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ISBN: 9781608447398
448 pages
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Excerpt from the Book


In February 1992, Boris Yuzhin was released from the Soviet Union’s gulag, where he had been imprisoned for five years. Yuzhin had been a KGB officer who first came to San Francisco in 1975. He returned in 1978, and was cooperating with the FBI. I had arrived in the FBI’s newly formed Soviet analytical unit not long before Yuzhin returned to San Francisco. Over the next five years, most of my time was devoted to the Yuzhin operation.

In 1980, the CIA provided Yuzhin with a camera concealed in a cigarette lighter for him to use inside the KGB Residency. Eventually, he lost it, and we urgently tried to protect him from the consequences if the KGB discovered the spy gear.

Later, FBI field office agents used what was supposed to have been tightly controlled Yuzhin reporting to confront a Soviet they had hoped to recruit. The Soviet immediately reported the pitch to the KGB, and was hurriedly hauled back to Moscow. We realized the office had potentially blown Yuzhin’s cooperation with us right out of the water. I was assigned to prepare a transcript of the entire pitch as part of an internal investigation.

Yuzhin returned to Moscow in 1982, and I spent the next year preparing the FBI’s overall evaluation of him and our operation.

Richard Miller, an FBI agent in Los Angeles, was arrested in 1984 for passing information to the KGB. We were on edge at what that meant for Yuzhin. Thankfully, Miller was one of the few FBI counterintelligence agents on the West Coast who didn’t seem to have noticed the volume of reporting that pointed to us having a source in the San Francisco KGB.

In 1985, I moved to the CIA. Vitaliy Yurchenko, a senior KGB officer, defected to the U.S. and provided voluminous information on the KGB’s targeting of Americans. He caused an uproar when he redefected a few months later. I was later assigned to be “the Yurchenko person,” the one people would turn to for information about Yurchenko and his leads. One memo I wrote summarized the most damaging information Yurchenko might have learned from his debriefings. On top of the list was the fact that Boris Yuzhin had been working for the FBI. The concealed camera had indeed been found, and Yurchenko had been in charge of the ongoing KGB investigation. Yuzhin was one of two suspects. Both of Yurchenko’s principal debriefers believed he may have picked up that the FBI’s penetration of the KGB was Yuzhin, and not the other suspect.

By 1987, the FBI and the CIA were losing Soviet assets at an alarming rate, and didn’t know why. It looked like the CIA’s Moscow Station may have been penetrated by the KGB, with the help of Marine security guards Clayton Lonetree and Arnold Bracy. I was assigned to the CIA’s Moscow Task Force, looking at all the contents and cable traffic of Moscow Station, including their file on Boris Yuzhin, to identify what may have been compromised to the KGB.

It took another two years for us to learn that Boris Yuzhin had, indeed, long since been arrested and imprisoned.

By the time Yuzhin was released from the gulag, we didn’t even know that Rick Ames, one of Yurchenko’s principal debriefers, had exposed him to the KGB in 1985. Soon afterwards, Bob Hanssen, who had been my direct supervisor for my last two years at the FBI, did the same thing. Both were later convicted for spying, and I was interviewed as part of both investigations.

The article describing Yuzhin’s release in February 1992 was headlined “Soviet FBI Spy Says He’d Do It Again,” and quoted him as saying “I’m proud of what I’ve done.” It was an enormous relief to see that this low-key, decent man had been released, and to see what he was saying after five years of some of the harshest treatment humans endure on earth. To some extent, it was also absolution for our many mistakes in handling him. He has since resettled in the U.S.

Throughout my career at both the FBI and CIA, I worked in counterintelligence, including assignments that targeted the Soviet Union, East Europe, South Asia, and East Asia. When friends and family asked about my work, I couldn’t say anything about Boris Yuzhin, illegals, moles and mole hunts, agents and double agents, defectors, or the work of FBI Special Agents, CIA case officers, and the rest of us who worked on the desks. Now I can offer an adulterated version of what I was doing all those years.

From inside the book:  

"Life is a Marx Brothers movie in which we are all sometimes condemned to play Mararget Dumont."

"Any idiot thinks he can do CI (counterintelligence) analysis, and several idiots have the chance to try."

"If I had been involved in the (Ames) investigation, it wouldn't have taken nearly as long to make an arrest. Of course, I might have had the wrong guy, but it would have been much quicker."

"When he asked what I was doing in Cleveland,  I told him I was working for the FBI there.  He said 'Now I know who to go to if someone gives me trouble.'   Yeah, I'd write a quick memo for him." 

"Who are these guys (the old hands), and why don't they leave us alone?"

"Thank you, FBI, for giving me the opportunity, and thank you, CIA, for all of the options."

From the interview with EspionageMagazine.com:  "It’s still annoying to realize that a good part of the credibility of one source over another is comparative sales figures for their books."              


Stories from The CI Desk, as adapted for EspionageMagazine.com, February 2013


Thomas Cavanagh’s Gun 


(Thomas Cavanagh, an engineer at Northrop Corporation, was trying to provide the Soviet Union with Stealth aircraft technology.  He was meeting in a Southern California hotel room with two FBI agents who were posing as KGB officers.)   A final meeting was scheduled in which Cavanagh was to be arrested.  The agents were worried; Cavanagh seemed unstable, and he had alluded to bringing a gun into their meetings.  There were a number of agents in adjacent rooms for this last meeting, and they worked out a signal.  If Cavanagh had brought a gun, the two undercover agents were going to ask him if it ever snowed in California.  That was the cue for the agents in the adjacent room who were monitoring the conversation to pass the message along to agents in another room to enter the room right away, and make the arrest.  

Cavanagh was carrying a gun, so the agents gave the signal and waited for the arresting agents to burst in.  Nothing happened.  After a few minutes, they again asked him if it ever snowed in California.  As he had before, he answered “yeah, sometimes in the mountains,” and impatiently returned to the matter at hand.  Still no reaction.  Letting a few more minutes pass, they tried yet again.  Cavanagh was now beginning to wonder why they kept bringing this up, and when still nothing happened, the two undercover agents let the matter drop.  One of them asked to see the gun, and when Cavanagh handed it over, he admired it for a while, and then put it aside.  By this time, their transaction had been completed, and they decided there was nothing left to do but leave the hotel room.  Upon opening the door, a group of FBI agents who had been waiting in the hallway startled all of them by grabbing Cavanagh and making the arrest.  

As the undercover agents later learned, what happened was a classic case of cultural differences between criminal agents and counterintelligence agents.  The agents monitoring the conversation had been criminal agents.  They had heard the signal, and radioed the agents on the other side that Cavanagh “was packing.”  To the criminal agents, and to anyone who watched a lot of TV, this was their way of saying “Mister Cavanagh is indeed carrying a gun, and you should enter the room and arrest him.”  To the (counterintelligence) agents who had received the message, the fact that he “was packing” meant that they had concluded their business, and Cavanagh was putting his things away in preparation for leaving.  Consequently, instead of bursting in and ending the meeting, they had gathered in the hallway to await his appearance and arrest him there.”  (Pages 170-172) 



Surveilling Valeriy Martynov, Our Penetration of the KGB


“We were given another opportunity for an orientation trip to a field office, this time a one day visit to Washington Field at Buzzard’s Point.  . . . The finale of our visit was spending a few hours with the surveillance teams.  . . . After only a few minutes, our driver spotted a target going the opposite direction along Columbia Pike, and he did a quick U-turn in heavy traffic in order to follow him.  We were practically on the guy’s bumper, and I could see him looking at us worriedly in his rear view mirror.  A quiet junior analyst in the car was getting excited; I’d never seen him so animated as he started shouting out directions, telling the driver not to lose the target.  The driver got on his radio, and soon another car joined us in the pursuit.  In contrast, I was shrinking in my seat, thinking we looked silly -- four guys in a car, three of them in their best suits, looking more like we were joy riding than surveilling someone.  While we were stopped at a traffic light, our junior analyst asked who we were following.  The driver looked through the list he had and announced “Valeriy Martynov.”  Oh, terrific.  We were following the KGB officer we had recruited and were handling in place.  I was the only one in the car who was aware that Martynov was our agent.  I was also aware that, as frequently happens with people in his position, he had lately been worried that the KGB was on to him, and he felt he might be followed.  At this point, I was mortified.  Martynov might see these three strange guys in suits as (confirmation of his fears about the KGB) . . .  .  At this point, I weakly suggested that we’d seen enough, and that we should move on to another target, but our analyst’s enthusiasm was contagious, and the surveillants had a “project.”  All the surveillance teams carrying our analysts began to converge on Martynov’s car.  Fortunately, after just a few minutes, he stopped . . .  and all the surveillance cars converged at the far end of the parking lot.  The surveillants discussed a plan to continue following him once he left the store, but I lobbied for disengaging.  Bob Hanssen joined the group, and I pulled him aside, asking him if he knew who we were following.  He grinned broadly and said “yeah,” and agreed that we should ask the surveillants to cut off their pursuit and take us back to the office.” (Pages 166-167)  (In a letter to the KGB a few months later, Hanssen told them he had personally seen Martynov.  This is the incident Hanssen was referring to.)  


Called Upon to Remember the Files, Sixteen Years Later


(Robert P. Hanssen was arrested for espionage on February 20, 2001.  He was an FBI agent who had been my supervisor during my last two years at the FBI.Back in my new office (at the CIA), I received a call from Bob S., my successor those many years ago when I left the FBI.  . . .  Bob was working on the Hanssen investigation. . . . I couldn’t help but have some twinges of regret; here Bob was, analyzing aspects of a major counterespionage investigation (while) I had long since burned out, and was certifying edits to old documents for declassification.    

At that point, the FBI knew that Hanssen’s espionage had began by late 1985, but Bob suspected it had actually begun earlier.  He thought that one case I had worked on was the key.  . . .  He asked me in what safe the materials had been kept.  In the first two or three years after I had left the FBI, I had received several similar calls; I could usually recall exactly where the soft files were, (what they contained, and who had taken what action on them).  I pointed out to Bob, though, that my work on this case had been sixteen years ago; I couldn’t imagine that the files hadn’t been destroyed, or otherwise moved or reorganized, in all that time.  He told me to just tell him what I remembered. . . .  I had visions of my old safe sitting untouched, becoming covered with cobwebs in the middle of my old office.  In fact, I was able to give him several minutes of detailed description of the case and the files, despite the 16-year gap.  


It did turn out that Hanssen had worked for the Soviets before 1985, although I don’t think the case I worked on ended up having any relevance to that; it came out that he had volunteered to the GRU while stationed in New York in 1979.  (pages 374-375)



Mystery Document 


(When I was a new clerk, one of my first FBI supervisors was Jim Fox, who later headed the New York office.)  One day he approached me with furrowed brow, and soberly asked me to come into his office and close the door. . . . He handed me a memo from across his desk and asked me to read it.  It was from the Air Force, and I tried desperately to figure it out.  It was so full of esoteric jargon, cryptic references, and convoluted sentences with misused multisyllabic words, I couldn’t tell what they were saying.  I knew they wanted something but I couldn’t tell what.  . . . Mr. Fox just kept looking at me with concern.  After a while, I just had to come clean.  Shaking my head, I said “Mr. Fox, I just can’t understand this.”  Much to my surprise, he brightened.  “Neither can I!”  With the ice broken, we then strategized on a response that would encourage the Air Force to tell us again what they wanted without letting them know we had no clue what their memo said.  (Pages 20-21)  


Illegals Concealments  


Sometimes, the CIA really is more like Get Smart! than James Bond:


(Two illegals were arrested in Northern Europe in mid-1992.)  “In their carry-on bags, they had a few different kinds of pills - antacids, aspirin, and one prescription medicine for stomach problems.  Illegals had historically concealed  secret writing developing solutions and other espionage-related chemicals in such pills, so the local service rushed the pills to us for analysis.  . . . There was some hold up in the lab.  We kept pushing for results, but we never heard anything. . . . 


The country holding the illegals had to release them, but we were still on the hook for a chemical analysis of the pills.  . . .  About two months later, we got a very formal report . . . the lab’s conclusion was that the pills were consistent with off-the-shelf antacids, aspirin, and a prescription drug.  It took me a while, but reading through it, it finally occurred to me.  Their entire analysis consisted of opening a medical reference book and determining that the pills looked like they should have looked.  . . . I called up the lab, and pointed out that of course the pills looked like off-the-shelf pills -- if they were concealed secret writing developers, that’s how they were concealed! . . . I asked them to actually conduct a chemical examination of the pills, which was what we had asked for it the first place.  They pointed out that we had agreed to destructive testing -- we had to agree to accept that the pills would be destroyed in the examination.  Considering that they hadn’t done anything but look at them, I didn’t see how that was relevant.  They let me know that meant that they threw the pills away  after completing the report.” (Pages 259-260)