Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Feasting on the Spoils: The Life and Times of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, History's Most Corrupt Congressman

Sex and the C.I.A.

Ken Silverstein

I recently received an advance copy of Seth Hettena's Feasting on the Spoils: The Life and Times of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, History's Most Corrupt Congressman, which will be published this July and which I highly recommend. In addition to being a terrific piece of political reporting, the book is filled with juicy details concerning the seamier side of the Cunningham affair, otherwise known as “Hookergate.”

I was particularly interested in stories Hettena unearthed about Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, whom former CIA director Porter Goss had named as executive director, the agency's number-three official. Foggo resigned last year not long after FBI agents raided his home and office. The Feds suspected that Foggo, who was later indicted, had funneled CIA contracts to his long-time friend Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor who is accused of bribing Cunningham with money and prostitutes.

Some of the more sensational stories in Hettena's book—and he has on-the-record sources—got me thinking. First, didn't Foggo's frequent indiscretions (for example, flashing his agency ID to jump the line at a strip club) raise red flags about his character? Second, wasn't Foggo's outlandish sexual behavior—like, say, publicly performing oral sex on a hooker (hired by Wilkes) at his own bachelor party—just the sort of thing that makes intelligence officials potentially vulnerable to blackmail by a hostile spy service? Third, might it be possible to cynically point to such revelations and use them as a hook for a blog item that combines sex and espionage?

You already know the answer to #3. As to #1 and #2, I spoke with a number of former CIA officers and asked them about the use of sex as a weapon of espionage and whether Foggo-scale misbehavior would typically be deemed a security risk or cause other problems.

The consensus among the officers was that general sexual promiscuity posed no problem, especially if the CIA employee was single. A pattern of continuous adultery might raise eyebrows and lead to a suggestion of counseling, but would not likely be seen as cause for dismissal. However, philandering that raised chain of command issues was a big problem. For example, I was told of one case where a junior officer based in Europe discovered that his wife was sleeping with his station chief. “Everyone got sent home and reprimanded,” said the source.“It was a big mess, but this was seen as a character issue, not a security issue.”

So when does sex become a security problem? The CIA conducts background checks and administers periodic polygraph tests to try to ferret out anything that might make undercover officers vulnerable to blackmail. Until the mid-1990s, homosexuality was considered an immediate cause for dismissal. And “close and continuing contact with a foreign national,” a euphemism for a sexual relationship, was deemed to be another major vulnerability. Any such relationship had to be reported and failure to do so could also lead to dismissal. In fact during the Cold War, the KGB (and allied services, including the East German Stasi under Markus Wolf, and Cuban intelligence) frequently sought to entrap CIA officers. The KGB believed that Americans were materialistic and sex-obsessed, and hence its spies could easily be lured with the prospect of an easy lay. CIA officers in Russia were strongly warned about “swallows,” the term for the beautiful women the KGB deployed to try to seduce Americans, which was a constant danger at Moscow station. (One former CIA official told me that he and his friends joked that they longed to be given the job of “sexual entrapment training officer.”)

The Russians did have some modest success with this strategy. Back in 1940, the FBI discovered that “single U.S. employees in Moscow frequented a prostitution ring linked to Soviet intelligence and that classified documents were handled improperly and may have been obtained by Soviet workers.” It's also been reported that the CIA's first Moscow station chief fell for a swallow—his maid—and returned home in disgrace.

The Russians and their allies also targeted American military personnel stationed abroad. The best-known case was Clayton Lonetree, a hard-drinking Marine stationed in Moscow who was seduced by a swallow named Violetta Seina, a translator at the U.S. Embassy. Seina hooked up Lonetree with “Uncle Sasha,” his KGB handler, whom he provided with valuable information. Lonetree continued to spy for the Russians after he was transferred to the American embassy in Vienna, but ultimately turned himself in. The only American Marine ever convicted of espionage, Lonetree was released after serving nine years of a 30-year sentence.

Sex wasn't just used by the Russians as a recruitment tool, but also as a means of compromising CIA officers. One source told me: “Let's say a guy has a girlfriend and he decides not to report it. The Russians take pictures of him but don't approach him right away. Five years later, though, when he's stationed in another country, a KGB officer shows him old pictures of him and the girlfriend, and newer pictures of the girl with a young kid. The guy doesn't know for sure if it's his kid or if the girl was working for the KGB, but he's dead, especially because he never revealed the relationship at the time. So he turns down the recruiting pitch but has to go back to the office and write the whole thing up, including what he didn't report five years earlier. He's probably of no further use in that country and he may not be of use anywhere else.”

I asked the former officials if the CIA used sex as a lure to entrap foreign intelligence officials. “Not often,” one told me. “Coercive recruitment generally didn't work. We found that offers of money and freedom worked better.” However, several of the sources said that if the CIA found that a KGB official had a girlfriend, they'd try to recruit her as an access agent who could then be used to turn the Russian. “There was a woman who was promiscuously involved with the Soviet community in Beirut and we put her on the payroll,” one former Middle East hand told me. “I'm not aware that it ever led to anything, but we paid her for quite a while.”

A similar case involved Alexander Ogorodnik, a married official who worked at the Soviet embassy in Bogota in the 1970s. The CIA learned Ogorodnik was having an affair with a local Spanish woman; the Bogota station chief recruited the woman, and she in turn convinced Ogorodnik, who was already deeply disillusioned with the Soviet system, to spy for the CIA. As recounted in The Main Enemy, co-authored by former CIA officer Milt Bearden and James Risen, Ogorodnik became a highly productive agent, especially after he returned to Moscow, where he provided the CIA with piles of diplomatic cables and top-secret documents until the late 1970s, when he was arrested and, before being interrogated, committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule he kept concealed in a modified Montblanc pen given to him by his CIA handler.

One former CIA officer said that while sexual entrapment wasn't generally a good tool to recruit a foreign official, it was sometimes employed successfully to solve short-term problems. For example, this officer was once stationed in a Middle Eastern country and wanted to shut down a known spy from a neighboring state who was also posted there. To make a long story short, the CIA obtained video footage of the man in intimate embrace with his local girlfriend. When the man turned down a recruiting pitch, the agency mailed the images to his wife. What happened next was never precisely clear, but the man was soon recalled to his home country.

This source also said the CIA routinely kept prostitutes on the payroll in Third World countries. “It might cost you $500 a month, which was nothing, and you'd get a wealth of information about who's who and who's doing what to who,” he said. “You were always looking for people like that who could give you visibility into the dark side of the city.”

Back to Dusty Foggo: In addition to stories in Hettena's new book, I've previously reported that Foggo had behaved very badly while based in Honduras in the early-1980s, when the CIA was using the country as a base for covert programs in Central America. He was said to be a regular at a Tegucigalpa bar named Gloria's and at a casino at the Maya Hotel, both places known at the time as hooker hotbeds.

Whether Foggo had official dealings with prostitutes in Honduras or not, this was clearly a big problem. “Dusty would have been the perfect target of a counter-intelligence operation,” said one official who worked in Honduras at the time. “He had access and knowledge, and was reckless and visible. You're only vulnerable if you make yourself vulnerable, and that's what Dusty did.”

This person--and several others--have told me that Foggo continued to display poor judgment throughout his career and had been reprimanded over his personal conduct--and that all of this was well known to Goss before he installed him as executive director. “When we heard Dusty had been picked, we figured we were doomed,” he said. “And we were right.” All of which leads to one of the great, unanswered questions surrounding Foggo: Why would Goss possibly have picked him for such a senior position at the agency?

I asked the CIA press office if Foggo's personal conduct had ever raised red flags at the agency. Spokesman Mark Mansfield replied by email, saying, “Given that legal proceedings are underway, it would not be appropriate to comment, other than to point out that Mr. Foggo left the CIA last year and the position he held, Executive Director, doesn't exist any more.”

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