One of the more curious episodes during my tenure as Prince Albert’s spymaster in Monaco was a Russia-based spy-net we codenamed The Oracle System, brought to us by a former senior officer of the CIA’s clandestine service who had retired after a 30-plus year career, capped as a division chief.
It was the mid 1990s and Benedict (not his real name) did as many former CIA veterans do upon departing the Agency: Venture into private-sector intelligence and risk analysis firms to utilize their very particular set of skills for corporate clients.
A whole coterie of career senior CIA officers flew the coop through the 1990s amid contentious relationships with Directors John Deutch, James Woolsey and George Tenet. Morale was almost as low at CIA during that decade as it was among the Russian special services. The Cold War had supposedly ended and 9/11 had not yet happened to reenergize the Agency for its new mission: to crush Islamic terrorism (to the exclusion of almost all else).
Meanwhile, under President Yeltsin’s rule (1991-99), the Russian intelligence services were in disarray while a grand sell-out was underway in all sectors of the Russian government and commerce, including their foreign intelligence service, the SVR (successor agency to the KGB’s First Directorate), whose poorly paid officers (yet accustomed to comfortable lifestyles in sophisticated foreign capitals) wanted to cash in along with everyone else.
According to Benedict, he, through his Russian subcontractors, had managed to open a window into SVR archives. It was a network, he said, controlled by a Russian facilitator who (we deduced) had defected to the USA after many years operating as a double agent for the CIA.
This individual, we were told, ran a network of his own spies still working in Moscow who could gain access to the main intelligence archival registry and view files upon request. These agents could not photocopy any paperwork, we were made to understand, but were permitted to enter a secure facility and take detailed notes, which were then smuggled out of Russia and typed up as a report, often delivered by Benedict himself.
I had first gotten to know Benedict when he assisted former CIA spymaster Clair George and myself with private-sector intelligence work and he offered the services of his Oracle System for one of our private-sector clients.
Additionally, a couple of years before Prince Albert retained me to be his full-time intelligence adviser in June 2002 we tested this system after the Prince expressed concern about a Russian resident of Monaco whose proposal his government was considering for investment into the principality’s football club, ASM.
The report we received (for a hefty fee) was highly detailed, impressive and rang true with what we had already garnered through other sources. As a result, the Russian in question was not allowed to invest in ASM. That said, years later when Prince Albert fell under the spell of Russian President Vladimir Putin he actually allowed this person to become an investor AND president of ASM, despite Monaco’s police department noting in their file of his connection to “MAFIA RUSSE.”
Benedict took great care to eliminate any data from his reports that might have identified his network on the basis that The Facilitator’s on-site agents in Moscow were running a huge risk by peddling Russian secrets, the penalty for which, if caught, would be execution.
Thus, Benny was adamant that his spy-net had to be so strictly protected that if we insisted on knowing more about the veracity of the “intelligence” we received (and we did) he would—Benny was very clear on this point—no longer do business with us.
Because of Benedict’s credentials—and because Clair George knew Benny and vouched for him—we were willing to accept his findings at face value without much scrutiny.
In hindsight, this was a mistake.
First off, Benedict was clearly violating Agency rules by creating a commercial relationship with a Russian CIA asset. He should have known better, he did know better, but Benny chose to break the rules, and quite probably the law. Maybe he left the Agency with bitterness or perhaps his character was flawed. It should have raised a red flag.
The problem with operating independently and without a support system (such as the CIA) is that raw intelligence would not go through the arduous process of vetting and validation that is necessary for it to pass muster and be taken seriously. Soon after utilizing The Oracle System for Monaco Intelligence I began to suspect that those involved in the system, starting with Benny himself, were taking advantage of the trust (and much money) provided them. Instead of raiding SVR files (if such a methodology ever truly existed), it was beginning to look as though they were mixing open-source material with fabricated “intelligence.” And not only that. They also appeared to be selling files paid for (by us on an exclusive basis) to third parties.
Benedict, as front man, vehemently rebuffed any doubt or criticism about his spy-net’s reporting. But for us the jig was up and we moved on to what we considered to be other more reliable sources i.e. intelligence services including the CIA and Britain’s MI6 with whom we forged liaison relationships.
New evidence since that time period even more strongly suggests that insatiable greed and laziness—or perhaps something much worse—had been taking place.
Fast-forward 20 years to…
THE FOURTH MAN
This is the title of a nonfiction espionage book published last May by Robert Baer who served 21 years as a case officer with the CIA’s operations directorate with tours in India, the Middle East and a couple African countries.
The book’s premise: That a fourth spy—beyond CIA defector Edward Lee Howard, senior CIA official Aldrich Ames and FBI counterintelligence bigwig Robert Hanssen—existed at a senior level within CIA; that after Ames was put away a special counterintelligence team was assembled in super-secrecy by operations chief Hugh “Ted” Price to account for Russian spy reveals that could not be attributed to the traitorous trio, including the case of Oleg Gordievsky, KGB chief in London, who was outed as a spy in early 1985, summoned home to Moscow and accused of being a double agent. Gordievsky, however, got spirited back to safety in the UK by a magnificent exfiltration operation executed by MI6.
I am reliably assured (by my own sources, not Baer’s book) that Ames was not responsible for betraying Gordievsky. Thus, I have little doubt that a fourth spy exists based on my own adventures in espionage, to include (but not limited to) this pair of vignettes:
One: When I visited Edward Lee Howard in Moscow, his job as the author of his memoir, Safe House, was to answer all of the questions that I, his editor (operating secretly for FBI Counterintelligence), asked of him.
Howard revealed to me that a few years after his defection to Moscow in September 1985 he returned to the USA using a fake U.S. passport (supplied by the KGB) in the name of Scott A. Roth. He was homesick and wished to reconnect with his wife, Mary. Howard’s first stop, before attempting to contact Mary out west, was Washington D.C. The KGB arranged for him to be met on a park bench by an American intelligence official who warned him, based on classified intelligence, that Mary had begun to secretly cooperate with the FBI and that if he tried to contact her, he would most certainly be captured. Howard went no further and returned to Moscow.
More importantly, Howard told me that the American intelligence official who met him was neither Aldrich Ames nor Robert Hanssen. Granted, it might have been an illegal or sleeper agent planted in the USA by the Russian General Directorate for special programs. I suggested this to Howard, which produced an amused smirk and this question: “You think the Russians don’t have other spies inside the Agency?”
Two: Ed Howard later introduced me to former KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, who wished to publish his own memoirs in the USA. Again, operating undercover for FBI Counterintelligence, I obliged him and, equipped with a “shopping list” of items our own Russia analysts would want to know, I peppered Mr. Kryuchkov with questions for answers that could conceivably resolve an espionage mystery or two.
Thus, the KGB chairman sat for hours in my room at Hotel Baltschug-Kempinski across the Moskva River from the Kremlin as I quizzed him on a wide spectrum of topics. Although mostly hesitant, Kryuchkov did come through occasionally with what his associate (and translator) Colonel Igor Prelin called a “silver bullet” (based upon my rationale that his book would need to include new reveals in order to generate publicity for successfully marketing it to a savvy American audience).
|Edward Lee Howard. RE, Igor Prelin, Vladimir Kryuchkov|
My question to Chairman Kryuchkov: Why didn’t the KGB do anything to rescue their valuable mole Rick Ames when they knew he was suspected of selling CIA secrets to the Soviet Union?
It was a trick question. We did not know if the KGB was aware of the Ames investigation. But the otherwise stony-faced bureaucratic apparatchik that he was, Kryuchkov finally showed some real emotion. “We knew!” the former chairman blurted. “We wanted to get him out of USA! We proposed this, it went all the way up to [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin! And Yeltsin says NO! We should have got him out!” I could feel the passion and disgust in Kryuchkov’s voice. (Stunned by this revelation, my natural follow-up question was “Why did Yeltsin say nyet?” Kryuchkov irritably explained that President Yeltsin believed it would upset the applecart, specifically, the $1.6 billion U.S. aid package promised to him by President Clinton.)
The point here is that the KGB knew Ames was in trouble.
How did they know?
Presumably, a fourth man.
Robert Baer’s contention: In the form of blatant implication, Mr. Baer points his finger at legendary CIA counterintelligence specialist Paul Redmond, who ran the team that busted Rick Ames and, according to a good source, could easily have sabotaged the investigation if he were so minded, but of course did not.
This has caused a firestorm within Washington D.C.’s intelligence community with most (if not all) of that veiled colony’s heavyweights coming to Mr. Redmond’s defense, although it remains curious (to me, anyway) as to why Mr. Redmond has not filed a defamation lawsuit against author and publisher, Hachette. A libel action must be brought within one year of the alleged offense, so time is short if one is forthcoming. That said, after hearing a whisper that lawyers may already be involved I reached out to Mr. Redmond for comment. He confirmed this, saying, "I have retained counsel and am considering all of my options with respect to Mr. Baer's false and defamatory book."
In defense of himself, Mr. Redmond told Lawandcrime.com, “Robert Baer’s book is hogwash, filled with mistakes and misinformation. I have never been a Russian spy.”
I fondly remember through the 1990s regularly spying prickly Paul Redmond in McLean, Virginia as he hung out by himself in the smoking section of Pulcinella, a restaurant frequented by CIA officers because of its location just down Chain Bridge Road from their headquarters in Langley. I imagined him to be keeping a watchful eye on Russians who also quietly lunched at Pulcinella to eavesdrop on spooky conversations. (In the evenings Paul would be at my other hang, Chef Geoff’s in Sutton Place, northwest DC—jeez, was he spying on me?)
Now back to Benedict, who was one of senior CIA officials shortlisted by the Agency’s counterintelligence team for the moniker Fourth Man. This was due to a matrix methodology of sorting through hundreds of leads but most significantly a) the scope of time involved for unsolved betrayals; and b) access to secrets that resulted in the betrayal of Russian assets.
It is by now clear that Benny was deceitful and untrustworthy, evidenced by his taking with him into the private sector a Russian asset, the facilitator of The Oracle System that purportedly raided SVR archives. This was a definite no-no and betrayal of Agency policy.
Moreover #1, it became crystal clear over time that not only did The Oracle System provide bogus “intelligence” but also inserted into their reports disinformation specifically designed to damage and defame certain parties that had upset certain bigwigs among Russia’s power elite. The need Benny stressed for operational security was partly a smokescreen for deception.
Moreover #2, at one juncture, Oracle’s facilitator initiated an attempt to convince us that a Russian mole existed near the top of a Western intelligence service friendly to the USA on the assumption that we would notify them. This is a ploy often used by Russian intelligence to gum up the works of adversarial intelligence services by causing unnecessary witch hunts. In this case, the ploy failed because The Facilitator’s claim could not be validated by the service in question and was quickly and prudently dismissed. (Robert Baer’s fingering of Paul Redmond appears to have its roots in the same source, leaving me to deduce that Mr. Baer got played and Mr. Redmond is the victim of a Russian disinformation campaign to discredit his good name.)
Moreover #3, one of the files we (Monaco Intelligence) requested from SVR archives through Benedict pertained to a U.S. Air Force colonel we suspected of having been recruited in the late 1980s by the KGB (and perhaps even by Vladimir Putin personally) during the period our suspect supervised spy plane surveillance of the Soviet Union from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. As Prince Albert’s emissary, I presented our findings in early 2003 to top brass at the FBI’s National Security Division and, soon after, an investigation was officially opened. I did NOT include material on the suspect colonel provided to us by Benny and his Oracle System because it would likely have hindered the credibility of our otherwise genuine evidence. Yet Benny and his Oracle team were now privy to our investigation and FBI involvement. And, to the best of our knowledge, our suspect colonel has not been seen or heard from since 2005 when he sold his Malibu, California mansion.
Moreover #4, Benny was CIA station chief in a European country—pre-Howard and pre-Ames—when he revealed to the KGB rezidentura (“accidentally,” it is said, after drinking too much vodka at a Russian diplomatic event) the identity of a CIA asset who then had to be relocated to the USA for his own protection. Even though the compromised asset’s life had been threatened, Benedict dragged his feet on getting him out quickly, telling the asset, “Hang in there.”
The asset’s son told me, “My dad had three CIA handlers, the last of which was (Benedict). He was a liar and a cheat. Strange things started happening after his arrival. Lots of our family possessions were taken by him including four shopping bags filled with chunks of beautiful golden amber and assorted antiques from our house. (Benedict) also demanded a large part of my dad’s Russian icon collection in exchange for 'expediting' our relocation to the USA. Years later my dad explained to me that (Benedict) was essentially shaking him down. (Benedict) acted as though the Agency had sent him out to get rich off other people’s sweat. He was also reckless. My dad’s previous handlers were discreet in their dealings with him but (Benedict) would pull up in our driveway. He was also a drinker, perhaps a functional alcoholic. It wouldn't shock me or my dad if he had been working for the Russians all along."
Moreover #5, in July 2002 Edward Lee Howard met the grim reaper in Moscow (he supposedly tripped and broke his neck) after Benedict learned from me about a renewed effort by FBI Counterintelligence—after a five-year hiatus and Bill Clinton’s departure from the White House—to rendition Howard and repatriate him to American justice. (We could have captured Howard—after much hard work and planning—on 5 November 1995 when he landed in Warsaw, Poland, but the plug got pulled at the last moment, presumably by the President.)
|There were no stairs leading to a laundry room in Ed Howard's dacha|
Moreover #6 (and perhaps most revealing of all), a former private-sector associate of Benny’s told me about a discussion Benedict initiated in 2005. Benny wanted to know a foolproof way for surreptitiously transferring a substantial amount of money from overseas to an account he could access in the USA.
Finally, a check on my super-duper database reveals that Benedict recently bought a house for almost $2.5 million, most of which was provided by a bank mortgage. Without a job bringing in a very high income, Benny (who is now quite elderly and no longer working) would have needed over $5 million in a bank account to qualify for so high a mortgage.
Taking all into account, if a Fourth Man truly exists, Benedict is my prime suspect.
I reached out to Robert Baer to ask questions about his book. His response: "My book's account of the 1990s SUI investigation into the 'fourth man' was based on scores of sources, including the people closest to the investigation who spoke to me on-the-record."
The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs had no comment.
The FBI’s National Press Office had no comment.