Since the CIA’s founding in 1947, its mantra has been, “Our failures are publicized, our successes are not.”
Now the CIA is opening the door to those secrets through a book by Robert Wallace, a former CIA deputy director who headed the agency’s Office of Technical Service (OTS).
At OTS, Wallace was a real-life Q, James Bond’s fictional gadget master.
Written with co-author H. Keith Melton, who collects spy paraphernalia, “Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda” reveals not only the secrets of the agency’s electronic bugging devices but also the successful operations they made possible.
Getting Past CIA Censors
That such a book could be published at all represents a breakthrough. Former CIA officers must obtain approval before publishing anything about their service. When Wallace first submitted the manuscript for review, he heard nothing for six months, even though agency policy requires a review within 30 days.
Then the CIA’s Publications Review Board wrote him to say that only the first 34 pages, which dealt with the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Service, could be published. The 740 censored pages included newspaper accounts and material the CIA had previously cleared as a proposal for the book.
Ironically, when he was at the agency, Wallace had participated in vetting material that CIA officers wanted to publish. He knew where the line should reasonably be drawn so the CIA’s current techniques are not disclosed.
Wallace, who was OTS director from 1995 to 2003, hired attorney Mark Zaid to challenge the ruling. But meanwhile, Michael Hayden replaced Porter Goss as the agency’s director. When it comes to public disclosure, they had entirely different views.
“Goss’ attitude was, Don’t talk to the press,” Wallace tells me. “After Hayden came in, that whole philosophy began to change.”
As Hayden has told me, he recognizes that the CIA is answerable to the public and will lose its support if it does not explain itself to the extent possible. Goss’s attitude was a throwback to the founding days of the agency when he himself was a CIA officer in the 1960s.
Back then, the job of CIA press spokesman was “public non-relations,” Angus Thuermer, who had the position under Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, told me for my book “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror.”
“I never said ‘no comment,’ but I never had any comment,” Thuermer said.
After Hayden took over, the CIA’s publications board reversed itself and allowed Wallace to publish what is a 548-page book, complete with more than 100 photos and drawings of spy devices created by OTS.
OTS designs and deploys not only audio bugs but telephone taps and visual surveillance systems. It produces tracking devices and sensors for paramilitary operations. It makes full-face disguises and counterfeit travel documents. It also helps CIA officers break into buildings, code rooms, and safes.
OTS develops systems to allow case officers and agents whom they recruit to communicate covertly using secret writing, short-range radio, computers, subminiature cameras, special film, microdots, satellites, and high frequency broadcasts.
The book reveals previously undisclosed successful efforts by the Soviets to bug the American embassy in Moscow. Back in 1963, a defector disclosed that the embassy was riddled with bugs. A sweep revealed nothing. Finally, Navy Seabees demolished a sample office.
After taking apart a wall behind a steam radiator, techs found a hollowed-out wooden dowel. Its center was flush against a pinhole in the plaster. The dowel provided a clear passage to a microphone concealed in an oversize brick on the exterior of the building. Wires ran to the basement and a listening post.
CIA officers’ biggest challenge is finding ways to communicate with the agents they recruit and receive secret material from them and provide them with money without being caught. OTS found that dead rats made excellent repositories for money, microdots of secret plans, or instructions to be given to agents. In spy parlance, such repositories — whether in a crevice of a stone wall or the crook of a tree — are known as dead drops.
Through a coded radio transmission or other means, a CIA officer would let an agent know where the rat would be placed. The beauty of the method was that no one wanted to pick up a dead rat.
“The body cavity was large enough so you could put a large amount of money or small cameras in there,” Wallace says. “It’s really pretty good.”
The book details the case of Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a member of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs who offered to spy for the CIA. Codenamed "Trigon," Ogorodnik provided the CIA with material so sensitive that it was hand-carried to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger said the material included “the most important piece of intelligence” he had read as secretary of state.
Trigon was compromised by Karl Koecher, a Czech Intelligence Service officer who became a high-level CIA translator and reported to the KGB. Besides being a mole at the CIA, Koecher would pick up information by attending sex orgies with his wife Hana with officials from the White House and Pentagon, as well as the CIA.
As detailed in my book “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,” Koecher introduced Hana, a sexy blonde with enormous blue eyes, to swinging. She liked it so much that she became a far more avid swinger than he was.
[Editor's Note: Get Ronald Kessler's book. Go here now.]
Because of her extreme sexual proclivities, Hana, a diamond merchant, quickly became a favorite on the orgy circuit. At one location in Virginia, Hana would have sex with three or four men at a time on a double bed. While Karl participated, he often retreated to the living room and chatted.
As a condition to spying for the CIA, Ogorodnik insisted that the agency provide him with a means for taking his own life in case the KGB got onto him. For the purpose, OTS concealed a lethal pill in a fountain pen.
After the KGB arrested him, Ogorodnik was allowed to write an account of his treachery. Quickly, he took the pill from his fountain pen and swallowed it.
According to an account by a retired KGB officer, after Ogorodnik took the pill, “Suddenly, he quivered, leaned against the back of his chair and began to wheeze.”
KGB officers rushed to him. With a metal ruler, they tried unsuccessfully to open his firmly clenched teeth to get at the suspected poison ampule.
“Foaming blood began coming out of Trigon's mouth,” the retired KGB officer said. “He never regained consciousness.”
After the Koechers had been arrested by the FBI and then swapped for Natan Sharansky, I interviewed Karl and Hana Koecher for five days in Prague. To make sure I didn't go to any orgies, I brought along my wife Pam.
As Hana served dinner on the deck of their home, I asked Koecher how he felt about Ogorodnik’s death.
“I’m deeply sorry about that,” Koecher told me. “But the people who did him in were the CIA and he himself. They recruited him in such a clumsy manner . . .”
One of OTS’ greatest successes was an operation to wiretap underground communication lines that linked a nuclear weapons research institute to the Soviet Ministry of Defense. The operation required a CIA officer to enter manholes, becoming submerged in water up to his thighs.
Eventually, the Soviets uncovered the operation because former CIA officer Edward Lee Howard, who had been fired by the CIA and then defected to Moscow, told them about it. Before his firing, the CIA had trained him to install the wiretaps.
In fact, the reason the CIA fired Howard was that during a polygraph examination, he admitted cheating when being trained to enter the manhole. OTS had made a mock-up of the manhole, and to make it easier for him to get into the small opening, Howard replaced the weights in his backpack with cardboard.
Because they entail engaging in espionage in a foreign country, these and other spine-tingling OTS operations are conducted under threat of arrest and — as in the case of agents recruited by the CIA — execution.
In contrast to what we often see in the media today, “Spycraft” portrays the ingenuity of the CIA, the success of its operations, and the bravery of its officers.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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