Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Russian Spy Recruitment Story

The July 5th Wall Street Journal carried a story by Sean Gardiner titled “A Cold-War Spy Story.” In the story, Gardiner features Paul Browne, now deputy New York City police commissioner.

Gardiner describes Paul Browne’s “firsthand experience being recruited by a Russian agent – a Soviet spy betting a relationship with a small-town newspaper reporter would one day bear fruit.”

This recruitment attempt began in 1973 -- two years after the recruitment attempt of my husband and myself in an inexpensive eatery in Copenhagen in September 1971.

At that time my husband Mitch and I had been stationed since September 1970 in Munich, where Mitch was a U.S. Army intelligence officer at the 18th Military Battalion. I had spent the time fighting the U.S. Civil Service and finally had a GS rating and a security clearance.

Upon our return from Copenhagen I would start working as a GS-3 at the 66th Military Intelligence Group. And I had already signed documents telling me what to expect from a Soviet recruitment pickup effort.

Now picture Copenhagen in September 1971:

All the tourists have gone home. Mitch has a very short haircut (in 1971 a dead giveaway that he is military) and we’re sitting in an inexpensive eatery listed in Frommer’s “Europe on $5 and $10 a Day.”

The middle-aged man sitting next to us says, “These Danes are so frivolous. I’ve just been to Russia and they’re much more serious there.”

My husband and I touch knees under the table. This is a classic recruitment pickup line – extolling the virtues of the Russians.

But this classic line so shakes us that we immediately get up from our table and run – yes run – all the way to Tivoli Gardens and halfway through before we stop running.

Then we look at each other. Incredible! Just as we had been warned.

And, yes, one day when I came to work at the 66th, my GS-12 boss was very agitated. A U.S. soldier stationed on the border with East Germany had “gone over to the other side.” My boss surmised that the Russians had gotten the lonely solder in a compromising position.

That was the Cold War 40 years ago. We were taught to be vigilant against Soviet agents. And we even laughed at the Russian spy standing outside in the cold as we arrived to attend the post commander’s New Year’s Day reception at the officers’ club.

Now it’s 2010 – and there are Russian sleeper agents arrested in the U.S. The past has come forward 40 years.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. Her newest military-related project is supporting the upcoming PTSD Walk Across America.Phyllis' social media marketing company Miller Mosaic Power Marketing combines traditional marketing principles and Internet marketing strategies to put power in your hands. Read her social media marketing blog.

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