True Spies Episode 104: The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell
NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? This is True Spies.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Here was a guy who had tried to sell loads of classified American secrets to hostile nations and had almost gotten away with it. He was smarter than others thought he was, but he wasn't as clever as he himself thought himself to be.
NARRATOR: A white, middle-aged man is walking through Pocahontas State Park in Virginia with a bulging rucksack on his back. After a few miles he stops, checks behind him, then steps off the marked path and heads deep into the forest. From his rucksack, he removes what looks like a full rubbish bag smothered in duct tape, and a shovel. Whilst he digs, he imagines that the next time he visits this spot to retrieve his buried treasure, he’ll be $13m dollars better off. This bag doesn’t contain stolen jewels or even gold. It contains documents, hundreds of documents segregated neatly into little Tupperware boxes. These containers are full of American state secrets. To finish, he hammers a nail into the tree closest to the fresh burial mound. Satisfied, he walks back in the direction of the path, leaving highly classified documents - documents that could leave the United States extremely vulnerable to its enemies - just lying there in the Virginian dirt. This is the story of how one man set out to commit an enormous act of betrayal against his country and almost got away with it. His name is Brian Regan. He’s currently languishing in an American prison, with no hope of parole, and is strictly prohibited from speaking to anyone in the outside world, except his close family. So how do we know so much about his crimes?
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Hi, my name is Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. I'm a contributing writer at National Geographic and the author of The Spy Who Couldn't Spell, which is the story of the Brian Regan espionage case.
NARRATOR: Several years after Brian Regan was sentenced to a lifetime behind bars, Yudhijit was invited to speak with an FBI cryptanalyst called Daniel Olson.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: He had worked on breaking the codes of prison gangs, exchanging letters with one another, and things like that. But right at the end of his presentation, he talked about an espionage case that he had done some code breaking for. And I was immediately hooked. And that case turned out to be the Brian Regan espionage case. And what really interested me about this case was at the time, just the sheer sort of ingenuity of how this would-be spy had stolen and then hidden all of these classified secrets. I knew that I had a character that I would probably never have access to. I tried my best to go through various government agencies to try and establish contact with Brian Regan. But since Brian Regan had committed an egregious crime, the terms of his incarceration were extremely strict and he wasn't allowed to contact anybody outside of his family. So it became clear to me that I would perhaps never have any access to him, no possibility of doing interviews with him.
NARRATOR: So how do you go about chronicling the crimes of an individual you can’t communicate with? You track down the person who caught them, of course. Enter, Stephen Carr.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: He knew everything about this case. And you know, he had given this case several years of his life, and I was fortunate in that Steve Carr and I developed a friendship as I went along reporting the story. Steve Carr was really an extraordinarily kind and compassionate man. His idea of patriotism was being of service to the country and that is what had drawn him to the military. That is what drew him into a career in law enforcement. And so he was really the antithesis of Brian Regan.
NARRATOR: Prior to leading the Brian Regan investigation, Steve Carr was pretty much a poster-boy FBI agent - patriotic with an immense sense of duty, meticulous, and praying for a chance to lead a high-stakes mission. Be careful what you wish for. It’s December 2000, and FBI Special Agent Steven Carr sits at his desk in Washington. He begins to open a FedEx parcel that’s been mailed over from the New York office. He has no idea what’s inside.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: This envelope of some 20 or 25 sheets, and had been mailed to the New York office by an anonymous sender and it contained a coded letter. This was several pages long. It contained a codebook, and it contained instructions on how to use the codebook to decode this letter. And what this letter said was that the sender was a veteran member of the intelligence community who had in his possession hundreds and thousands of pages of classified material that he was willing to sell for the right price.
NARRATOR: Willing to sell to the Libyan government for $13m, to be exact. These envelopes had originally arrived at a Libyan embassy and been intercepted by a friendly source, who recognized the potency of what they contained immediately. Each of these - the coded letter, a bundle of 19 classified documents, and two sets of code sheets designed to help someone decode the letter - were sent in three separate envelopes.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: And so the person sending it was well versed in what's known as CommSec or communications security that if any one of these three letters had been intercepted by itself, that one interception would not have posed any threat to the sender.
NARRATOR: The code sheets consisted of a list of ciphers - a method of transforming letters into numbers to conceal meaning - and a list of brevity codes - encoded abbreviations for words. For example, the letters 'KJ' could stand for “association”, or “YF” could mean ‘confirmed’. So KJYF would translate to ‘association confirmed.’ And the smoking gun? As Steve Carr rifled through the pages, he found a short extract of the letter which had been decoded by his colleagues in New York: “I am willing to commit espionage against the United States by providing your country with highly classified information. I have top-secret clearance and have access to documents of all of the US intelligence agencies.”
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: There was something else very interesting about this letter, which became a recurring theme in the case. Many of the words that the sender had used in this typed letter, the letter itself were misspelled like the word disgraced or the word espionage. And so, that was a clue that perhaps the sender was dyslexic. And moreover, the sender hadn't taken due care while drafting this letter and had gone through all of this trouble to observe communications security but hadn't run a basic spell check on the letter that he had sent.
NARRATOR: And so began the hunt for the spy that couldn’t spell - the first American to face the death penalty for attempted espionage against his own country, and the man investigators would come to know as “Mr. 80%.”
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: And this analyst described it to me as here was a guy who would be 80 percent brilliant and then would do something all of a sudden, unexpectedly that was incredibly stupid.
NARRATOR: Poor spelling or not, Steve Carr immediately recognized that they needed to locate Mr. 80% - and fast. One of the documents included in the original bundle was the table of contents from the Joint Tactical Exploitation of National Systems manual, which was designed to aid a US warfighter in taking advantage of the enemy’s satellites and other intel-gathering technologies. And if the spy had access to this, who knew what other highly classified material they had managed to steal.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: So this was just Code Red for Steve Carr and his colleagues in the counterintelligence unit because rarely do you come across such a blatant offer to sell secrets.
NARRATOR: There was no time to lose.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: The next thing they did was that they started to do surveillance on libraries around the Washington, D.C. area because they had figured out that whoever sent this letter was a prolific user of public libraries and was probably using the computer terminals at these libraries in order to do searches and prepare the whole espionage plan. And then, finally, the breakthrough actually came from the contents of the letter itself because along with the letter, the sender had included a few classified sheets downloaded from Intelink, which is the intelligence community's intranet. And I think one or two of these sheets appeared with a part of the header and the footer printed out, along with the rest of the material that was that had been downloaded and from reconstructing that header and footer. These analysts and agents were able to figure out that these were these pages that had been accessed at a particular time on a particular date, and then they started looking through the servers to see who might have accessed those particular pages from Intelink on that particular day.
NARRATOR: With this new information, they could narrow down their search considerably. Steve was able to instruct the National Security Agency to pinpoint which computers had been used to view that document on Intelink, on that particular date. Two hits came from the NRO - the National Reconnaissance Office. Meanwhile, the staff there had been identifying possible suspects from their own NRO personnel files. Working with a CIA psychiatrist, and based on Steve’s interpretation of the coded letter, they believed they had zoned in on a suspect. Picture a high-stakes game of Guess Who?, but this time the questions are not: Are they wearing a hat? Do they wear glasses? What's more, are they nearing retirement age? Have they had previous financial issues? And crucially, how is their spelling?
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: They saw a lot of spelling mistakes in letters that this person had sent, and that was another confirmation that they were most likely looking at the right person.
NARRATOR: They referred to this suspect - who we now know to be Brian Regan - as 'Cast Led'. Along with his dyslexia, Cast Led had also been a signals analyst, had some basic cryptology training, and had recently retired but would still have been working at the National Reconnaissance Office on the date the document was accessed. Lo and behold, when they looked into the staff who had access to the two NRO computer suites in question, Cast Led, aka Brian Regan, was the common denominator. But at this stage, in Spring 2001, there is much that the investigators still do not know. Primarily, what exactly has been stolen? Where have the stolen documents been hidden? And which other hostile governments have Cast Led attempted to auction off US secrets to? Fast forward to 2008, and by poring over the case files and interviews collected by Steve Carr and his colleagues, Yudhijit was able to map out Brian’s activities from 1999 to the moment he was arrested in 2001.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: He printed out just tons and tons of classified secrets. And he was able to stack up these printouts, put them inside his gym bag at the end of the workday, and then just walk out every day with hundreds of printouts of top-secret, sensitive, classified material. And nobody at the National Reconnaissance Office, nobody thought to stop him or check his bag even once. So that was surprising to me. There was another moment when Brian Regan had gone out of town on assignment and to the NRO. There was a crew that was coming around and collecting furniture, chairs, tables, and desks that were not really in use. And there was this cabinet that they took away. And when they opened it there were stacks of printouts stored inside the cabinet. And instead of talking to security, these guys simply returned these papers to Brian Regan, and Brian Regan continued to steal more and more classified material.
NARRATOR: Since the Autumn of 1999, having smuggled the classified pages and CD-ROMs home, Brian had sorted them into piles pertaining to each country, and stored them in Tupperware boxes in the basement of his house. He planned on burying these boxes in national parks, coding their coordinates so that only he could retrieve them when an enemy government - and for Brian, it really didn’t matter which - had paid him sufficiently for the contents. In the summer of 2000, when his family was out of town, Brian traveled to Pocahontas and Patapsco national parks. Equipped with a shovel, he walked deep into the woodland and buried the packages he’d bundled in rubbish bags. He buried 19 bundles of documents in total.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: You'd think that the government would have better ways of protecting these secrets, but that wasn't the case.
NARRATOR: He’d been stealing these secrets for almost a year, and had gone undetected. How? Well, one of Brian’s secondary duties at the National Reconnaissance Office was maintaining the division’s page on Intelink - the intelligence community's intranet - so it wouldn’t have seemed odd to anyone that he was spending so much time on there. Nobody suspected that he was downloading top-secret files and satellite intelligence on Iran, Iraq, and Libya. To his colleagues, he was a most unlikely spy. Certainly, he lacked the forensic focus and attention to detail we’ve come to expect of our True Spies.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: There were some other amazing moments in the story when Brian Regan decided that one particular package of material was simply too sensitive for him to go out and bury. And so he tried flushing it down the toilet at the motel where he was staying for a couple of nights when he was going out and burying these packages. And of course, that led to the toilet overflowing.
NARRATOR: Which led Yudhijit to question why such a man, with no formal training in tradecraft, was taking such a monumental risk.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: So Brian Regan saw himself as a victim. He saw himself as somebody who never got credit for his intelligence and his contributions to society. So that became an operating theory about his inner life, and his psychological characteristics. And then, once I started to ask his colleagues, his friends from school, from childhood to see if this was true, I started to discover anecdotes and facts about his life that totally supported this profile that I had built based on the case.
NARRATOR: Because of his severe dyslexia, Brian had been bullied and alienated as a child. Marked early on as stupid, Yudhijit determined that Brian had been underestimated all his life. As soon as he left school, Brian joined the Air Force, where he learned about signals intelligence and analysis.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Because of his dyslexia, which manifested as a learning disability because he wasn't such a good reader, he had to come up with other ways of storing information in his mind, other ways of analyzing information than what most people do.
NARRATOR: Brian was able to recognize visual patterns easily, had a brilliant photographic memory, and had exceptional spatial awareness - all things which helped him excel and land a job at the Pentagon plotting Iraqi missile sites during the Gulf War of the early ‘90s. He had become a respected figure amongst his colleagues and family. When he was moved to the National Reconnaissance Office in 1995, his colleagues were assigned more intellectually demanding, less practical tasks, and they looked down on him as a result. His sloppy appearance and poor people skills didn't help matters, and his colleagues often made fun of him. In some ways, Brian was back to being the bullied kid in the playground.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Yes, he was, of course, insecure about his future and he wanted money. But he also wanted to prove to himself that he was smart because of the humiliation that he had suffered all his life. He felt that he wasn't respected enough. And so, there was in Brian Regan's mind this feeling that he would show the world just how smart he was. Of course, he didn't intend to be caught, but he wanted to validate to himself his intelligence and his ability to outwit and outmaneuver the world.
NARRATOR: By the late ’90s, Brian had four children at home and the family were in financial difficulty. They had racked up thousands of dollars of debt on more than 12 credit cards, and things were beginning to spiral out of control. Faced with a posting to Europe and unable to make that change, Brian had no choice but to take early retirement from the NRO. Saying goodbye to a regular paycheque. He panicked. He needed a lot of money to pay his debts, and he needed it yesterday.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: It really takes a lot of fantastical thinking and self-delusion and an enormous amount of chutzpah that's often not based in fact in order to commit this very, very grave crime of espionage. And I suspect that in Brian Regan's case, of course, his psychology and his feeling of being disrespected and humiliated and underestimated all his life, played a huge role in driving him to commit this crime. But I also feel that his inability to connect with friends and have a social life was responsible because I don't think he had many reality checks. Now, I can imagine if Brian Regan had been talking to friends at the time, and if he had expressed this anxiety to some of them, they would have said to him: “Oh no. You know almost everybody that is retired from your position has gotten a fairly comfortable job in the defense industry. There's always going to be a job for you. In fact, why don't you talk to so-and-so?” And I think that if Brian had just had a few things like that happen during his moments of crisis, he would have made different choices. And he wouldn't have brought such misery to himself and his family.
NARRATOR: But Brian Regan made the choices he made. By the time his letters to the Libyan embassy had been intercepted in late 2000, and FBI agent Steve Carr was alerted to the presence of a spy in one of the US agencies, Brian had squirreled away thousands of documents. But crucially, nobody was buying them. What would your next move be? Late in the spring of 2001, the FBI is in the dark about many of the intricacies of Brian’s activities, but it’s clear they need to catch him before he tries his luck again with any other enemy states.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Well, it turns out that surveillance isn't quite as simple as we imagined it to be from having watched movies and dramas on TV because you still have to maintain a certain distance from the subject. The FBI couldn't risk letting Brian Regan become aware that he was being surveilled. And so whenever Brian Regan slipped off into the woods or he was able to shake them off here and there.
NARRATOR: As you’ll know by now, real clandestine work is often less about ‘smash and grab’ and more about ‘wait and see’. And so they waited, and watched, and hoped that Mr. 80% stayed true to form.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: And so, there were agents sort of posted close to his house who were tailing him as he drove to work and so on. But early on in the investigation, there's this one moment when agents watch him go into a public library and the agents follow him into the library, and one of the agents is pretending to read a newspaper. Another one is pretending to read a book as they're watching him. Brian Regan goes and sits down in front of a computer terminal, and he does a bunch of searches. And then, of course, the agents can't get too close to see what he's looking at on the screen. And so they wait. And then Brian Regan finally finishes up his internet session at the computer, gets up and walks out and the agents go and grab that seat to see what he has been looking at. And lo and behold, they find that Brian Regan hasn't closed his browser window. That's like Espionage 101, and he's failed to do that. So the agents are simply able to recover his entire internet browsing history by clicking the back button. And they're able to reconstruct his whole search history. It turns out, he was searching for addresses of Iraqi and Libyan embassies in Europe at this public library terminal so that helped to confirm that Brian Regan was actively in the process of trying to sell information. Clearly he was looking for these addresses because he intended to go there. Brian Regan did, in fact, succeed in leaving the country.
NARRATOR: You heard that right. A man who the FBI believed could be trying to sell classified information to hostile foreign states was able to leave the country whilst under surveillance.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Unfortunately, the FBI found out about him preparing to leave quite late so they weren't able to adequately prepare to watch him the whole time. There are also some legal complications to doing surveillance as an American agency overseas.
NARRATOR: Fortunately, the FBI had some idea where he was going because Brian had left a map of Switzerland behind on the subway. Unbelievably, he’d ripped out the section which encompassed the city of Bern, and in effect left a trail of breadcrumbs for the Bureau.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: It was, later on, discovered Brian Regan did, in fact, visit the Libyan embassy in Bern, Switzerland. He, in fact, made contact with Libyan intelligence there. But because he wasn't savvy about how to establish this relationship, he wasn't taken seriously by Libyan intelligence and they threw him out of the embassy. The fact that he had no knowledge of tradecraft, that he had no knowledge of how actual real spies operate, how they establish communications with another government, another intelligence service. He had keenly studied some espionage cases. In fact, that's what he was doing on Intelink later on, agents discovered from going through the history of his searches. They saw that Brian Regan had actually been studying up on a number of espionage cases, including the Robert Hanssen case, which was unfolding right when the FBI started to track Brian Regan. So that was perhaps a stroke of good luck for the FBI.
NARRATOR: Steve Carr, the special agent leading the FBI investigation, realizes that they need a new plan. He comes up with one, but it’s bold. Very bold.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: By the summer of 2001, investigators knew for sure that Brian Regan was the traitor who had sent that offer to commit espionage to the Libyan consulate. They could have just swooped down and arrested him but then they might not have been able to prove the case against him. And they really wanted to prosecute Brian Regan. They needed to collect more evidence. At this point, Brian Regan had already retired from the NRO, but he was looking to return to the NRO as a contractor. He was waiting for his security clearance to be reinstated so that he could join this company.
NARRATOR: So, Steve drops in on the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Keith Hall, and says…
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: “Look, we know that this guy has stolen tons of classified information from your agency and he has hidden it somewhere. We don't know where. And he's trying to sell it to Libya, to Iraq. So the only way to do that is to let him come back to the NRO because we are confident that he is going to try and steal more information. And that way, we'll be able to catch him red-handed in the act of committing espionage.” Keith Hall thought about this. Many of his advisors in the senior management of the NROs said: “No way, you can't let a traitor back into our building. I mean, that's a huge risk. We can't do that.” But Keith Hall understood that without doing this, without cooperating with the FBI, there was perhaps no way of really figuring out what Brian Regan had taken and undoing the damage that he had probably done. And so Keith Hall, much to Steve Carr's relief, agreed with this plan and said: “You have a limited few months within which to conclude this case.” And he approved reinstating Brian Regan's clearance. Brian Regan came back to work at the NRO and immediately started to download information that he wasn't supposed to download.
NARRATOR: Brian had been thrown a life vest. His debts were now threatening to drown him completely, and here was another chance to spirit away a cache of documents for an even bigger target. He set his sights on China. All Steve and his colleagues could do was to sit and watch, while this wannabe spy stole classified state secrets. Could Brian Regan slip through their hands again? A camera the size of a credit card chip sat innocuously above Brian Regan’s desk, lodged in the ceiling plaster, watching him surf the Intelink, clicking through decades worth of Chinese military secrets and areas identified by the US as holding Chinese weapons of mass destruction.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: The FBI was watching him constantly, monitoring his every keystroke at his workstation. They could record his every move. So that's how they collected the last bits of evidence that they needed in order to arrest Brian Regan.
NARRATOR: The surveillance team watched him scribble down notes before attempting to destroy them in the department’s burn bag. The notes were retrieved and related directly to the coordinates of the images Brian had perused. Within a couple of weeks, Regan put in a holiday request. He said that was taking his family on vacation to Orlando. The FBI could see that he had, in fact, booked a flight for one to Frankfurt - no Mickey Mouse in sight. Steve Carr knew they had to detain him before he boarded the plane. On August 23, 2001, the net finally closed in on Regan.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Brian was simply too adamant to accept that he had no way out of being convicted. And he always thought that he was smarter than the rest, whereas the fact was that he wasn't quite as smart as he thought he was.
NARRATOR: Brian was convinced that he had done enough to cover his tracks, and indeed at the time of his trial in Spring 2003, the prosecutors still didn’t know how exactly he’d smuggled the secrets out of the NRO, where he’d hidden them and how many he had in his possession. They estimated around 8,000 documents, but Brian knew it was nearer to 20,000. Despite facing the death penalty, he refused to put in a guilty plea. Instead, Brian set about smuggling letters out of prison, instructing his wife, Anette, on ways to help strengthen his defense and ultimately earning her a charge for perverting the course of justice.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Even though his defense attorney wasn't able to help me, in the end, she was able to confirm several of these characteristics and patterns of behavior that I had reported.
NARRATOR: In Spring 2003, just before the United States went to war with Iraq - another country Brian Regan had planned to sell secrets to - Brian was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. With his wife still facing criminal charges, Brian gave up the fight and agreed to help Steve put the final pieces of the puzzle together. Using his key - the NRO staff phone list which Regan had on him at the time of his arrest - Brian helped direct Steve to the first 12 packages. Steve and his team were shocked at the mistakes Brian had made.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: He was so careless that he left one of his Post-it notes with the name Brian Regan written on it. He let one of these Post-it notes stick to one of these garbage bags. And so if somebody had found it, then you know that would have been a clue as to who the perpetrator of this crime was.
NARRATOR: Mr. 80% strikes again.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: Similarly, he had constructed this elaborate code to hide the coordinates of the locations where he had buried these parcels. But then he forgot the key to his own code. You can imagine if Brian Regan hadn't been caught, then there could have been a scenario where he was in contact with Libyan intelligence agents and maybe they had even paid him money. And then he was sitting somewhere scratching his head, thinking about how to break his own code.
NARRATOR: And this is where Dan Olson, the cryptanalyst that had first alerted Yudhijit to this story, comes in. When it came to the final seven packages, Brian couldn’t remember how he’d used that particular key - this time, his junior yearbook. Dan was drafted in to help him crack it. They managed it, but some of the coordinates were off. Steve Carr knew there were still troves of top-secret documents out there for anyone to uncover, but his dogged sense of duty meant there was no let-up in the search. There was only one thing left to try.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: It was at some risk of losing his own reputation that Steve Carr was able to persuade his supervisors to talk to the highest levels of government to let Brian Regan come out escorted, of course, and in handcuffs to come out to this forest in Maryland and help the agents in locating the packages. And so when that actually worked out, when the FBI was able to dig up the last few packages because of Brian Regan's tremendous visual memory, almost savant-like ability to remember where he had buried things, Steve Carr was extremely relieved. I had the good fortune of seeing a couple of videos that had been shot by the FBI during these search operations with Brian Regan. And I remember this one scene after a package was found and Steve Kerr sort of exults and turns to Brian and says: “See Brian, look what you did.” Implying that: “Look, you helped us find this last package.” And Brian Regan was just leaning against a tree looking downcast and there was just so much sadness on his face at that moment. So I have no doubt that while Steve Carr felt relieved that he had been able to dig up the last packages, he also felt some sympathy for Brian Regan. I also felt sad for Brian Regan because I learned so much about his life. And I realized that if things had gone slightly differently for him Brian Regan would be living a happy life today. He had no reason to be so anxious about his financial future and jeopardize his life in the way that he did. That was a really bad judgment call on his part. And I felt that it was because he just probably felt so alone.
NARRATOR: You’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘bad judgment call’ is an understatement. The potential damage this information could have done in the wrong hands is hard to quantify. But Yudhijit gleaned from Steve Carr that some of the documents could have caused an intelligence disaster on an unparalleled scale. Ultimately, had Brian Regan had a little more tradecraft in his arsenal, and if he’d been able to successfully make covert contact with enemy officials, there’s a high chance he’d have been successful in his mission.
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: He was smarter than others thought he was, but he wasn't as clever as he himself thought himself to be.
NARRATOR: Brian Regan will spend the rest of his life behind bars for attempted espionage against his own country. As for Yudhijit…
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: This was my first book. I've written another book since. It taught me a lot about humanity, about loyalty to one's country, and it taught me a lot about investigative journalism. It taught me a lot about intelligence-gathering because I felt like - because I didn't have access to Brian Regan - I had to turn over every rock to find tidbits of information about him to finally sketch him out as a real person. So it was an incredible experience writing this book.
NARRATOR: But what of FBI Special Agent Steve Carr, who led this investigation and successfully retrieved all of the secrets which were stolen?
YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE: In 2015, as I was writing the last few chapters of the book, what really amazed me was Steve's commitment to the story because this was his legacy case. And because he had given me word that he was going to help me write this book that even when he was in-between chemotherapy sessions, he was feeble. He had to be on oxygen. And yet he would always make time for me and try to answer my questions. What Steve went through in helping me is something that I'm never going to forget and I'll forever remain in his debt. It also showed me the character of Steve Carr, that he was so driven by a sense of purpose. He talked to me, answered my questions, got on the phone several times a day simply because of the promise that he had made, and he knew that I had quit my day job in order to write this book. So he knew what it meant to me personally.
NARRATOR: Steve Carr died in 2015, at the age of 53. He was diligent in his duty, until the very end. To learn more about the intricacies of this case be sure to read The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, by Yudhijit Bhattarchee. I’m Vanessa Kirby.
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is a journalist and contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic and other publications. He is also the author of The Spy Who Couldn't Spell, the story of the Brian Regan espionage case.