Time to ramp up the tension. There’s a double-agent in our midst in this chapter of CHINA SEA. Eager to read more, and read it now? The novel is available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, B&N, KOBO and Google Play.
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“Good afternoon, gentlemen. Have a seat.” The Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Johnny Zinger, greeted the two men from the Institute. “Nice to see you again, Frank.”
“Afternoon, Admiral. I believe you know Tom Hiatt, the Institute’s Deputy Director,” Frank DuPont replied.
“Yes. We’ve met. Glad you could be here, Tom”
Tom Hiatt stared without expression at the fourth man in the room who was seated beside Admiral Zinger.
The admiral said, “Tom, I suspect you might know George Sikelman, being that you’re ex-CIA. George is now chief of staff of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The chairman of that Board has requested he attend meetings of this sort. The president doesn’t want to see any more “loose cannons”, as he puts it. George’s job is to randomly monitor the military’s humint collection activities on behalf of the PFIAB. Do I have that right, George?”
“Correct, Admiral. The new president is adamant. He wants to put the scandals of the past years behind us. He has given the Board authority to monitor the clandestine activities of both the CIA and the military branches. A lot of what has come out of congressional hearings has been particularly embarrassing to the executive branch. There are to be no more Howard Hunts. The president’s words.”
Hiatt continued to stare at George Sikelman. He knew him. He had never trusted him. Senior officers at the Agency had called him ‘Clark’ behind his back. With his perfectly trimmed moustache, dark freshly barbered hair and expensive three-piece suits, his dead-ringer resemblance to the actor Clark Gable was uncanny. Except that he spoke English with a foreign accent.
Hiatt and Sikelman had both joined the Agency during the first year of the CIA’s existence. Sikelman had been an interrogator with Army intelligence in Europe during World War II. He was born in Hungary of Hungarian parents. He spoke fluent Hungarian and German. At the end of the war, the Army sent him to Hungary with the mission of recruiting former Nazis, Germans and Hungarians, to spy against the Soviet Union.
What Tom Hiatt didn’t know and what was not known among senior Army and CIA staff was that George Sikelman was Jewish. And that the task of recruiting and running these Nazis, who had done their utmost to kill every Jew in Europe, made him sick to his stomach. Literally. Sikelman became a double-agent in 1949. That year he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB, under a false-flag ploy.
The NKVD case officer who recruited Sikelman was, like Sikelman, Jewish. One of the very few in the Soviet intelligence services. The Russian lied to George Sikelman and told him he was a Zionist and that he was engaging George on behalf of the new state of Israel. Sikelman agreed to do whatever was necessary to neutralize, and in many cases terminate-with-extreme-prejudice, the ex-Nazis he was recruiting to operate against the Soviets. It was only a matter of time until Sikelman learned that his true paymaster was the NKVD, eventually the KGB, and not Israel. By that time the Russians had a firm handle on the Hungarian-American spy. He was now, in 1974, the most highly placed KGB ‘mole’ operating inside the U.S. intelligence community.
“Hello, Sikelman. Long time, no see,” Tom Hiatt uttered at last to the man sitting across the table from him.
“Tom. Congratulations on the new job. I’d heard you left the Agency the same time as Helms. Seems you’ve landed on your feet,” Sikelman replied with a bland smile.
Hiatt ignored the comment. He was not at all comfortable having George Sikelman involved in this meeting.
Admiral Zinger glanced at his watch and continued. “Let’s discuss your pending operation in Southeast Asia, Frank. You have the floor.”
General DuPont briefed the admiral and Sikelman on aspects of Roy Mancini’s operation plan. They would recall later that the PFIAB chief of staff took copious notes during the briefing.
The target, DuPont explained, was the naval order-of-battle of the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China and North Korea. Mancini would operate under two separate covers. He would operate from Malacca, Malaysia. And he would undertake maritime missions in the seas and ports of China and the USSR, as well as the Indian Ocean littoral.
Admiral Zinger interrupted DuPont at mention of the Indian Ocean.
“Frank, this reminds me. We need to add a target. Lately our submarines on patrol in the Indian Ocean have identified suspicious activity in the Gulf of Aden. We’ve picked up Russian submarines. And in that confined area these subs don’t appear to have any mission that we can determine. We know they are Soviet subs because our skippers have observed the markings on the superstructures during the few times the Russian boats have surfaced. Foxtrot and November class submarines. Their objectives remain an enigma. We need the Institute to do what it can to unravel the mystery.”
“Well, Admiral, Mancini’s trading cover can take him to East Africa. Kenya and Ethiopia are coffee producers.” General DuPont made a note.
“This may be sheer coincidence,” the admiral said. “But these Soviet submarines appear a month or so before there is some major terrorist event where the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine is identified as the culprit. You recall the hideous Ma’alot massacre last May. There was a Foxtrot submarine observed at night on the surface near the Red Sea a month prior, in April.”
Tom Hiatt said, “We never assume a coincidence.”
“All right.” Admiral Zinger looked at the man sitting beside him. “Unless you have something else to add, George, I believe we can adjourn this meeting. The Navy needs the Institute’s human intelligence to augment what we’re getting by other means.”
Sikelman shrugged. “Mancini’s mission sounds okay to me. I’ll inform the Board. Good luck with it.”
When George Sikelman left the Pentagon fifteen minutes later he did not return directly to his office at the Old Executive Office Building beside the White House. Instead he drove to a pay phone in downtown Arlington. He phoned the picture framing shop which was owned by his Russian cutout.
“Orlov Gallery,” the man answered the phone with his heavy Slavic accent.
Sikelman responded. “This is Rene. Is my stunning Monet completed yet?”
Igor Orlov hesitated before answering. “I will check. And call you later.”
George Sikelman waited precisely one hour before again phoning the gallery.
“This is Rene. Is my stunning Monet completed yet?”
“It will be completed in the morning on the seventh of next month.”
The message informed Sikelman that his Russian case officer, Boris, would meet him on Sunday (the seventh day of the week) at 4:00 in the afternoon. The meeting would take place along a trail in Rock Creek Park.
That Sunday George Sikelman parked his car just off 16th Street at 3:30 in the afternoon and walked into the park. He conducted very active counter surveillance along the park’s paths for twenty-five minutes before entering the trail that Boris had selected two years earlier for their infrequent meetings. At precisely 3:58 he stood beneath a tree, looked up and feigned an interest in birdwatching. He tucked a copy of the Baltimore Sun under his left arm. This was the safety signal that would indicate to Boris that his agent was not being followed. They had synchronized their wrist watches that morning with a BBC broadcast. At 4:01 Sikelman saw Boris walking up the path toward him. They greeted each other and continued walking together.
Boris insisted they conduct their meetings in German, a language in which they were both fluent.
“So George, you must have something very interesting for you to request a personal meeting. Am I right?” the Russian asked.
“Yes. And it should be worthy of a generous bonus.” Sikelman smirked as he said this. He had been handled by six different Soviet case officers over the past twenty-five years. By now he had a sense of the tail wagging the dog in terms of his relationship with the Russians.
Boris chuckled. “You are already paid very well . . . we shall see. What do you have for me?”
“There is a new intelligence agency under the auspices of the Department of Defense. Like your GRU. It is called the Institute.”
“We know. I hope you did not disturb my Sunday afternoon, George, just to report that to me.”
The American scoffed. “Of course not. I attended a meeting at the Pentagon on Friday where the Institute’s commanding officer and deputy director briefed Johnny Zinger about a new mission, targeting the Soviet navy.”
“They are sending a case officer to Asia next month. He will run agents into Russia to observe and photograph naval shipyards and warships with emphasis on your Pacific Fleet submarines.”
Boris stopped walking and held Sikelman by the arm. “You have the details? The case officer’s name and where he will be based?”
“Of course I do. I took notes. Here.” He removed sheets of paper from inside the folded Baltimore Sun and handed them to Boris. The Russian quickly placed them inside his jacket.
The two men walked in silence for a few minutes. The American waited for the Russian to speak.
At last Boris said, “You must order the new counterintelligence chief at the CIA to keep the Institute’s case officer under close surveillance in Asia. Understand? And have the CIA report back to you, and only to you. You come up with a reason for that, George. Maybe CIA and the Institute are less-than-friendly competitors, like KGB and GRU. You are good at planning that sort of thing.”
Sikelman thought for a moment before replying. “It is fortunate, Boris, that James Angleton will soon leave the Agency or I wouldn’t attempt this. Angleton may be paranoid. But he is smart. Perhaps the new CI chief, Angleton’s deputy, will wish to ingratiate himself with my Board. He might go along with my request. Let’s see. I will update you through the dead drop.
“And before I forget, there is another thing you should know. Your submarines in the Gulf of Aden are easy for the US Navy to identify because of the markings on their superstructures. Foxtrots and Novembers. That’s from the admiral. He wonders what those subs are doing up there since the Suez Canal is still closed and they are not performing any obvious mission. Zinger suspects a link to Palestinian terrorists.”
“That information could be bonus-worthy, George. I’ll pass it along to the naval attaché at the embassy.”
The Russian case officer handed his agent an envelope containing fifty untraceable $100 bills. He knew better than to ask his agent for a receipt. The two men parted in separate directions.
The next day George Sikelman paid a visit to Langley and on behalf of the PFIAB ordered the future head of counterintelligence to place Roy Mancini under close surveillance, beginning with his departure from the US and continuing with his activities throughout Southeast Asia. The CI deputy chief had no choice but to comply, and curry favor with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.