Discover more from SpyTalk
Accused CIA Mole to Make Public Rebuttal
Paul Redmond having 'coming out party' at intelligence alumni gathering
It hardly needs saying that mole hunts are normally very discreet affairs. Everybody who matters at headquarters might know that something’s going on—unexplained losses can’t be kept secret for long in an outfit stocked with spies, not to mention counterspies. But the details of the actual hunt, like who’s on the team and what they’re actually up to, is usually a stinkpot of corridor rumors.
That’s been the case for nearly four decades at the CIA, where suspicions first arose in the 1980s that a “fourth man” recruited by the KGB had escaped capture. The hunt began in earnest in the early 1990s, when some CIA (and FBI) counterintelligence investigators became convinced that losses of agents to the KGB couldn’t be fully explained by the treachery of the agency’s Aldrich Ames and Edward Lee Howard (and later, the bureau’s Robert Hanssen).
Some officials have gone public with their suspicions. In The Main Enemy, a 2003 book co-authored by former senior CIA officer Milton Bearden and journalist James Risen, and in a Los Angeles Times Op-ed, Bearden made his known. (He raised the same suspicions with me in conversations over the years, adding his speculation that the mole could well be long dead.) Likewise, former KGB operative Victor Cherkashin (Ames’s case officer) said much the same in a 2005 book (co-authored with Gregory Feifer). “That the KGB ran a ‘fourth mole’ is undeniable,” he wrote in his memoir, Spy Handler. “It is also true the CIA ran agents that we (KGB) never caught.”
In the counterintelligence world’s so-called “wilderness of mirrors,” some suspect that such allegations were just another chapter in KGB disinformation ops.
Whatever, there’s never been much appetite in Langley for picking at the scab of old Cold War wounds, where the ravages of James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunts are a not-so-distant memory. That was evident in the old guard’s generally dismissive response to an explosive book in May by former CIA operations officer Robert Baer, who not only revealed a previously unreported hunt for the “fourth man,” but in a genuinely stunning scene, described a climactic, 1994 meeting in which the Special Investigative Unit formally presented their conclusion to their chief, Paul Redmond, and other officials.
The prime suspect, they pronounced, was none other than Redmond himself. A highly regarded, if broadly disliked senior official for his gruff, dismissive mannerisms, Redmond understandably exploded and left the room, Baer wrote. And there the matter has rested at Langley—but not the FBI, which, Baer says, has never closed its own “fourth man” investigation. They’re still looking at Redmond.
“I believe there is a fourth man, and a lot of things point that way,” Jim Milburn, a former FBI counterintelligence agent who was a member of the mole hunting team, told the journalist James Risen in an interview on the eve of Baer’s book launch. “There is more that I can’t talk about. It all leads to my sense that there is a fourth man.”
“Absolutely there was a fourth man,” John Lewis, former FBI assistant director for national security, also told him. “We had a lot of unexplained things that couldn’t be explained by the three others.”
Baer is careful to say he’s not personally fingering Redmond, who cooperated freely with him and calmly rebutted the Special Investigative Unit’s finding; he’s only reporting what he learned working as a journalist. Redmond held fire over the summer as the book received generally favorable reviews. But now he’s slated to be the main attraction Friday at the annual fall gathering of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, or AFIO, a reliably CIA-friendly forum. He’ll be leading a panel discussion vaguely entitled, “Spy Hunt,” along with two other CIA legends, but it’s hard to imagine that the main topic will be anything but the spy hunt he was personally implicated in
“He regards the November 4th AFIO event as his ‘coming out party,’ a friend of Redmond’s told me.
And he has plenty of defenders, a number of whom made their cases against Baer’s book to me on an off-the-record basis, citing the continued sensitivity and complexity of the issues. One well informed agency veteran, however, offered a critique in the form of a public comment on SpyTalk’s review of Baer’s book by former CIA analyst Mark Stout.
“That Baer has written an entertaining book is to his credit,” wrote Colin Thompson, who, among other assignments related to the Kremlin during a long Cold War career, was the CIA handler for Vitaly Yurchenko, a high-ranking KGB colonel who defected to the United States in 1985. “Whether it sheds light on anything important is another matter.”
Thompson went on:
“I burst out laughing, though, when the finger meant for the Fourth Man was aimed at Paul Redmond. Redmond was not well liked, had a particularly foul mouth, and was hard on his subordinates, not always with cause, but he was a professional and intelligent and about as unlikely a candidate for a Soviet spy as anyone I can imagine.”
In an email to me, Thompson made a detailed case against Baer’s theories—both sides of which are far too convoluted to sum up here. (Think “Tinker, Tailor…”) Maybe Thompson or like-minded critics will try to air out their grievances in support of Redmond on Friday, but they won’t get far. The Redmond panel is scheduled to go only an hour.
Oh, and it’s all off the record.
“No recordings, tweets, blogposts, articles, or interviews based on these presentations or the Q&A that follows are permitted,” AFIO said in its announcement.
The event, which normally attracts a couple hundred former and some current intelligence types, along with the journalists who cover them, is sold out. I suspect Redmond’s case will make it into the press somehow without too much of a lag.
UPDATE: The event did not disappoint. That’s all I can say.😎
SpyTalk is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.