By Benjamin Franklin Martin
If the Cold War had been fought entirely in the crepuscular world of the intelligence services, Americans would be addressing each other as “Comrade.”
During the 1950s and 1960s, after a series of defectors from the Soviet Union convinced the CIA’s head of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, that some of his colleagues were working for the KGB, he tied the agency in knots searching for them—futilely. During the 1970s and 1980s, Angleton’s successors were equally convinced that the KGB had no agents among them and as a result initially missed a series of traitors: Edward Lee Howard, Aldrich Ames, and Robert Hanssen. Perhaps they also missed another who may have done more damage to the interests of the United States than all the rest combined. This story is told in The Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin’s Russia by Robert Baer, a legend within the agency for his long career as a case officer in the Middle East.
Angleton resigned after the embarrassing revelations of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Operations (called the “Church Committee” after its chairman, Senator Frank Church) in the mid-1970s but never disavowed his conviction that the KGB had double agents, “penetrations” or “moles,” within the CIA. The first proof came in 1984, when Edward Lee Howard fled to the Soviet Union and during the following two years, 1985 and 1986, the KGB arrested most of the CIA’s assets behind the Iron Curtain. Then, in 1988, a KGB officer, Alexander Ivanovich Zaporozhsky, given the code name “Max,” sought out a CIA officer in East Africa and divulged that the KGB had two other moles, another in the CIA and one in the FBI. Because Howard could not have known about all the agents arrested in 1985 and 1986, the CIA began a search for their second traitor.
Five counterintelligence specialists—Paul Redmond, Sandy Grimes, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen, and Dan Payne—conducted this “mole hunt,” which eventually centered on Aldrich Ames, the CIA’s head of Soviet counterintelligence, who on June 13, 1985, had carried seven pounds of documents to a meeting with his KGB handler at a Georgetown restaurant. In return for this information that compromised more than a dozen CIA operations and contacts, the KGB eventually paid him four million dollars. Ames spent some of it on a Jaguar sedan and a house in Arlington, Virginia, for which he paid cash—from a briefcase. Why no suspicion was aroused about an officer described by Baer as “a bumbling greedy alcoholic” before Max’s 1988 revelation has never been explained.
Ames’s arrest on February 21, 1994, almost nine years after his initial treachery, and his immediate confession made him appear “like a mole only the willfully blind could miss.” Within the CIA, one faction compounded this failure by attributing to Howard and Ames all the successes by the KGB since the early 1980s. A second faction dissented and pointed especially at two grievous compromises in May 1985, a month before Ames’s Georgetown meeting and involving assets unknown to Howard. They were bolstered by a new revelation in April 1994 by Max that the KGB had yet another agent within the CIA. According to Max, this individual was so senior that he attended CIA Directorate of Operations division meetings and had access to the files cataloguing secret meeting sites in Moscow. Hardly ten men or women fit both descriptions.
In May 1994, under the most restrictive conditions, a “post-Ames cleanup investigation” began under the oversight of Redmond, who claimed credit for the success of the original mole hunt. The investigators this time were Worthen, also a veteran of the Ames case, Laine Bannerman, and Maryann Hough, all three from CIA counterintelligence, along with Jim Milburn, from the FBI. They were searching for anomalies, “a grab bag of discrepancies, doubts, and suspicions” which they hoped would create a cat’s cradle entrapping the traitor—one of their own at the highest level, one who had likely welcomed and assisted the exposure of Ames to direct possible suspicion away from himself. But what if Max were part of such a complex conspiracy, a false defector to seed discord within the CIA?
After six months, in November 1994, Bannerman, Hough, Worthen, and Milburn convened a meeting of senior CIA officers at which they proposed that the pattern created by the anomalies could fit only one candidate: Redmond himself. In a fury, Redmond stormed out and used his power and position to disband the investigation over which he had authority and to disperse the investigators. He could do nothing to Milburn, who returned to the FBI, but he attempted to destroy the careers of Bannerman, Hough, and Worthen, who found themselves under surveillance and subjected to polygraph examinations—which they passed. Ultimately, they found a refuge in the Central Eurasia Division, whose head, Bill Lofgren, had the clout to match Redmond.
When Robert Hanssen, from FBI counterintelligence, was arrested for espionage on February 18, 2001, he became the third KGB agent in seven years discovered holding a critical position within American intelligence. Whatever the suspicions about him, Redmond had never been formally accused of espionage, and though retired from the CIA in 1997, he was made a member of the Hanssen Damage Assessment group.
Counting Howard, Ames, and Hanssen, if yet another KGB agent were active within the CIA during the 1980s and 1990s, he or she would be the fourth. Baer believes such a mole existed. Was it Redmond? Was it someone else? Or was this “fourth man” a hoax, “a cunning KGB trap—the world’s best intelligence organization doing what it does best: deceive and disrupt.” Whichever option, or some other, is true, the effect was to destroy the ability of the CIA to recruit assets in post-Soviet-Union Russia and thereby to comprehend developments. Baer concludes, “When the American Ambassador to Moscow in 1999 [James Franklin Collins] told me that Moscow taxi drivers were better informed about [Vladimir] Putin’s rise than the CIA, I finally understood how bad it was.”
Benjamin Franklin Martin (ΦΒΚ, Davidson College) is Price Professor of History Emeritus at Louisiana State University; his most recent book is Roger Martin du Gard and Maumort: The Nobel Laureate and His Unfinished Creation (2017).