- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

At the outset, permit me to whet your appetite. Spycraft (Dutton, $29,95, 533 pages reveals more concrete information

about CIA tradecraft than any book I’ve encountered in half-century of spook reading. It is the story of CIA’s Office of Technical Services, or OTS, and how it worked with the operations arm, the Clandestine Services, to pull off some truly astounding feats.

The principal author of “Spycraft” is Robert Wallace, former OTS director, with the assistance of H. Keith Melton, a CIA consultant, who has amassed perhaps the largest collection of spy gear in the world. The attending wordsmith was Henry R. Schlesinger, who writes about intelligence technology for Popular Science Magazine.

The story is of how OTS evolved from wartime technicians of OSS who fashioned relatively unsophisticated items such as miniature cameras and microphones. The first generation CIA “technies” produced pretty much what came to mind, with relatively little guidance from the Clandestine Services, which prefers to do its business in private.

Things changed rapidly with the affair of Col. Oleg Penkovsky in the early 1960s. High in the Soviet military, as a walk-in agent, Penkovsky gave crucial information to the CIA during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. He had spied successfully for years because his work permitted him to travel abroad, where he could slip away for debriefings. But during the crisis period, when he was operating in Moscow, he was detected and executed.

His loss brought CIA operations in the USSR to a standstill, a loss that was “a tightly held secret among the elite” of the Soviet Russia Division and the CIA counterintelligence staff. As “Spycraft” notes, “For agents to be handled clandestinely in-country, the CIA needed the means to detect and counter KGB surveillance before conducting an operation, to conduct impersonal communications, and to ask and receive materials secretly from the agent.”

Enter a reborn OTS, which was incorporated into the Clandestine Services, and made privy to operations while they were being planned, so that it could devise the means to support them.

Thus OTS developed such gear as the T-100 camera, small enough to conceal inside a cigarette lighter or fountain pen, but capable of taking 100 exposures on a 15-inch film strip. Case officers could monitor KGB surveillance attempts through false clamp-on ears concealing minute radio receivers.

“Dead drops” involved - perhaps appropriately - such items as dead rats. There were even “audio dead drops” - microphones concealed in building fronts. Agents could pause and murmur a few words, enough to say a drop had been serviced, or to set the time for a face-to-face meeting.

“Spycraft” relates in fascinating detail Operation CKTAW, one of the more elaborate technology feats of the entire Cold War. Radio technicians in CIA’s Moscow station became curious about microwave transmissions audible during heavy rains. They proved to connect a nuclear research lab in Troitsk, a closed city outside of Moscow, and the Ministry of Defense. CIA had just commenced monitoring when the Soviets discovered the technical glitch and shut down the transmissions.

Soon thereafter, a KH-11 reconnaissance satellite revealed that the Soviet military was laying communications in a trench between Moscow and Troitsk, along a major thoroughfare. Ground examination showed a number of manholes along the route. Agents made several sneak-in visits to the manhole vaults and photographed the interior. A mock-up was built at “The Farm,” the CIA facility near Willliamsburg, and technicians from the National Security Agency taught officers how they could tap the Soviet cables.

The officer chosen for the mission was “Ken Seacrest,” as he is called in the book. (I inadvertently discovered the fellow’s real name while researching a book; the suggestion was made, politely but firmly, that I purge it from my memory.) “Ken” was assigned to the Moscow embassy as an active family man - pretty wife, two kids - who was enthused about Russian culture and the outdoors, and prone to frequent outings. KGB watched him briefly, decided he was harmless, and maintained only “light surveillance.”

So, one weekend Ken and family established a picnic beachhead in a park. He slipped into the woods, donned Soviet worker clothes and made his way, on foot and by bus, to the manhole. He climbed inside and stood thigh deep in icy water for two hours while he applied taps to the cables. He then rejoined the “picnic.”

The next several years, the Agency reaped a bountiful harvest on Soviet nuclear programs. Then CKTAW was betrayed by Edward Lee Howard, who learned of it during CIA training before defecting to the Soviets. A KGB counterintelligence office wrote later that the CIA’s power source on the taps lasted four to six months and could be monitored from three kilometers.

“Spycraft” devotes considerable space to the audio technicians - people who plant bugs - who have a genius for getting into places where they should not be, and leaving behind a melange of listening devices that are crafted in an OTS workshop. The moral is that CIA can listen to just about any foreign target that it chooses, and does so frequently.

There are occasional rough endings. CIA made a walk-in recruitment (in a steam room in a Hilton Hotel in Bogota) of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer named Aleksandr Ogorodnik (TRIGON). He was betrayed by CIA translators Karl and Hana Koehler, and KGB thugs gave rough handling to Martha “Marty” Peterson, the Moscow station officer caught emptying one of TRIGON’s dead drops. “Peterson’s green belt Tae Kwon Do instinct flared and she landed one painful kick to the groin of a Russian before being subdued.” OUCH!And bravo, madam!

n n n

Meanwhile, a third of the world away, the East German spy agency, STASI - formally the Ministry for State Security, or MfS - put together its own tradecraft treasure chest. It was different from CIA in one cardinal respect: much of STASI’s spying was directed at its own citizens, rather than foreign adversaries. Hard and thorough research by Kristie Macrakis isreflected in Seduced by Secrets (Cambridge University Press, $28, 392 pages). Ms. Macrakis teaches espionage at Michigan State University.

Drawing upon declassified documents seized from STASI files (it is now defunct) and interviews with former officers, Ms. Macrakis has produced a first-rate read. The East Germans, predictably, were especially adept with concealed spy cameras - a carved wooden deer grazing in a field, bird houses, a flowerpot. She gives her book a personalistic twist with portraits of former STASI officers.

Perhaps the most interesting - surely the most colorful - of these characters was Werner Stiller, who defected to West Germany and exposed a raft of STASI spies. He told Ms. Macrakis that CIA paid him $250,000 for a debriefing in which he fingered agents in the United States.

Thereafter, he womanized his way through Europe, working for spells at the banking houses of Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. Ms. Macrakis found him in Hungary, where he ran clothing stores with a girlfriend and drank “a bottle of red wine every night.” He avoids former STASI friends, who consider him still under a death sentence, the demise of East Germany notwithstanding.

Both books deserve a five cloak-and-dagger rating. Good reading for the specialist and the layman alike.

• Joe Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]


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