Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Office of Technical Service (OTS), Robert Wallace, who spent 40 years serving the United States in the intelligence community, has written a new book that documents hundreds of locations in the greater Washington, D.C., area with links to espionage.
The book, “Spy Sites of Washington, D.C., A Guide to the Capital Region’s Secret History,” includes hundreds of espionage stories that played out in locations spread throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, from the founding of the republic until modern times. It also includes a number of maps, and was co-authored with intelligence historian H. Keith Melton.
According to an NBC 4 Washington interview with Wallace, the author said that there is a “100 percent chance” that there is a spy site in your neighborhood, if you live anywhere in the Washington, D.C., metro area. This author can neither confirm nor deny that assessment, but will say that in addition to the operations detailed in Wallace’s book, one must also consider that the CIA trains its core human intelligence collectors at least partly in the D.C. area. One can imagine then that there might also be “spy training sites” scattered throughout the region, too.
For those who have ever lived in the D.C. area, and worked in any capacity for the federal government — especially in the foreign affairs or national security establishment — the revelations in Wallace’s book come as no surprise. It as a poorly kept open secret that clandestine government facilities abound in the area, nestled away in office parks and quiet semi-residential neighborhoods. Furthermore, it makes logical sense that if there are countless foreign embassies located in a particular area — such as in DC — then there is espionage activity taking place in that area.
Most who work within the intelligence community, despite the fact that they might hold the highest compartmented security clearance, nevertheless remain unaware of most of those facilities, unless the need arises for them to visit one for one reason or another. Some are so nondescript that they are quickly forgotten once an employee departs, having completed whatever business was required there.
One might think that is precisely the point, no?
One of the stories that the authors recount in the book is that of retired CIA employee Edwin Moore, who decided to begin working for the Russians in the mid-1970s. Moore stole a large number of classified documents — which was physically more demanding in the days preceding electronic records — and threw a sample of them with a note over the fence of the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
Unfortunately for Moore, a Soviet security guard thought the package was a bomb, and called the D.C. police. Wisely, the police then turned the package over to the FBI, for a counterintelligence (CI) investigation. The FBI read Moore’s note, in which he demanded that money be left at a “dead drop” location in exchange for more documents. Subsequently, undercover FBI agents did just that, posing as Soviet intelligence officers, and leaving money at the designated drop.
Once again unfortunately for Moore, he was dumb enough to choose a dead drop directly across the street from his own house in Bethesda, Maryland. A pro tip from a former professional human intelligence collector: do not choose as your operational sites locations adjacent to your own (likely under surveillance) house, or the house of your asset. Just trust me on this one.
Moore was subsequently arrested, obviously, and convicted of espionage and sentenced to 15 years. He was paroled after three. In a bit of irony, as an aside, the Soviet security guard who found the package and turned it over to the D.C. police was none other than a KGB employee, according to the book. This author is supposing that particular officer did not get his May Day bonus that year. That is what we in the intelligence business call “mishandling” a walk-in.
At any rate, for those seeking a glimpse “behind the curtain” of international espionage operations, Wallace and Melton’s book is a great place to start. These operations are often executed right out in the open, though cloaked in tradecraft and procedures which make them almost invisible to the casual observer (and hopefully any counterintelligence agents in the vicinity).
The book also offers a good illustration of what it takes to work as a human intelligence collector, where your surrounding environment — be it a capital city like D.C., or a war zone — is your operational battlefield. A CIA officer must adapt to the locale in which he or she is posted, and carry out his or her job in a manner hopefully more successful than that utilized by Edwin Moore. Lives can depend on it.