Secret mole-hunting unit fingered top CIA official as a Kremlin spy, new book alleges
In the 1950s, the British intelligence community and the British press were riveted on the subject of espionage. Two diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, had defected to Moscow and it was clear that they had spied for the Soviets from within the heart of Britain’s national security establishment. But was there a “Third Man”? Suspicion soon centered on Kim Philby, the former MI6 liaison officer to the CIA and confidant of the Agency’s top mole hunter, James Angleton. For years, however, nothing could be firmly pinned on him.
According to former CIA officer Robert Baer, author of the forthcomingThe Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin's Russia, the CIA and the U.S. intelligence community are in a similar liminal period. Since the mid-1980s, there have been lingering suspicions that Moscow had a major spy within the CIA, a spy who is yet to be caught. Baer refers to this person as “the Fourth Man,” counting the CIA’s Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen as the first three traitors. He tells us that since the mid-1990s there has been a candidate for the Fourth Man, a prominent figure in the CIA, but that nothing can be pinned definitively on this officer who is now retired but still alive.
Baer previously authored a memoir of his time at the agency , See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the War on Terrorism, as well as several other non-fiction books and a novel. At one point in his career, while head of the branch in charge of the Caucasus and Central Asia in the Directorate of Operations’ Central Eurasia (CE) Division, he worked with a woman named LaineBannerman. She was a counterintelligence officer who had been a key player in the hunt for the Fourth Man. When she came to Baer’s branch, however, she was a refugee from that work. At the time, she never breathed a word about it, but when Baer, in retirement, became aware of the Fourth Man controversy, she and a significant number of other former officers were willing to tell him at least portions of what they know about the subject. Drawing on these bits and pieces as well as two key books, Circle of Treason, by retired CIA mole huntersSandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, and The Main Enemy, by Milt Bearden and journalist James Risen, Baer has produced a compelling account of the ongoing search for the Fourth Man.
Oddly, throughout, Baer refers to the possible Fourth Man as a “double agent,” incorrect terminology, as he certainly knows. (A double agent is someone spying for one power but who is actually secretly serving the interests of the power he appears to be spying on. For instance, if the spy Aldrich Ames had been secretly helping the CIA pass disinformation to the KGB, he would have been a double agent, but he just delivered pilfered documents to the Russians.) Baer also sometimes seems to implicitly assume that only penetrations of hostile intelligence services are of importance (as opposed to, say, a diplomat or military officer).
In addition, it’s often unclear throughout this book what Baer’s source is for any given claim. This, of course, is unsurprising. Baer is, of necessity, depending primarily on former colleagues who are to varying degrees speaking out of school. Indeed, it is a bit of a wonder that the CIA cleared this book for publication, as a great many authors who have served in the agency—the present reviewer included—have had the publications review board demand redaction of far more mundane information than appears throughout this book. One wonders about the backstory here.
In any event, Baer is an engaging writer and the book is a gripping and mind-bending read. If the cliche that counterintelligence is “a wilderness of mirrors” applies anywhere, it applies here.
In bare outline, the story is this: Sometime apparently in the late 1980s, a Russian intelligence officer named Alexander Zaporozhsky, nicknamed Max, whom the CIA had recruited in an East African country, told his case officer that the Russians had two penetrations of U.S. intelligence, one in the CIA and one in the FBI. The former would turn out to be Aldrich Ames, and the latter, Robert Hanssen. Max was subsequently able to provide ironclad evidence pointing to Ames, so when, in 1994, Max added that there was actually a second penetration of the CIA, his claim was taken extremely seriously. In fact, a small cadre of mole hunters had already concluded that some of the CIA’s losses in Russia could not be attributed to Ames, Hanssen or Howard.
Max provided two important clues. The suspected mole attended Directorate of Operations (DO) division chief meetings and at one time had access to a set of three-by-five cards on which the DO kept certain highly sensitive operational information. If Max’s reporting was correct, the spy was quite senior and capable of doing incalculable damage.
So in June 1994, Ted Price, the head of the DO, created a discreet Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to identify this alleged spy. Operating under the tutelage of Paul Redmond, the deputy chief of the Counterintelligence Center, who had performed a similar function in Ames mole hunt, the team consisted of three CIA officers—Baer’s former colleague LaineBannerman, plus MaryAnn Hough and Diana Worthen, who had been on the Ames team) and a savvy FBI analyst, Jim Milburn. The SIU started compiling a matrix of “anomalies” that might be relevant going back to the early 1980s. These were various glitches, failures, or coincidences primarily in CIA operations against the Soviets and Russians but also in a few British and French cases. In addition, there were strange, ominous, or unexplained behaviors by the Soviets and Russians. For instance, Milburn was able to provide information on dates of “starbursts,” occasions on which the Soviet or Russian residency in Washington had suddenly flooded the capital’s streets with operatives. This tactic, the bureau believed, was used to overwhelm FBI agents watching the embassy so that one Russian intelligence officer would have a strong chance of slipping FBI surveillance and conducting an important operational act.
By putting all these anomalies into a matrix and cross-checking them against lists of CIA officers read into particular operations, travel records of CIA officers, etc., the SIU was able in November 1994 to home in on one particular suspect. In a remarkable scene, Baer describes how the SIU held a briefing for Paul Redmond and a few other luminaries, in which they revealed that the CIA officer most likely to be the Fourth Man was…Paul Redmond.
Baer describes how Redmond retaliated against the SIU, forcing its CIA members to flee to CE Division where Bannerman ultimately came to work for Baer. The refugees continued their work as best they could but accomplished little more. Over time, other suspects for the Fourth Man were considered–sometimes based on information from clandestine sources handled by Paul Redmond—out of his “back pocket,” as Baer put it—and then cleared and so the mystery remained. Eventually, the members of the SIU, as well as Redmond himself, retired. Then, in 2006, the FBI started investigating Redmond, contacting various retired CIA officers (shades of George Smiley) to ask them about an allegation that had emerged about Redmond—that he had made an unauthorized and highly unorthodox solo trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s.
Redmond, who was surprisingly willing to speak to Baer, denies that any such trip ever took place. Baer, however, quotes Milburn, the former FBI analyst, as saying of Redmond, “he knows exactly what the FBI has on him and you don’t know a quarter of it.”
Ultimately, one is left with the question of whether Paul Redmond, a counterintelligence legend for his work on Ames alone, really was a spy for Moscow. Baer is careful to say that he is not sure. This is consistent with his posture throughout the book, that he is telling a story of the hunt for the Fourth Man, not aiming to ferret out the Fourth Man’s identity. It is also probably a stance that Baer’s lawyer would advise him to take.
Still, the reader cannot help but think that Baer is genuinely not certain. In fact, he freely admits that there may not have been a Fourth Man at all. The book makes clear that it is very plausible that there was, but it is far from certain.
A key point for Baer is that the Fourth Man does not seem to have wreaked anything like the kind of vast and visible damage that Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen did despite being much more senior and having access to a much broader range of extraordinarily sensitive information. One might also observe that the assumption that the anomalies that the SIU put in its matrix were related to each other is just that, an assumption. Indeed, it looks suspiciously like a fallacious “perception of centralized direction,” a cognitive trap that intelligence analysts are taught to avoid but that conspiracy theorists embrace with gusto. Moreover, Baer is quite clear that most, if not all, of the anomalies could have innocent explanations, or at least explanations not logically requiring the existence of a Russian spy on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters. He even observes that it is possible that the original instigator of the Fourth Man hunt, Max, may have been conveying disinformation—wittingly or unwittingly.
So, as we consider the question of whether Paul Redmond was a spy, it is worth remembering that counterintelligence officers are obliged to look at the available facts in the worst possible light. Indeed, in a key passage, Baer blames CIA senior management for taking “the unimaginative Occam’s razor approach to the evidence,” channeling the frustrations of counterintelligence officers. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this kind of thinking, many injustices have been done and many people have been plausibly, but falsely, accused of espionage. One remembers, for instance, Leslie James Bennett of the RCMP, Roger Hollis of MI5, and Brian Kelley of the CIA.
But spies really do exist and somebody has to find them. We now know from declassified counterintelligence records, for instance, that American diplomat Alger Hiss really had spied for Moscow. And in 1963, Kim Philby, who dined regularly with top CIA mole hunter James Angleton, defected to Moscow. It became clear only then that he was Britain’s Third Man. There would be a fourth and fifth.
So maybe, just maybe, the United States had a Fourth Man. And maybe his name is Paul Redmond.