Sunday, June 5, 2011

Getting Ready to go to Russia

St. Basil's Church, Red Square

Getting Ready to Go to Russia

Everybody has a dream. Some people would like to play for the Red Sox.  Some would like to fly fighter planes.  Some would just like to make a pile of money. 
            My dream, since junior high school, was to go to Russia.  I studied Russian, and read everything I could about the USSR. 
I wasn’t a communist sympathizer--- I didn’t admire their system, one bit.  But I was eager to learn more about Russia and Russians. I wanted to know more about Peter the Great, his remarkable life and all the things he did to open Russia’s window on the West .  I wanted to explore the life of Russians at the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, and try to feel the dark world of Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov in St. Petersburg.
I wanted to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway and see Siberia.  And I wanted to experience life in Russia under Communism.
So, when I managed to get myself assigned to the USSR as the United States Naval Attaché, I was excited. 
            I was lucky that my wife, after living in Iran and Italy, and traveling a lot, was agreeable to going over there, although it definitely was not high on her list. 
            I had to go to Defense Intelligence School in Washington for about a year.  A lot of this was to bring my Russian language up to standard, but we also had courses in how to observe, how to take and develop pictures, and what to do when the host country security services rolled you up. 

Nina Aleksandrovna De La Cruz was my Russian teacher in Washington.  She was a very elegant woman, daughter of an officer in the Czar’s army, who left before the Revolution in 1917.  Nina taught us a lot about the cultured, polished part of Russia that many of the Soviets never really grasped.  She was a class act.
Most of our Russian instructors were natives of the USSR, so the Russian we learned was up to date. It was interesting to visit with these instructors, because some were still going through the shock of living in the United States.  One thing that really gave them fits was all the choices one had in America.  In a Soviet Gastronom, for instance, you had one kind of coffee and one kind of flour, marked “Coffee” and “Flour” in Russian.  After a life of eating hot groats (kasha) for breakfast every morning, to walk down the cereal aisle in a Washington Safeway was unnerving.

            In the USSR attachés are observers.  We were expected to observe everything about our host country, especially the things we knew the most about.  As I had spent over 20 years as a naval officer in destroyers and submarines, had spent a good amount of time tracking Soviet submarines around the Mediterranean Sea, and more time following and observing Soviet surface warships all over the world, I was expected to put that experience to work watching the Red Fleet.  However, we were also expected to observe anything going on that might provide a clue to the machinations of a very secret society.
On our first field exercise, our class of prospective attachés was assigned to a set of points in downtown Washington, DC.  We were to start at the Botanical Gardens near the Capitol, and photograph “suspicious” plants.  Then, we’d hit a few other spots, take a trip on the DC Metro and finally try to take pictures of the FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  In all of this, we would be followed, and perhaps opposed, by “secret police,” who were really U.S. Army Counterintelligence operatives who normally did this against foreign spies.  They were simulating KGB for me, but they were simulating Rumanian, Czech, and Chinese security services for officers who were headed to those places. 
So, we were to make it from point to point, collect intelligence, take pictures, and avoid being detected.  We were to try to detect our surveillance, and evade them. 
We had a surprise in store.  When we started to look for sneaky people we saw a lot.  We saw people following other people (not us), photographing people, and generally acting suspicious. 

At the end of the exercise we all went back to the Pentagon for a debriefing.  When we reported the sneaky people we had seen, we learned that we had probably seen Israeli Mossad agents, KGB operatives, GRU (Soviet Military intelligence), as well as FBI agents, CIA, DEA, DC Police, Capitol Police, and probably more. It is amazing how many foreign agents are in Washington, busily watching the other foreign agents, as well as American agents!
Our “opposition” had a beautiful picture of where we had gone, and what we had done, and none of us had ever spotted any of them. 
That was our first exercise, and we learned that we had a lot to learn.

A Party at the Soviet Embassy in Washington.  The occasion for the reception at the embassy was the annual meeting of U.S. and Soviet senior naval officers to discuss the Incidents at Sea Treaty.  This treaty enabled the two navies, when either party sensed an “incident”, to communicate directly with the other, rather than waiting for the incident to escalate to State Department exchanges, and perhaps, shooting. 
The annual gatherings were largely social, one year in Washington, the next in Moscow.  Since I was soon to go to Moscow, I took part in this meeting, including lots of luncheons, dinners and receptions like this one.
At the Soviet Embassy on 16th street in Washington a big, burly Soviet Army general (“Tankist”, or officer specializing in armor and tanks) walked over to my wife and me shortly after we had arrived. He introduced himself and, when we told him that we were soon to be going to Moscow, where I would be the new U.S. Naval Attaché, he said, in what I thought was a joking manner: “Sometime, when you are traveling around the Soviet Union, you will look around behind you, and I will be there!” 
Later, while we were serving in Moscow, I read that he had been apprehended by the FBI outside of Washington, caught servicing a dead drop, and was being expelled. For those who don’t read spy books, a “dead drop” was a secret place where a spy left information, to be recovered (serviced) by another spy.
At that same Soviet Embassy reception we met the Soviet Naval Attaché to the U.S., Captain Smirnov, and his wife. 
We went on a Field Trip in Virginia.  Marty lived in Amherst, New Hampshire while I was going through this year of language and spy school.  But, as our last big field trip in intelligence collection came up, I asked her to come to Washington to take part.
In this exercise we would rent cars and travel out into various towns in Virginia, attempting to collect intelligence, just like we would soon do in the USSR.  We would be assigned certain targets to photograph, and expected to collect information, and we would be followed by Army Counterintelligence people, acting as if they were the KGB.
Marty and I teamed with an army colonel and his wife and we all got into a rental car in Alexandria, VA.  There were several other cars with other attaché trainees.  We were all heading for countries where we could expect hostility to our information and intelligence gathering. 
We started off from Alexandria, but we had trouble with the rental car’s engine overheating.   We pulled in to a little old general store in Culpeper, VA.  In this store there were a bunch of good old boys just hanging around.  They looked like the kind of good old boys you could have found there a century before. 
We called the rental car agency and asked them to send us a replacement car, and then we sat there waiting.
This was not part of the field problem, so our “surveillance” just hung out there waiting, as well.  However, the “surveillance” consisted of two Army enlisted people, in civilian clothes. One was a white male and the other a black female. 
This was 1981, and in rural Virginia the sight of mixed race couples was still unusual, and these old boys clearly didn’t like it.  Of course they didn’t know that they were at work, and that we were all on a spy exercise. When the replacement car arrived, we left, with our surveillance following, and the old boys were glad to get rid of us.
We drove down to Petersburg.  Our target was a small army airfield there, and we drove in, with the objective of photographing various things.   Not surprisingly, surveillance soon arrived and apprehended us.  As we were trained, we all stayed in the car, with doors locked, windows closed, even though it was hot. The “KGB” threw a large tarpaulin over our car, so we were completely in the dark. 
If anyone was claustrophobic, this was unsettling.  This happened to be a trick the Czech security people had pulled on our attachés in Czechoslovakia, so this was an authentic bit of harassment. 
Eventually, our opposition removed the tarp and we were on our way to our next assignment, which was to check in to a hotel in downtown Petersburg.
Here the security people tried little tricks to get us and our wives unnerved.  One time, they insulted our wives when the husbands were out of earshot, just like agents have done to attaché wives in the USSR.  My wife noted that the regular guests in the hotel who were close enough to observe this rude, disrespectful behavior to women, and who didn’t know this was all an “exercise” did absolutely nothing to help the ladies.
When we went down to the restaurant for a meal, the “KGB” would enter our rooms and carefully go through anything we left there. A wadded up receipt, thrown in the trash, might give clues that could be used against us. We began to realize that this would indeed happen in the USSR, and it would not be an exercise! 
Finally, we turned in our rental cars, and boarded an Amtrak train in Richmond, bound for Washington. Here we were assigned to collect intelligence as we passed certain installations on the train’s route, with “KGB” right on the train with us.  In the USSR we would spend much more time on trains than in the U.S.
A few weeks later, we were traveling in the Soviet Union, and the real “KGB” did some of these things, which reinforced the fact that this was not just fun and games.  This was very important preparation for our assignment. 

Now, here are some books and papers from The Personal Navigator:

Governor Cony: Address of Governor Cony to the Legislature of the State of Maine, January 5, 1865 by Cony, Samuel, Governor of Maine 1865 Augusta, ME: Stevens & Sayward, Printers to the State. At the start of the last year of the Civil War, Governor Samuel Cony (1811-1870) who was elected Governor in 1863, gave this speech to the Maine Legislature.  Like his predecessors, he enthusiastically and very capably supported prosecution of the War and preservation of the Union. In this address he notes that bounties paid enlistees in the Army are causing the State to gain heavy debt; he talks about draft dodgers, and one brutal murder.  He notes that after three years of war the armies of the Republic have lacked nothing for success but competent leaders, but praises Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Thomas, and also Farragut and Winslow, who commanded USS Kearsarge when she sank CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France. 32 pp. 14.5 x 22.7 cm. Paper booklet, cover worn, lightly soiled, good. (8017) $30.00. Civil War/History

Haverhill Gazette, The, Haverhill, Mass., Friday evening, October 10, 1862  Haverhill, MA: The Haverhill Gazette 4 pp. 40 x 60 cm. Charles Sumner's speech at Faneuil Hall, Boston in response to President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Senator Sumner decries the "No Party" people who are so bitterly opposed to Lincoln that they ignore the fact that the country is at war. "They would rather hang Henry Wilson or John A. Andrew than Jefferson Davis or Robert Toombs." [Note: Wilson was a Republican Senator from Massachusetts, Andrew was Governor of Massachusetts; Davis was President of the Confederacy, and Toombs, a senator from Georgia and now a Confederate general.]
 "The Draft in Baldinsville" by Artemus Ward: "The war hain't been too well managed... I have great confidence in A. Linkin. The old fellow's heart is in the right place and his head is clear. There's bin sum queer doin's by sum of his deputies.. but let it pass, We must save the Union."  War reports from Gen. Grant and Gen. McClellan.  Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, in a sermon last Sunday, said "There can only be two parties--those who uphold the rebels and traitors, and those who stand by the President and the Government." Newspaper, tiny holes in intersection of folds, good. (6914) $31.00. Civil War/Newspapers

La Guerre D'Amérique: Récit d'un Soldat du Sud [in French] (The American {Civil} War: Narrative of a Southern Soldier); Tome Premier [Volume One ONLY] par Fontane, Marius   ca. 1866 Paris, France: Adrien Le Clere ET Ce, Éditeurs, Rue Cassette, 29. Volume One of a two volume set. Small foldout map ( "Carte du Théâtre de la Guerre d'Amérique") at rear of first volume. Narrative by Marius Fontane (1838-1914).  Entrée de Charleston. L'exploitation des forêts de la Caroline du Sud.  Toinot le planteur. Les case des nègres. Premier coup de fusil (6 avril 1861). Jefferson Davis, président des États confédérés. L'arsenal de Norfolk (6 mars 1862).  Marche des Nordistes vers Richmond.   304 pp. + map. 11.5 x 17 cm. Quarter leather with marbled paper boards; covered with plastic film.  Fold-out map has small tears in folds. Good. (1735) $75.00. Civil War/History

Life of Horace Greeley, The; Editor of The New York Tribune, first edition by Parton, J. 1855 New York, NY: Mason Brothers. Traces life of Greeley from his Scotch-Irish parentage to early days in Amherst, NH. Book is dedicated "To the young men of the free states." 442 pp. 12 x 19 cm. Brown cloth on board, embossed, and printed with gilt. Minor wear on edges.  Text foxed. Includes contemporary newspaper clippings about Greeley, Civil War, and Greeley's death, in 1872.  Very good. (2135) $45.00. Biography/History

Manchester Daily Union, Manchester, N.H. Tuesday, May 16, 1865  Manchester, NH: Campbell & Hanscom. By telegraph from Washington:  The assassination trial is open to reporters of newspapers. It is supposed that Jeff Davis will be brought to Washington and tried for murder. The Negro Problem in Kentucky is one of great practical moment. Negroes are leaving their homes by the thousands and are crowding into the towns, demoralizing and being demoralized.... the plantations are without labor, and crops cannot be grown. Uncertainty and confusion take the place of order, and poverty and disease must follow upon idleness and dissipation.  Negro Suffrage--the Abolitionists, not content with negro freedom, are clamorous for negro suffrage. Continued account of Assassination Trial...Mr. Lloyd, who kept a hotel at Surrattville, testified that several weeks before the assassination Booth and his accomplices came to his house, and brought two carbines and a rope... Testimony of Mrs. Surratt... Booth and Harold came to the hotel soon after midnight; Booth said, "I will tell you some news; I am pretty certain we have assassinated the President and Secretary Seward."  Commentary on Mission of the Democratic Party. Adv. New Dress Goods; Mourning Goods; Carpeting and Housekeeping Goods at Barton & Co., East Side Elm Street. 4 pp. 32 x 47 cm. Newspaper, some perforations in spinefold, good. (8030) $25.00. Civil War/History


  1. Sam,
    This reminds me of some of the "adventures" Gail and I have had. My assignment from myself was to photograph all of the quarter-mile markers on the Ladybird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. It was no big deal over in our end of town, but it was more exciting on the eastern end of the lake, where signs in Spanish are above the signs in English, and you know you haven't gone through customs. Nothing ever happened, although we visited many of the 41 potential marker sites multiple times.

  2. I meant to mention that I posted all of the photographs of markers and marker bases sans markers and marker sites we found to be missing completely on Facebook. I thought I would be deluged with offers of a career in espionage, but so far no bites or even byteskies.