- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

The Russian mob was ready to kidnap or kill the United States' highest-ranking military officer in 1998 but was thwarted by his Army security detail, according to newly released military reports.

The "after action review," a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, tells a dramatic story of armed mob suspects preparing to block exit routes on a one-way street and standing on a rooftop as Gen. Henry Shelton, his wife and aides dined in St. Petersburg, a hot spot for violent crime families, on June 18, 1998.

Gen. Shelton, a Vietnam combat veteran, retired in 2001 after a four-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Washington Times first reported the St. Petersburg incident the day after it occurred but with few details. A Pentagon spokesman at the time discounted the report, never revealing that so many sinister-looking people had gathered around the restaurant, that the figures were clearly armed or that an agent lay on top of the chairman and his wife to protect them from gunfire.

"I don't think it's helpful to discuss security details," the spokesman said then. "I don't think this is a story." The spokesman, who was a member of the dinner party, later told the Associated Press: "We had already finished dinner. We left in a very orderly and transparent fashion."

As the number of sinister-looking people outside the Senate Restaurant reached 13 and a van pulled up with more suspicious figures, the lead Army bodyguard sprung into action.

The agent whisked the Shelton entourage to the street. Noticing a man on the roof beginning to move, he pushed the four-star general and his wife into the back seat, then lay on top of them as their sedan sped back to the Palace Hotel.

Later that night, special Army agents, who guard Pentagon VIPs, discovered that an unidentified mafia figure had been at the hotel with a gun.

"It was obvious to everyone on the detail that what was occurring outside the restaurant was not a typical [KGB] surveillance team and they were starting to become very proactive as time passed," wrote a senior agent in his report.

"As the numbers grew to as high as possibly 13, the detail realized they were outnumbered and out gunned. I strongly feel the only reason we got everyone out was because the vehicles we suspected as being blocking vehicles did not have a driver in the seat when we surprised them and departed early."

The agent added, "After further investigation later in the evening, it was discovered the individuals outside the restaurant were possibly connected to one of three local crime families in the Russian mafia. It was later told to the security detail a hit had taken place on an American sometime in 1997 by the mafia at the same hotel the chairman was staying."

In 1997 and 1998, St. Petersburg was the site of a number of mob killings. Assassins gunned down businessmen, political leaders and other mobsters. At least one killing took place in the Palace Hotel, according to press reports. One prominent government reformer was fatally shot by a sniper perched on a roof.

A Sept. 11, 1998, Army award citation to one Army agent reads, "His efforts directly thwarted a terrorist incident from occurring."

The Times obtained copies of the "after action review," a citation and a sketch of the scene that day on Galernaya Street, while doing research into whether the Russian mob had links to al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's global terrorist organization.

Some U.S. officials say the mob has provided al Qaeda with equipment; other officials say there are no confirmed reports on any ties. The Times obtained the documents through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Gen. Shelton, who was in Russia for talks with his counterpart and to tour military facilities, was guarded by the Protective Services Unit, an arm of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir. Army warrant officers are trained as special agents and are briefed on threats, including the Russian mob.

One agent, whose name was blacked out by Army officials, provided a two-page detailed report on what happened that day.

After the entourage arrived at the restaurant about 8 p.m., special agents stationed on the sidewalk began noticing the arrival of suspicious-looking men, some in cars, some in a truck, at both ends of the one-way street. Then one appeared on a rooftop across the street.

As the dinner progressed, agents counted 13 figures. Some men wore vests used to conceal weapons. One agent walked past two of the men and saw a handgun in one man's waistband.

When a truck arrived and rendezvoused with some of the men, the senior agents decided to evacuate the restaurant.

"We quickly exited the doorway, and I noticed movement up high and to my left at the top of a building," said the agent, who was the man assigned to personally protect Gen. Shelton. "I then forced Gen. Shelton and his wife into the limo with the help of [another agent]. I spread my body across the general while holding his wife on the floor of the limo. I shouted three times, 'Go, go, go,' to the driver, and we left the area as fast as possible."

About 11 p.m., a man wearing a vest and concealing a firearm appeared in the Palace Hotel lobby. Before the bodyguard could make it down to the lobby, the man left. A hotel employee said the man's name, in Russian, means "heavy."

"When I asked what he meant by heavy, he then explained that it meant Russian mafia," the agent wrote. "I then realized this was more than eight agents could handle and I ordered all agents in from outside of the hotel and placed everyone on the sixth floor for security reasons."

Gen. Shelton continued his visit the next day. No further incidents were reported before he returned to the Pentagon.

An Army medal citation to one agent reads, "His proactive, quick and decisive decision making, directly thwarted a possible kidnapping or assassination attempt directed against the chairman. This incident took place during the hours of darkness in St. Petersburg, Russia, a high threat area."

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