Spy Stories was prompted by the thought that I would never be sure whether my one-time friend Nick Shadrin (nee Nikolai Artamonov) was dead or alive. In the end, had he died a betrayed triple agent or was he merely a repatriated double agent? This led me to reflect on the various “spies” I have known and my feelings as to where their loyalties lay.
I have met, I suppose, more spies than most people. My first encounter happened because I was looking for a job. After completing my Ph.D., I’d spent a year of postdoctoral study funded by the National Science Foundation, and put my name into the Mathematical employment register. Among the responses I got was a curious letter—no letterhead, but formal, and respectable looking. It invited me to come to a certain downtown address at a specific time if I was interested in employment. When I got to the office building and looked for 1313 on the directory in the lobby, no 13th floor was listed. Even so, I took the elevator and got off at the 13th floor. Offices of the FBI occupied most of the floor, but I finally found 1313. When I knocked, the door was unlocked and opened; I entered the typical one-room office of a small business.
The room was occupied by a couple of chairs and a single battered desk, which held a crumpled ledger. The man who answered the door, in shirtsleeves and vest with loosened tie, was the very picture of a small businessman slowly working his way into bankruptcy! I showed him the letter I’d received and ventured that there must be some mistake. “Oh no”, he said, “I was expecting you”. He opened a door I had not noticed in the back wall of the office, and led me into a spacious suite with furnishings that would have been appropriate for a prosperous corporate law firm. After cautioning me to tell no one, he revealed that I was being recruited by the CIA. He mentioned a salary well in excess of double any academic salary I could expect—the top of the federal pay scale. “Money is no problem”, he said. I was given an inch thick stack of printed forms to fill out and return at my leisure. I worked at filling them out, off and on, for about a week, but eventually the forms defeated me. I returned them with a polite note saying that I had decided to take a job with, “a less highly structured organization”.
The job I had decided to take was on the staff of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). WSEG was attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff by law, the Defense Act of 1947, and IDA, founded by a consortium of universities, provided WSEG with staff on a more flexible basis than would be possible through the civil service. The salary was generous enough to startle my academic friends, if considerably less than the CIA had mentioned, and the atmosphere promised to be academic. The director of the WSEG staff was a well-known professor of mathematics from Columbia University, and almost the entire staff held PhD’s. Also, the application form was much shorter. I didn’t notice, at the time, that the original head of IDA, only recently retired, had been Richard Bissell, the former Deputy Director for Plans, who had left the CIA along with Alan Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence, after the failure of Bissell’s plan for the invasion of Cuba.
After a while at WSEG, I noticed that there was a most peculiar member of the staff. His only academic credential was a B.A. from Princeton. He dressed like, and had the demeanor of, a vice-president in charge of a small branch office of a large bank--an absolutely gray, unnoticeable sort of person. He was assigned to no particular project, but attended every technical meeting and took extensive notes when someone asked a question. I soon realized he was there for counterintelligence surveillance.
As I became more familiar with WSEG, I noticed a few others with unusual assignments. Some were assigned to work only part- time on designated projects, the rest of their time being charged to an account vaguely specified as “research”. Some of these had peculiar histories for U.S. academics; for instance a Caucasian PhD chemist had spent several years in Taiwan. Others had close ties to the ones with the strange histories. (One had been the dissertation supervisor at Georgetown University of the man who had spent years in Taiwan.) With a little observation, one could get a pretty good idea of who was a member of the “intelligence community”. All of these, I presumed, were on our side.
At WSEG I formed a long-lasting friendship and working partnership with Bob Kupperman. I never asked Bob exactly what his relationship was with the CIA, and he never told me; we both carefully avoided the question. He certainly was well-acquainted with a lot of the executives there, and, later in his career, he often went to lunch at Langley with the director. For some of his time at IDA, Bob was a member of the Defense Intelligence Board. He would never admit to being able to speak or understand German, in which I was able to determine that he was quite fluent. Bob also was acquainted with some of the top people in the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, and once complained angrily that a political foe had accused him of being a Mossad agent (probably because he was Jewish.) I knew a lot of the reasons for Bob’s Israeli contacts, and they were all in the interest of the U.S. government. He also traveled to the Soviet Union on a diplomatic passport for similar reasons. In almost forty years of close collaboration, I never had any doubts about where Bob’s loyalty stood.
I am a typical academic slob. Usually, my desk is buried under papers, which drove the WSEG security people wild. Many mornings I would find all the papers on my desk sorted into neat piles. Since I was always very careful with classified documents, I had no problem with that. Finally, the security people tired of tidying my desk and set a trap. They sent me, by courier, a very sensitive Top Secret document I had not requested. After glancing at it briefly, I told the courier I had no interest in it and handed it back to him. He recorded in his book the time he received it back. Apparently he was not privy to the plan and didn’t report this. That night a thorough search was made of my office and my safe. The document was nowhere to be found! I must have taken it home! The next day I was summoned to the security office. I had received the document. Where was it? The officer was quite crestfallen, when I had him check the courier’s records to find that I had retained it for less than five minutes.
There were a lot of sensitive documents around WSEG. The Strategic Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP) for response to a Soviet attack was worked out there. It would be a prime target for espionage. The corridors were constantly patrolled, but the cleaning crew were not cleared personnel. The safes that housed classified documents were supposed to resist any attempt to open them long enough for the patrols to come by and thwart the attempt. The room housing the computer was particularly elaborate. It was completely enclosed in a “Faraday cage” of copper screening, so that no electromagnetic radiation from the computer could be picked up and decoded by anyone outside. Entry was through a lock-type arrangement with double copper-screened doors, so that electromagnetic containment remained unbroken when someone entered or left.
We often worked late hours. One evening, about eleven, I was working alone at a desk inside the highly secure computer room when a little old lady with a large dust rag approached and asked me to move my papers so she could dust the desk. I was tired and concentrating on my own problems. I obligingly did as she asked, after which she went about the rest of the room, out of my sight, but moving papers and dusting for a long time before she left. Only the next day did it occur to me that the cleaning people were forbidden to enter that area! By then she was long gone. I was pretty sure which side she had been working for!
I left Washington for an academic job in Michigan, but I was asked by Bob Kupperman to come back as a consultant, not only to IDA but also to the Army Security Agency (ASA), a part of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) headquartered at Arlington Hall in Arlington, Va. Most of the people at Arlington Hall are spies in some sense, and there should normally be little question which side they are working for.
One of my friends, while a Captain, had moved into a large empty office next to ASA’s commanding General’s, and hung heavy black drapes over the windows. He struck up an acquaintance with the General, so that they were often seen talking. Soon the entire establishment believed he was the General’s “fair-haired boy” engaged in some highly secret project, and Colonels were treating him with deference! At ASA I got to work with Bill Howe, the civilian head of Army Intelligence, and with Italian-born physicist Eugene Fubini, who was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and the son of a famous mathematician.
Since I was flying in from Michigan to consult for ASA, we would frequently work until late at night. Most restaurants were closed, so we often ended up eating at the Arlington Hall officers’ club, the most heavily bugged bar on earth. Everyone was aware of this, and I was always careful of what I said there, but I would sometimes frighten my dinner companions by saying things that might lead to indiscretions if carried further. They weren’t sure I knew I was speaking into a microphone and were afraid I would keep going. One evening I was dining with an ASA Major when he suddenly said, in an ordinary conversational tone of voice, “You call that a cover? You come in here, order a beer, and let it sit while you read lips and write in your little notebook under the table! You work for [a certain name] don’t you? If you don’t get out of here in five minutes, I’m going to report you with your cover blown!” Across the room, twenty feet away, a young man turned red, pocketed the notebook that had been on his lap under the table and headed for the door. The Major explained that the officers’ club was frequently used to train lip readers.
Bob Kupperman moved to the Executive Office of the President and again brought me aboard as a consultant. After a few years, he persuaded me to take a leave of absence from my academic job to serve as his deputy. Although we were no longer directly involved, as “users” we received regular intelligence information. Intelligence types temporarily assigned to the White House often ended up occupying a desk in our offices, so I met a lot of those people on a casual basis.
Bob and I had a memorable tour of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) conducted by the photo-interpreter who had shown President Kennedy the images of Soviet missiles in Cuba on October 16, 1962, precipitating a crisis that threatened to develop into nuclear war. He told us that the President and his aides had studied the photographs intently, and they assured him that they saw the missiles. He was shocked to read in a book written later by one of those present, that after he had left the room the President asked if anyone had really seen any missiles. All said that they had not. They then agreed that he was the expert and that if he said there were missiles, that they had to believe him! He showed us the pictures of those Cuban missiles and a large number of other historically important photographs.
Around 1980, our friend the cellist Leonard Rose, who was appearing at Gammage auditorium in a trio with violinist Isaac Stern and pianist Eugene Istomin, invited my wife and me to join them for dinner. Over steaks at Monti’s, our table talk turned to the then current international crisis--that Iranians had invaded the American embassy and were holding the staff hostage. Knowing Isaac’s long public record as a supporter of Israel, I ventured a relatively innocuous comment about a possible Israeli role in the matter. Isaac responded in some detail, revealing to me that he knew about an extremely delicate secret negotiation. I began probing to find out whether the “leak” had come from the Israeli or the U.S. side. We quickly established that we had some mutual acquaintances in the upper levels of the U.S. intelligence establishment. Using circumlocutions that we hoped wouldn’t reveal too much to our dinner companions, Isaac told me a bit of his history. I gathered that he had once been the roommate of a man who had become the head of security at Los Alamos and who had moved up from there after the war. This ex-roommate knew that Isaac was fluent in several languages and, in the postwar era, got him into a State Department program that sponsored international tours by young American artists “to promote cultural relations”. The tours he made under State Department auspices became the foundation of Isaac’s international career! He was particularly popular in Russia. Knowing the languages of the host countries, Isaac was sometimes able to overhear conversations not intended for American ears. It is well known that the CIA station chief for Europe in those years was the music critic Henry Pleasants, who wrote The Agony of Modern Music, but I didn’t find out whether Pleasants had been the person who got Isaac the State Department tours.
Eventually Isaac became known as an enthusiastic supporter and benefactor of Israel. He said that once, when an Israeli traffic cop stopped him for speeding, the cop didn’t give him a ticket. He recognized Isaac, said he was aware of all he had done for the country, and expressed concern for his safety. I have no doubt that Isaac’s concern for Israel was sincere, but I believe his first loyalty was to the U.S.
Sometimes I would meet Russians I knew were spies. They would normally be attached to the Soviet embassy. I was told that the way you could be sure they were spies was that they spoke unaccented American English and didn’t seem at all foreign. The Soviet intelligence agencies got first choice of the language instructors; others got instructors with accents. At one time, the young Soviet pianist, Boris Bloch, a stranger, but known to us as the winner of the International Busoni Contest, called and asked to stay at our house for a week while he was waiting to play the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Phoenix Symphony. He said a pianist colleague of my wife had told him we would probably welcome him. At the time, I was heavily involved with starting the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program. Boris spoke perfect English and kept going out to use inconvenient pay phones, despite our offer to let him use our telephone. I just made sure there were no classified papers about, and guarded my tongue. Years later, in the post-Soviet era, a colleague at ASU acquired a “mail-order bride” who had been a tourist guide in the Soviet Union. She spoke perfect unaccented American English.
I don’t know whether Nick Shadrin was a double agent or a triple agent. With all the other spies I’ve met, I think I know which side they were on--perhaps I delude myself, but I usually have definite feelings in the matter. With Nick it was different. I had lunch with him at a bar on E Street, near the White House, roughly once a week for about a year. I went to parties with him where he drank a lot of Scotch and seemed to be talking freely. Still, I’m not sure. In vino veritas? In his cups, he was immensely proud of the performance of the Soviet forces in the “Great Patriotic War” and would boast of the great tank battles that, he said, had dwarfed anything that happened on the Western front. A typical tall “great Russian” with reddish blond hair, he said he had lost most of his teeth from malnutrition at the siege of Stalingrad. On the other hand, he always exhibited a deep, seemingly sincere, contempt for the Soviet government.
I met Nick Shadrin through Bill Howe and Bob Kupperman. He had been the youngest destroyer Captain in the Soviet Navy. While he was stationed in Poland, he had met and fallen in love with Ewa, a young Polish dentist. The Soviet authorities disapproved. Nick fled to Sweden with Ewa in his Captain’s gig. He asked for asylum, leaving his sidearm and uniform aboard the gig, so he could not be accused of theft. Nick had been turned over to British intelligence and ended up in America at his own request. He provided a lot of information about Soviet tactics and intent and was given a low-level job in the DIA. Early during his stay in Washington, he had been shot at while driving on the George Washington Parkway, presumably by a Soviet agent. This served to heighten his credibility. Nick was frustrated that he was given only limited access to American secrets and was constantly campaigning for clearances that would allow him to be promoted to a higher-level job. Ewa set up a dental practice in suburban Virginia, and was soon treating many intelligence community families, including the Kuppermans and the Howes.
Unlike most Soviet defectors, Nick was a cheerful, likeable fellow. Even the usually dour CIAman in charge of debriefing Soviet defectors had taken him out hunting for small game in the fields surrounding the Maryland “safe house” where he was initially held, something he had not done with any previous defector. Kupperman and Howe, in particular, had taken a liking to Nick and were trying, unsuccessfully, to help him. Suddenly, he was made an offer--he would be given immediate citizenship and advanced, if he agreed to a dangerous mission. He must meet with a Soviet representative, pretending to re-defect and serve them as a double agent, but in reality he would be a triple agent, giving the Soviets information we wanted them to have. Allegedly, Igor Kozlov, a Soviet UN employee and the son of politburo member Frol Kozlov, wanted to act as an agent for the Americans and had approached the FBI. However, he stipulated that he needed to bring off some intelligence coup that would help him advance in the Soviet hierarchy. This would both benefit his career and allow him to be a more effective American agent. He suggested that getting Nick to ostensibly re-defect and act as a Soviet agent would be such a coup. The FBI and CIA mounted “Operation Fedora” to bring this about. Inducements, including immediate U.S. citizenship by special act of Congress, were offered, and Nick finally agreed. He was to meet with Soviet representatives in Vienna, at the Stephanskirche. Ewa thought they were going on a skiing vacation to Austria. For Nick’s protection, the meeting with the Soviets was to be covered by a CIA agent. At the last minute, the CIA decided the covering agent might be detected and blow the whole operation, so they instructed her not to follow Nick. Shadrin disappeared and was never seen again in the West. The female CIA operative took Ewa home to Washington.
Back in Washington we knew only that Nick had gone to meet with the Soviets and had disappeared. Bob Kupperman and Bill Howe, both of whom had advised Nick against taking on the mission, began an intensive campaign to persuade the government to bring pressure on the Soviets to return Nick. Bill eventually had to leave the country and withdrew from the effort, but Bob and Mary Louise Howe who had befriended Ewa, kept on. Bob met with Henry Kissinger, and later with Jimmy Carter, to plead for action on Nick’s behalf. (Kissinger warned him to back off or he would “get his nose bloodied”.)
Years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, former Soviet agents advanced a story that they had tried to chloroform Nick to abduct him, and that he had died from a bad reaction to the drug. If he died, perhaps he realized he was being captured and used a suicide pill. The Soviet intelligence agencies reportedly dealt with recaptured traitors by feeding them alive into a furnace on a conveyor belt.
Several books have discussed Nick’s case. One book, Widows by William R. Corson, spends 155 pages on the case. Another, Shadrin, The Spy Who Never Came Back by Henry Hurt, is completely devoted to Nick’s story. According to these books, which differ in detail, Nick’s background was quite different from what he had claimed. It is said that he had been born Nikolai Artamonov, previously married to the daughter of a Soviet Admiral, the head of the Soviet Navy, and that he had a son from that marriage. Allegedly, he had volunteered to penetrate US intelligence. According to this story, he may have gone back to be with the son. A covert witness has said that someone who looked like Nick was at the Soviet Admiral’s funeral. The book Escape from the CIA by Ronald Kessler, though mostly devoted to the Yurchenko case, spends about ten pages on Nick. It tells a somewhat different, but similar story, Yurchenko claimed to have heard, indirectly of the accidental death from chloroform.
I don’t think I’ll ever really feel comfortable about which side Nick was on!
Harvey A. Smith, Professor Emeritus of mathematics at ASU, holds degrees in engineering, physics, and mathematics from Lehigh University and The University of Pennsylvania. He has published technical papers ranging from pure mathematics through economics and strategic policy to criminology and terrorism. Aside from his academic career, he has served as a staff member or con sultant to many industrial concerns and government or quasi-governmental agencies. Since retiring from teaching, he has regularly audited courses at ASU in an attempt to polish his German, gain some fluency in Italian, and increase his knowledge of history and the arts.