Spies Among Us
Did you know that many of the most important intelligence meetings have happened right here in Santa Fe? Our little town plays a very big role in the history of espionage. Michael and I went to a lecture the other night by a former clandestine CIA officer who is now the head of Counter-Intelligence at the Department of Energy. There are a lot of those types here. I took some scribbled notes that I’ve since deciphered. So here is the quickie history of espionage in Santa Fe.
The planning of the assassination of Leon Trotsky: A local pharmacy right on Santa Fe’s famous plaza served as the planning venue and safe house for the plotters of Leon Trotsky’s assassination. Joseph Stalin and the head of the KGB wanted the assassination to take place in a manner that could not be traced back to the KGB. Like there were plenty of other organizations that would send a ten person team with 1,000 rounds to assassinate one guy. But anyway, Trotsky was living in Mexico City at the time so they chose a NOC (non-official cover) officer named Josef Grigulevich. Grigulevich was Lithuanian, but was raised in Argentina. He chose Santa Fe as his base of operations in the U.S., and as the place we would later escape to after the assassination. So he looked up a Lithuanian family that ran a drug store called Zook’s and he stayed with them. In May of 1940, Grigulevich and a ten person team stormed Trotsky’s compound in Mexico City and, as I said, pumped 1,000 rounds into the room where Trotsky and his wife were sleeping. Every single bullet missed. Grigulevich went on to have a long and successful career with the KGB, even serving as the ambassador of Costa Rica (under another alias) to both Italy and Yugoslavia. Trotsky was assassinated in August of 1940 by Ramon Mercader who struck him in the head with an ice pick. Mercader served 20 years in prison and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union by the KGB upon his return in 1960. Zook’s is now a Haagen Dazs store.
Klaus Fuchs and the Secrets of the Manhattan Project: The single greatest intelligence meeting in the history of the world happened on a street corner in Santa Fe in June 1945. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working at Los Alamos, met KGB officer Harry Gold and handed over all of the secrets of the atomic bomb. For free. Gold had traveled from New York City. During World War Two, Santa Fe and Los Alamos had the highest number of counter intelligence officers per capita in the world. Gold knew that he would instantly be under surveillance if he came to town alone (single man = secret agent) so he brought his mother along. Thanks to that meeting, Stalin was aware of when the Trinity Test of the nuclear bomb was happening and he knew that would bring an abrupt end to the war with Japan. So Stalin made the strategic decision to rush as many of his troops as possible to Asia to occupy Northern China. Had that meeting not occurred, the state of North Korea may not exist today.
On an interesting side note, Gold was later arrested and gave up the name of another KGB recruit he’d met with in New Mexico, David Greenglass. Greenglass, like Gold, cooperated (it was either that or be executed) and gave up the name of his sister and her husband who recruited him to the KGB – Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Edward Lee Howard and the End of the Cold War: In September 1985, Edward Lee Howard, a disgruntled former CIA officer (and Santa Fe resident, of course!), jumped from the car his wife was driving and eluded an entire surveillance team of his former colleagues and escaped to the Soviet Union (he even sat next to Lee Marvin on the plane to New York!).
Howard, angry that he’d been kicked out of the agency after it was revealed he’d lied about past drug use, had gotten revenge on his former employer by sharing secrets with the Soviets. For six years, the US had been listening in on a communications cable that linked the USSR’s defense laboratories to the Soviet’s Pentagon – um, that’s a pretty abundant target. And Howard told the Soviets! When Mikhail Gorbachev was informed of the bad news, he knew he had to engage in some sort of negotiation with the US.
Valerie Plame and Life After the CIA: Just thought I’d also include a shoutout to former CIA officer and current Santa Fe resident Valerie Plame. Keeping the tradition alive.