- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000

History can come in the shape of a dog-eared textbook, a stack of film reels or an antiquated museum display.

At the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, it's served up as a stiff drink, no chaser. The Yurchenko Shooter, a vodka-based concoction, invokes the spirit of Vitaly Yurchenko, a top-shelf KGB official and key Cold War figure. Mr. Yurchenko defected to the United States, then later "re-defected" in 1985, moments after consuming his last Western meal at the Georgetown eatery.

Participants in this Saturday's Spy Tour of Washington, D.C. will learn all about how the Soviet spy slipped through Uncle Sam's fingers, along with a wealth of other Cold War-related lore.

The half-day bus tour, sponsored by the Cold War Museum, showcases the role many metro-area locales played in the decades-long conflict. The bus stops at some obvious destinations, including FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but also drives near private homes where smaller moments in history have taken place.

Even savvy Washingtonians who have taken the tour appear surprised at what they learn, says Carol Bessette, tour guide and a Cold War veteran who once worked in Air Force intelligence.

"It's a different way to look at the history of the city," Ms. Bessette says.

Tourists learn a broader interpretation of intelligence and its military applications. It's beyond the "spy in the trench coat" image people have gleaned from Hollywood, she says.

Most people come away startled not only by how much history took place in their neighborhoods, but by how easily some Americans peddled their loyalties.

"They're giving away so much for so little," she recalls of some comments. "Everybody has a selling price."

Some of the historical figures tourists will get to know include Maj. Gen. "Wild Bill" Donovan, a lawyer, soldier and diplomat who served as the director of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II; Herbert Yardley, a U.S. expert on code-breaking activities; and Aldrich Ames, a CIA operative who became one of the most notorious double agents of his time.

For Ms. Bessette, a retired Air Force intelligence officer, the tour represents the continuation of a personal odyssey. She participated in two intelligence missions within Germany's borders during the '60s and '70s.

The Cold War, which began in 1945 following the end of War II, continued for more than four decades before the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991. While much of it took place on the ideological battleground, both the Korean and Vietnam wars were waged with the Cold War firmly in mind.

One tour stop examines the cryptographic work conducted at the National Security Agency. But the Cold War's colorful cast of characters draw the most attention.

"What they really like are the human interest stories and the women who gave their 'all'," Ms. Bessette says, referring to spies who used their feminine wiles to wrest confidential information from enemy sources.

Ms. Bessette began offering Cold War tours around the District in 1995. Since then, the tours have attracted a fair number of Americans with ties to either the military or intelligence communities.

"You get some very perceptive questions," she says.

With Cold War information still trickling out from various international sources, Ms. Bessette has made it her mission to keep researching the conflict that consumed half of the 20th century.

Some of her reading has involved Alger Hiss, the former State Department official who was convicted in 1950 of perjury.

One part of the tour guaranteed to raise a few goose bumps involves Francis Gary Powers' fateful U-2 flight over the Soviet Union, as told by his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr.

On May 1, 1960, Powers' U-2 soared 70,000 feet above the "Evil Empire" before Soviet firepower brought it down to earth and into the annals of history.

"The altitude of the craft is something people didn't know about until recently," says the younger Mr. Powers, who founded the museum in 1996 and is chairman of its board of directors. A modernized version of the U-2 is still in use, he adds.

Though he's honored by his father's contribution to the Cold War effort, the museum's inspiration draws not just from his lineage, but from all the men and women who sacrificed their energies and lives for the cause.

The spy tour's overriding focus involves the Cold War, but earlier feats of espionage round out the program.

"It's a way to show the full extent of espionage … it's always been around. It's the second-oldest profession," Ms. Bessette says.

During the Civil War, men and women helped their sides gain tactical advantage.

One ill-fated woman used her "charms" to procure resources for the Confederacy but later drowned while traversing a river carrying gold back to her base.

"She had the gold sewn into her dress, and she went down like a rock," Ms. Bessette says.

The Cold War Museum, which arranges for spy tours about once a month, doesn't have a physical presence yet. Mr. Powers hopes that will change by 2003, with possible locations including Great Falls, Va., and the Manassas. Va., airport being discussed.

For now, the museum boasts a mobile U-2 exhibit, which includes a Latvian-style rug the senior Mr. Powers wove while held captive, flight logs and a wing section of the infamous plane he piloted over the Soviet Union, the aforementioned spy tour and occasional lecture series.

Ms. Bessette still remembers driving along Germany's east-west frontier during her overseas missions and seeing bucolic farms surrounded by barbed wire and minefields.

Just the fact that a museum and a bus tour exist to reflect on a resolved Cold War remains a wonderful surprise for her.

"I never thought I would see this," she says of the Cold War's demise. "At least not in my lifetime."

Saturday's Spy Tour of Washington, D.C. will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $35 per person. Seating is limited, so reservations must be made by tomorrow. The next spy tour is slated for March 25. For more information, call 703/273-2381 or visit the Cold War Museum's Web site (www.coldwar.org).

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