“Luxembourg was quite right,” said Ian when I’d finished. “You cannot raise the flag, say you want to crack down on organized crime, then lower it. It sends all the wrong messages and isolates Monaco much worse than before. But they [the bad guys] won’t go away,” he added. “They’ll come back harder next time.”
At the end of November, just before the Prince’s ten-day state trip through Asia, he’d had two meetings with Lacoste and Palmero to finalize a severance arrangement with JLA.
Near the end of those meetings, the lawyer and accountant staged a “manipulation” of the Prince’s disposition toward my service.
After the Prince’s departure, Lacoste told Palmero he possessed the authority to execute a termination and Palmero executed it.
Frank Schneider of Luxembourg called this "an attempted coup 'etat."
I phoned Clair George.
“It’s not over till the fat lady sings,” I told him. “And the fat lady refused to sing.”
“They don’t understand the complexity,” said Clair. “I’m proud of you. You’ve lasted fifteen rounds and you’re back for more. Enjoy this. It won’t last forever.”
That experience was my holiday present, getting to star in my own gut-wrenching movie with a Christmas backdrop.
But for me it wasn’t personal.
I wasn't Monegasque, I didn't live in Monaco and I didn't aspire to its grandest prize: a Monegasque passport.
That was my strength—and my value to the Prince.
If I had touched a nerve among the bad guys, I now felt inspired to yank it out, conduct a root canal, clean out all the germy puss.
Purely business, as Clair would say.
A few days later, I could not find the Prince to wish him a Merry Christmas, so I found Mike Powers at a party I knew he’d attend and he passed the phone to him.
“Merry Christmas,” I said. “Will you be in Monaco?”
Albert replied, “Not if I can help it.”
Which about sums him up.
As had been the case since 1992, I received a Christmas card from the Prince with a printed signature.
Far more meaningful to me this Christmas, 2006, was a handwritten card I received from JLA:
Dear Robert, It has been great to work with you and I am very proud of all our accomplishments!
JL spoke briefly with the Prince at their family’s traditional Christmas Eve party.
“Robert’s mission is not finished,” the Prince told him. “Palmero was not supposed to terminate. They misunderstood me.”
As for a turf complaint from Muhlberger, the Prince added, “People are getting jealous [of your service].”
Ten days later, JL ran into Thierry Lacoste at Stephane Valeri’s wedding in Monaco.
Echoing a line he’d fed me three months earlier, Lacoste told JL he hated Monaco and the people in it and couldn’t wait to get back to Paris.
He grumbled that I had been investigating him, referring to me as “an American who probably works for the Americans.”
JL retorted: “If Eringer wanted to investigate you, you’d never even know about it.”
Taking Operation Hound Dog into account, this was actually true.
I realized that as long as I continued to serve the Prince I’d be riding a rollercoaster, our new status quo, and I relished the opportunity to go at this with the Prince face-to-face.
But I also questioned whether I should continue to serve a Prince who no longer cared about the intelligence we provided and who did not bother to utilize the resources available to him, such as briefings from CIA and SIS on any subject of his choosing.
Although I would keep going for now, it was clear to me this would not end well.