Just after the FBI’s June 2010 arrests of 10 Russian spies, CIA Director Leon Panetta called his counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the Russian intel service (SVR), to propose a spy swap.
Panetta had been dealing secretly with Fradkov, who was appointed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2007, and had developed a good relationship with him. Over the course of a week, they exchanged more calls and worked out a deal.
What never came out is that during the negotiations, the Russians tried to include Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames in the swap. The U.S. firmly rejected that idea.
These are among the revelations in “The Secrets of the FBI,” which hits bookstores this week.
Editor’s Note: Get Ron Kessler’s book, "The Secrets of the FBI." Go Here Now.
In writing the book, I focused on secrets about important figures and events of our time. They range from what triggered Vince Foster’s decision to commit suicide to why the FBI could not match Osama bin Laden’s fingerprints after he was killed, to the real story of how the FBI caught spy Robert Hanssen in its midst, as opposed to the fictionalized version in the movie “Breach.”
The book includes an exclusive interview with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and candid observations about the Obama administration by Arthur M. “Art” Cummings II, who until last year was in charge of FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
But, as I say in a Newsmax TV interview, to me the most astonishing material is how secret teams of FBI agents plant bugs in the homes and offices of Mafia figures, spies, and terrorists without getting caught and shot as burglars.
Story continues below.
An exclusive excerpt from the book appears in the August issue of Newsmax magazine.
The break-ins to plant bugging devices and snoop into computers are conducted by Tactical Operations, a unit of what amounts to court-sanctioned FBI burglars. When conducting covert entries, TacOps tranquilizes guard dogs and may stage fake traffic accidents, traffic stops, or utility breakdowns to waylay occupants and security personnel.
To conceal agents as they defeat locks and alarm systems, TacOps creates false fronts to houses and fake bushes that hide agents.
When breaking into homes, offices, and even embassies to plant bugging devices, TacOps agents try to avoid using rear doors. Since they are rarely used, rear doors could be booby-trapped. So when tasked with planting bugs in a Philadelphia electronics supply company that was a front for an organized crime drug gang’s hangout, TacOps agents decided to walk in through the front door.
Agents decided the best time for entry would be between midnight and 2 in the morning. After that, trash collectors would begin their pickups and could see agents breaking in. The only problem was that across the street was a bar with outside seating. Patrons of the bar would spot the FBI team defeating the locks and disarming the alarm system at the front door.
So TacOps agents borrowed a city bus and rode to the electronics supply company. They parked the bus at the front door and pretended that the bus had broken down. As the FBI agent who was driving the bus lifted the hood, agents scrambled out to work on the locks and break in. Onlookers across the street could not see them behind the bus.
Once the agents were in the target building, the bus drove off. When the agents had finished installing electronic bugs, the bus returned to pick them up. But the bus whizzed past two inebriated customers from the bar who were waiting at a nearby bus stop. When the bus stopped in front of the business, the two angry patrons ran for the bus and jumped in. Since the agents on the bus were from different offices, they thought at first that the two men were part of the operation.
“We get a couple blocks away, we start peeling off our equipment,” says Louis E. Grever, the FBI’s executive assistant director who was on the TacOps teams for 12 years. “We’ve all got weapons on and radio gear, and these two guys are kind of sitting there going, ‘What the hell?’ They start ringing the bell. Ding, ding! They want to get off. Now the bus driver, who was from the local office, was not a very good bus driver. I think he practiced for like 20 minutes driving this bus. He was knocking over garbage cans when he made turns. He yells back, ‘Hey, quit playing with the bell! I’m having a hard enough time driving the bus!’”
Other agents on the bus began to realize that the two men ringing to get off were not with the FBI after all. Before each job, all the agents meet each other, and now it seemed clear that these two were unwitting imposters.
“One of our guys got up, and he just happened to have a shotgun hanging on the strap on his back,” Grever says. “He walks over to them and goes, ‘Do we know you?’”
Now, Grever says, “They’re really ringing that bell. And we realize these guys are not with us. So we yell up, ‘Hey Phil, stop the bus! We’ve got a couple of riders here!’”
The driver turned around, took one look at the patrons, and realized they were not agents. Swearing, he pulled over and opened the doors.
“They get out, and we never hear a word from them,” Grever says. “They had no clue what was going on. They just happened to get on the wrong bus.”
In conducting surveillance of a target, TacOps agents employ a range of ruses.
“One day we will be Joe’s Plumbing, complete with a white work truck, company label, uniforms, and telephone number,” Grever says. “If called, FBI personnel will say, ‘Joe’s Plumbing, can I help you?’ Another day it will be Joe’s Survey and Excavation Services, with the same level of backstopping.”
A full wardrobe of about 50 assorted uniforms hangs on racks at the TacOps Support Center, an undercover offsite facility that is part of the Operational Technology Division based at the Engineering Research Facility at Quantico, Va. There, the FBI makes custom-designed bugging devices, tracking devices, sensors, and surveillance cameras to watch and record the bad guys. It also develops ways to penetrate computers and defeat locks, surveillance cameras, and alarm and access control systems.
A graphics expert designs custom-made uniforms, fake ID and badges, and wraps with fake signs for trucks. Agents will pose as elevator inspectors, firefighters, or utility workers. Alternatively, they could pose as tourists wearing shorts and taking snapshots. They could be homeless people wearing tattered clothes. Agents select oversize clothes where they can secrete their tools for breaking in. And they go in with guns drawn.
While no agent has yet been shot, there have been close calls. In New York, TacOps agent Mike McDevitt broke into the apartment of a Mafia figure who was setting up a hit job. Pistols, rifles, and shotguns were lying on a sofa. As McDevitt and a technical agent from the field office were doing their work, they heard a noise outside the apartment door. As it turned out, the person outside the apartment was the hit man, and he soon entered the apartment using a key.
There was no place to hide, so McDevitt and the other agent ran into the bathroom and closed the door. They decided they would act as if they belonged there.
To create that impression, the technical agent took off his shirt and turned on the water in the sink. McDevitt jumped in the bathtub and pulled the shower curtain closed. Peeking through an opening in the curtain, he watched what was happening by looking in the bathroom mirror, his gun at the ready.
Hearing the water, the hit man knocked on the bathroom door. The other agent opened the door a crack.
“Who are you?” the man asked.
“Who the . . . are you?” the field agent said.
“I brought the shotgun shells,” the hit man said.
“The guy turns around and he says, ‘Can you lock up when you leave?’” McDevitt said.
“Sure,” the agent replied. The hit man left, and the two agents continued their work, installing surveillance cameras and bugs.
Even though Mueller himself approved giving me the break-in material, which comprises 20 percent of the book, many high-ranking FBI officials are amazed that the FBI decided to disclose the TacOps story. During one interview with Grever, when he showed me a bugging device the size of a postage stamp, an FBI agent assigned to public affairs actually interjected and asked whether the FBI’s third-highest-ranking official should be revealing these secrets.
Grever responded by saying the capabilities of some bugging devices may not be as sensitive as they seem. He later said that besides Mueller, he consulted with other high-ranking FBI officials before deciding to reveal the TacOps story.
“It would be hard, if not impossible, for our targets to counter our attempts to penetrate their space based solely on the information revealed in the book,” Grever said. “The American public has a right to know what their government services are doing — where they’re investing money, why it’s important that you have this kind of capability.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been released. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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