- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

President-elect Ronald Reagan had just returned to Los Angeles from a week of confidential briefings in the nation’s capital. For the inquiring media’s benefit, Dec. 16, 1980, was downtime for dinner with close friends, Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale.

The mystery guest was not mentioned. He was a legendary pro-American, anti-Soviet spy chief — Alexandre de Marenches, director general of the SDEC (Service de Documentation et de Contre-Espionage), since renamed DGSE.

This reporter, also omitted from the Bloomingdale guest list, was present during the 4-1/2-hour dinner, originally scheduled for two hours. Mrs. Reagan stayed home to nurse a bad head cold. All conversation was to be entirely off the record. With both protagonists dead, and almost a quarter-century since the dinner, we assume the off-the-record proviso is null and void.

The first thing Mr. Reagan said to Marenches was to complain about the CIA briefing in Washington the week before. “It had all the value of someone reading yesterday’s front page headlines back to you,” said Mr. Reagan.

After the ritual of a few pleasantries, Marenches came to the point in impeccable English (his mother was American). “Mr. President,” he began, “history has dealt you a winning hand. You now have it within your power to defeat the Soviet empire without a war. As Sun Tsu told us 2,500 years ago, the supreme excellence in war is not to defeat the enemy on a hundred different battlefields. The supreme excellence is to subdue the enemy without having to fight him.”

“In four years time?” Mr. Reagan asked.

“No, in eight years,” Marenches answered. “I am assuming you will be re-elected for a second term.”

“I am convinced the Soviet Uniom will eventually collapse. But so quickly?” asked Mr. Reagan.

“First,” Marenches responded, “I would always pepper my speeches with references to the Soviet Empire, throwing in the occasional ‘evil empire.’ It is an empire with both inner and outer empires, and both are equally vulnerable.

“I would respectfully suggest that you read ‘The Splintering Empire” (1980 by Helene d’Encause). It has at least 100 different ethnic groups, all ruthlessly supressed but bubbling just below the surface. The Soviet bear must now be surrounded by millions of mosquitos. The bear will weaken himself by using both front paws to swat them. Eventually he will tire of swatting.”

“And what can we substitute for mosquitos?” the president-elect wanted to know.

Marenches then explained what he and the French CIA had done in sub-Sahara Africa to discourage Moscow’s “mercenaries” in Angola. His agents bought Soviet-made SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles for $35,000 each on the Beirut black market. They were dispatched to anti-Marxist guerrillas fighting Luanda’s Marxist government.

Soo, Marenches continued, a Soviet transport plane was shot down by a SAM-7, and two Russian survivors were held prisoner in the jungle where this reporter journeyed to interview them. Cuban helicopters and Soviet planes stopped flying.

“This is the model that could be applied against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan,” Marenches suggested to Reagan.

By now Marenches had Mr. Reagan’s undivided attention, and he pressed his case. “A second secret weapon that will drive the Soviets up the Kremlin wall is the Koran. Many of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan are draftees drawn from the Muslim majorities in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other Soviet republics. President Zia (ul-Haq) in Pakistan will know exactly how to undermine the morale of Soviet troops.”

Marenches also advised Mr. Reagan to establish a core group of no more than six or seven secret emissaries who would operate outside all official channels and agencies so they could be immediately disowned if their mission went awry. “They would have access only to you through your chief of staff.”

By breakfast next morning, the late Alfred Bloomingdale called Marenches at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles to inform him the president-elect had asked him to be the secret outside-channels liaison with the French spy chief. But this never materialized as Marenches had already concluded Bloomingdale was not subtle enough for such a role.

Several months later another close friend of the Reagans was selected, but this time the CIA was already in the picture and U.S. plans stuck pretty close to Marenches’ game plan.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.

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