THE FALL OF MOSCOW STATION: A NOVEL
By Mark Henshaw
Touchstone, $26, 339 pages
Although a primary purpose of a counterintelligence unit is the apprehension of enemy spies, an equally important function requires a bit more sophistication: throwing handfuls of destructive sand into the gear boxes of a rival espionage agency.
Such is the climax of a sparkling spy thriller by CIA veteran Mark Henshaw, whose insider point of view adds authenticity to a yarn that, to me, evoked memories of the late Tom Clancy.
Mr. Henshaw’s book is the third in a series featuring CIA officer Kyra Stryker and her analyst colleague, Jonathan Burke, who work in a CIA unit called “the Red Cell.” According to Mr. Henshaw, George Tenet as director of central intelligence created Red Cell in September 2001 as a “devil’s advocate unit to tell me what no one else is telling me.” Mr. Henshaw’s 16 years at the agency included a stint in the unit. (A press release even gives the office’s location, Room 2G31, Old Headquarters Building.)
The story builds (roughly) on two real-life events in recent intelligence history. One was the defection to the Soviets of CIA officer Edward Lee Howard in September 1985, after he had been trained in highly secret “Moscow Rules” — the tradecraft used by the CIA station in Moscow.
Mr. Henshaw grafts Howard’s treachery onto Alden Maines, an agency officer who is disgusted with a director who appoints a political crony as station chief in a Latin America country, and whose stupidity almost got Kyra Stryker killed in an earlier book. One thinks back to the late director William J. Casey, who (very briefly) installed political friend Max Hugel as head of the agency’s clandestine wing, the Directorate of Operations (DO). Officers there revolted and dug up an old financial scandal that quickly toppled Hugel and gave birth to an agency maxim, “Don’t PO the DO!”
The second real-life event was the mysterious death of Soviet Gen. Yuri Ivanov, second-in-command of GRU, the Red Army intelligence arm. His body washed ashore on a Turkish beach in 2010 after he disappeared while visiting Syria. Officially, he was the victim of a “swimming accident.”
Mr. Henshaw recasts the story to make the drowned Soviet a high-ranking nuclear scientist, Stepan Illarionovich Strelnikov, who is also a CIA asset. There is immediate suspicion that the defector Maines exposed him.
To my amusement, the Russians royally double-cross Maines. He defected with the thought his information would reap him “tens of millions” of dollars. Wrong. Upon pain of a threat to toss him back to the United States as a failed spy, Maines is ordered give up a complete roster of CIA assets in Moscow, including not only “declared” officers but also American embassy employees and covert Russian sources. When he refuses, a Russian officer casually smashes his hand with a target — incentive enough for Maines deciding to tell-all.
One aspect of the Maines affair puzzles CIA officers. Why did not the FSB (successor to the KGB) develop him as a long-running inside source, rather than going public with his defection?
Whatever the Russians’ motive, Maines was a disaster — “giving up every name he had . CIA will be gutted there [in Russia] for the next five years, even longer,” as one officer declares.
A gutsy American president orders the FBI and Department of National Intelligence “to hit the Russians back,” in the words of the expelled Moscow station chief. The FBI “has an open season on every Russian intel officer on U.S. soil, with no bag limit. The DNI wants us to disrupt every Russian intel covert op we know of .” And officer Kyra Stryker is tasked with going into Moscow, heavily disguised, to check reports that the Russians are developing sophisticated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) equipment capable of disrupting America’s electric power network.
What Mr. Henshaw offers next, as Stryker goes to ground, is a short course in intelligence tradecraft, per “Moscow Rules,” 10 of which he lists, beginning with “Assume nothing.” Also: “Everyone is potentially under opposition control. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover. Lull them into a sense of complacency.”
Stryker also makes use of relatively new equipment such as GPS to find her way around Moscow, where street maps are verboten. And her employment of a surveillance detection route as she moves around Moscow in a variety of guises is straight out of an Espionage 101 course.
The climax is a plot twist that can only be described as devilish. For details, you must go to the book, for to say anything further would spoil your reading pleasure.
To this addictive reader of books on intelligence, both nonfiction and fiction, Mr. Henshaw’s work makes plain that the CIA’s Publication Review Board is far more permissive than in past years. Whatever the reason, the relaxation makes for interesting reading.
• Joseph C. Goulden is the author of 18 nonfiction books.