The Wilderness of Mirrors

The Wilderness of Mirrors

In the dying days of the Cold War, the West is on the verge of victory but the Soviet Union's feared secret service, the KGB, won't give up without a fight. Sophia Di Martino and former US Army Intelligence officer Aden Magee tell the story of a mind-bending game of cat-and-mouse, played out on the streets of 1980s Munich.
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True Spies, Episode 191: The Wilderness of Mirrors

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Sophia Di Martino, and this is True Spies, from SPYSCAPE Studios. The Wilderness of Mirrors.

ADEN MAGEE: We categorize this event as a counterintelligence Black Swan because it is nothing that any counterintelligence agent at that time or even to this day has ever been trained to anticipate or has ever found themselves in the middle of.

NARRATOR: December 1989. In the freezing depths of a West German Winter, a US counterintelligence surveillance team is quietly pursuing a mother and her son on the streets of Munich. Operation Lance Blade is go. 

ADEN MAGEE: We referred to the mother as ‘Lance Blade’, and we referred to the son as ‘Son of Blade’. In surveillance terms, the mother was Zulu 1 and the son was Zulu 2. Zulu 1 was a heavyset woman in her early 60s, wore a very heavy, dark wig, and she always wore the same fake fur coat during the winter months so she was very distinguishable. The son, on the other hand - Zulu 2 - was just in his early 40s, overweight, balding, pretty unremarkable individual.

NARRATOR: The Operation Support Team - or OST - has been tracking them for less than a week since receiving the case. 

ADEN MAGEE: The first Saturday of the operation, we were in our stakeout positions and X-Ray 1 departed the residence at about 10 in the morning and went directly to the autobahn, traveling south toward Austria. 

NARRATOR: X-Ray 1 is the codename for the mother and son’s car. West Germany and Austria have an open border, and all license plates are recorded entering and leaving. The records show they’ve been driving this same route, every weekend, for months. When they’re not making cross-border excursions, they both work in the US Army intelligence facility McGraw Kaserne in Munich, the center of American intelligence in Europe. They are being tailed, on this cold December morning, because those same US intelligence services are beginning to suspect this mother and son of switching sides, possibly to the KGB. 

ADEN MAGEE: So the prospect that there were two KGB agents within one of these organizations was of extremely high interest to the Army at the time. 

NARRATOR: But why are Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 driving toward Austria? The OST knows that face-to-face meetings are standard procedure for the KGB.

ADEN MAGEE: When they crossed into Austria, we had to terminate the operation and disengage. Austria is a neutral country. They don't allow foreign intelligence services to operate in their country. Now, of course, the KGB and other Eastern agencies don't abide by that rule, but the NATO countries normally did.

NARRATOR: So great is the threat that Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 represent, that the OST apply for special clearance to cross the border and operate in the neutral territory. It’s granted. The next weekend the targets leave their apartment in X-Ray 1. They cross into Austria while two surveillance vehicles follow.

ADEN MAGEE: They went in, about 30 minutes into the country, stopped at a roadside cafe, and had a meal. Of course, this was 1989, so people were smoking cigarettes and brought their pets to the restaurant as well. 

NARRATOR: This must be it. This dimly lit, smokey, wood-paneled restaurant is surely where they’ll observe Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 handing over classified information to their KGB counterparts. The surveillance team orders Wiener Schnitzel, fries, and beer to fit in and await their catch. They light cigarettes, shift in their creaky, uncomfortable chairs, and make small talk. All the while, they watch their suspects.

ADEN MAGEE: They didn't have any unusual contact. The people working in the shop knew them. They had been there before. They got up, paid their check, got into X-Ray 1, traveled directly to Munich, gassed up their car, and then went home. 

NARRATOR: No one joins them at their table. No envelopes are left on their seats. No phone calls are made from the phone booth outside. Nothing. 

ADEN MAGEE: We didn't see any indication that that was an operational meet or exchange of information in any way. 

NARRATOR: It’s marked down as a decoy day. It is, after all, textbook tradecraft to establish regular, completely innocuous, travel patterns - to mask the very few trips where a meeting actually occurs. How else to explain this anticlimactic meal in a quiet cafe? These two figures work at the very center of US intelligence. The Army counterintelligence unit has it on good authority that they are working with the KGB. And the operation to catch them has just become the highest priority for the US Department of Defense. Little does the team know how strange things will become. To unravel the mystery, meet the spy leading the case. 

ADEN MAGEE: My name is Aden McGee. I was the commander of a specialized strategic intelligence element that was responsible for counterintelligence coverage of the Soviet military liaison mission. 

NARRATOR: I’ll explain more about what that means soon. For now, all you need to know is that Aden works for INSCOM - the elite US Army Intelligence and Security Command.

ADEN MAGEE: We would conduct physical surveillance, we would conduct technical surveillance, and run agent operations. 

NARRATOR: The Operation Lance Blade file had been gathering dust for 30 years until it was recently declassified. Still, it might never have resurfaced at all were it not for the persistence of Aden and his team. Three decades after the fact, it remains one of the most vivid assignments of his career.

ADEN MAGEE: It's unfortunate that we're learning these lessons 30-plus years later when we could have learned those very same lessons at the time that the event occurred. 

NARRATOR: Some spy missions have a clear goal, a known target, an end game. Others are constructed to confuse, deceive, and delude the enemy. Nowhere was the latter practice more prevalent than in post-war Germany. Following World War II, Germany was occupied by the British, French, and Americans in the West, and the Soviets in the East. It was against this backdrop that the notion of the ‘Military liaison mission’ was born. This reciprocal agreement, between East and West, allowed small numbers of intelligence officers into each other’s territory - ostensibly to foster better relations between the two German sides.

ADEN MAGEE: Of course, any time the Soviets had a platform in a Western country, they would use that as a residency to conduct clandestine HUMINT operations or other covert activities within the country.

NARRATOR: HUMINT - or ‘human intelligence’ - quickly becomes the bread and butter of KGB operations in the area. From day one, their aim is twofold: to develop assets in critical positions of insight or influence, and to scramble the efforts of the enemy’s own intelligence services. The Soviets are masters of the so-called Deception Theory. 

ADEN MAGEE: Basically what this is, is a method of deceiving and misleading adversarial intelligence services. So this would be either a false agent or false defector or if they knew that we were able to intercept communications, they could feed us false information in that way. However, there also needs to be a second channel of communication that can provide feedback regarding how well that deception story is being accepted by the competing intel services. 

NARRATOR: Deception Theory is an intricate web within a labyrinth, and that second channel of communication ensures the Agency putting the deception out there, isn’t themselves being deceived. 

ADEN MAGEE: A key component of the deception theory is that they will feed false information to keep adversarial counterintelligence off the trail of their most valuable agents.

NARRATOR: By the peak of the Cold War, US intelligence channels are regularly flooded with disinformation, manipulation tactics, and measures that misdirect. The Allies struggled to understand the Soviet mindset; “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” was how Winston Churchill described their ways of operating. 

ADEN MAGEE: The Army realized how important it was to have a sophisticated, dedicated surveillance capability to support counterrespionage investigations. West Germany was the center of gravity for espionage activity. 

NARRATOR: Surveillance - spying - and countersurveillance - spies watching the spies. James Angleton, the long-standing CIA chief of counterintelligence during the Cold War, describes Soviet involvement in Europe as “a wilderness of mirrors”. “In this wilderness,” he continues “with each additional mirror added, it then becomes increasingly difficult to know where the next reflection begins, and where that one ends.” By late 1989, The Cold War is cooling off. Maybe for good. The Berlin Wall lies in rubble. The East German Stasi - the secret spy organization who keep the state in control - is losing influence, and the Soviet Union’s economy has entered a death spiral. Politicians speak of a brave new age of peace and connection. But for Cold Warriors like Aden, it isn’t as simple as that.

ADEN MAGEE: For those of us who were in the ditches fighting the knife fight with the Russians, it was as intense of a time as ever. The KGB was taking actions that didn't support the narrative of the central government. 

NARRATOR: Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian premier, wants to improve relations with the West and to implement Glasnost - an open and transparent government. Ironically, he begins to see Russia’s long-time enemies as their last remaining hope.

ADEN MAGEE: The West was the only thing that was going to keep them from total collapse.

NARRATOR: Behind the scenes, hardliners are doing all they can to sabotage glasnost. Most notably, the KGB. Diplomacy is not how they do things. They are poking the United States on all fronts to keep the dying embers of the Cold War alight. Aden and INSCOM - the elite US Army Intelligence and Security Command - see dangers everywhere; dormant KGB assets suddenly activated for this last battle, communications channels flooded with both legitimate intelligence; and dangerous disinformation. Aden’s unit is sent to Munich to keep track of the threats. His most pressing priority? To catch the mother and son handing over US military intelligence to the KGB. 

ADEN MAGEE: So these were, from our perspective, known, identified KGB agents, which made it automatically a Priority One category investigation, and also the fact that they were located in the proximity of the main counterintelligence and intelligence headquarters in Munich. 

NARRATOR: The information on Zulu 1 and 2 comes from a “highly credible source” run by the CIA. Deeming this intelligence of critical importance, they have passed it to Army counterintelligence - or Army CI - which is how it lands on Aden’s desk. He has the resources, the capabilities, and the men ready to put this operation into practice. As he glances over the file, he is immediately intrigued by Blade and Son of Blade. The mother and son work in the US intelligence center McGraw Kaserne. 

ADEN MAGEE: This was the biggest headquarters for these types of operations in all of Europe. 

NARRATOR: Military personnel, equipment, soldier’s names and where they’re located, the names of spies and operatives, defectors, handlers, information about the military operations themselves, even the names of secret organizations - it was all located in this building. It was the deepest strategic intelligence trove on the continent. It would be an unimaginable catastrophe if any of this information got into the wrong hands - such as two KGB assets who worked on the premises. Aden’s team of 12 operatives wastes no time in getting to work. 

ADEN MAGEE: Luckily at the time they discovered that they did not operate or work in the headquarters, but they managed a retail chain of stores throughout the theater. 

NARRATOR: Well, hang on a minute… Working inside the headquarters of military intelligence is very different to working near it. These two aren’t cleared to handle sensitive information; they’re changing receipt rolls and ordering soda restocks. Can they really be such a threat? But remember, the CIA is dead certain of the danger these two represent. Zulu 1 & 2 must be part of a wider operation - using their proximity to the center to work with a mole on the inside. This could be even more far-reaching than they’d imagined. The OST changes tack and starts to build a new case with a new focus: catch the mole. 

ADEN MAGEE: Every counterespionage investigation is given a nondescript cover name so that it can be talked about in unclassified channels. 

NARRATOR: August 1989, and Operation Lance Blade is fully operational. 

ADEN MAGEE: The word Lance told us it was a priority investigation. And then Blade is just a nondescript second term that is put on there. It could have been Lance Dagger, it could have been Lance Knife. Always something deadly.

NARRATOR: Aden leads one of the most sophisticated surveillance teams the US Army CI has. He’s 30 years old and stays on top of events from the team’s base - and comms center - in a local hotel suite. The rest of his operational team are in their 20s. They are using state-of-the-art equipment, with broadcast radio systems, coils in the roof lining of the cars to pick up signals, and concealed body communications with push-to-talk transmission buttons. 

ADEN MAGEE: They were encrypted, frequency-hopping communication so everybody was on the same channel. When one operator would transmit information, all six vehicles and all 12 team members would hear that same information simultaneously. And at this time, there was actually the 1G network in Germany, so we did have what we refer to today as cell telephones. But those were normally our backup communications when individuals or vehicles were out of range for radio communications. 

NARRATOR: Phase One of Operation Lance Blade is to observe Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 and catch them in the act of espionage: meeting with somebody from the headquarters or collecting and passing on information, possibly in a dead drop. Even taking it to Austria. Remember, the KGB is becoming increasingly erratic and disobeying their Communist Party leaders. They’re going to do whatever it takes to keep the Cold War alive. Aden’s team doesn’t yet know how far these agents are prepared to go. Particularly with their proximity to the US military-strategic center. 

ADEN MAGEE: So Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 lived in an apartment. And this was your standard West German urban landscape. It was a two-story building. On the first floor were shops, and on the second floor were the apartments where the Zulus lived. They also had an enclosed parking garage on the block. 

NARRATOR: Their residence - a square city block opposite a main thoroughfare - is surrounded by the elite spy team, located at surveillance detection points - or SDPs. Parking limitations and narrow roads mean they can’t view the flat 24 hours a day without arousing suspicion from the neighbors, but they’re establishing a coherent picture of the domestic life the mother and son are purporting to lead. Cameras and microphones have also been secretly installed in their offices at work. If the mother and son sneeze, the team is going to know about it. 

ADEN MAGEE: The first week of the operation was a very mundane operation. They would leave their apartment precisely at 07:30 in the morning, and drive directly to work. We would watch them go into their office, we'd monitor their activities during the day, and then at precisely 17:00 in the afternoon, they would come out of the building and go home. Once in a while, they would make one stop along the way for gas or for groceries. 

NARRATOR: A foot operator, code-named Boris, receives the call that Zulu 1 & 2 have left work, and is dropped off to wait in the parking garage next to their apartment. He is there to confirm their arrival and follows a strict code Rule Number One of surveillance: never break cover.

ADEN MAGEE: Even if you know that you're not within detection range of the target of the surveillance, you always maintain cover because countersurveillance could be there any time. 

NARRATOR: Countersurveillance. Spies watching spies. Aden’s team could themselves be being watched by an unknown entity. The KGB’s vast network of operatives specializes in these covert and clandestine activities. 

ADEN MAGEE: And there is even something called counter-counter surveillance. The KGB would conduct this type of activity in support of any of its agents in the area. And this is certainly something that we, as a surveillance element, we're always conscious of. 

NARRATOR: Boris has all of this in his mind, as he awaits his marks. Once X-Ray 1 arrives at the residence, they travel down two short, narrow roads - where surveillance is impossible - before entering the garage. It will be unsighted, unobserved - very briefly - between the stakeout surveillance cars and Boris, waiting in the car park. 

ADEN MAGEE: But based on the fact that we didn't have to commit vehicles down those roads, it was viewed as acceptable risk. 

NARRATOR: From his hiding place in the shadows of the small parking garage, when Boris eyes them, he calls it in, discreetly, out of sight, using his push-to-talk body communications. Aden receives the signal loud and clear back at the hotel: “X-Ray 1 sighted. X-Ray 1 sighted.” Aden makes a note of the time - it’s the same as always, give or take a minute or two. At this point in the operation, any kind of deviation from the mother and son’s daily existence would have raised suspicion and interest. 

ADEN MAGEE: But again, we didn't see anything that looked unusual. 

NARRATOR: Every day, the duo arrive home just before sunset.

ADEN MAGEE: And we would not see them again until the next morning. So it was kind of unusual that the son and mother not only lived together, but they essentially spent all of their time together as well. 

NARRATOR: The only time they’re apart is when they’re at the office - the video feed confirms this. In December 1989 the first phase of Lance Blade is terminated and evaluated. Beyond the mother and son’s curious domestic situation, and their regular travel pattern - the trips to work, and to Austria at the weekends - nothing of note has been observed. But moving into Phase 2, if they’re to follow Zulu 1 and 2 over the holidays - when the roads are quieter - it’s of the utmost importance that their surveillance vehicles blend in.

ADEN MAGEE: The key to an effective surveillance operation is that your personnel and your vehicles blend in in the operational area because in Germany back then, which is now still the case, the license plates for vehicles had one, two, or three letters which identified the city or township that they were located in. So obviously if you're operating in Munich, you're going to stand out if you have Stuttgart or Frankfurt license plates

NARRATOR: It’s unusual for the West German intelligence services to be brought into a US CI operation this early. They’re normally the people you call in at the end of a mission.

ADEN MAGEE: Which was a considerable operational security risk, because, obviously, anybody is going to know that US counterintelligence is ramping up for a pretty significant surveillance operation in that town because we had 10 to 15 vehicles. We had to get at least 10 license plates. 

NARRATOR: But the cat was already out of the bag. The BfV - the West German counterintelligence service - had learned of the surveillance operation through their own channels. 

ADEN MAGEE: We had been told by the CIA that they were already aware, so any damage there had been done.

NARRATOR: In which case, you may as well turn it to your advantage and bring them into the fold. A month later - in January 1990 - the East German Stasi is disbanded, as Phase Two of Operation Lance Blade begins. Authorization to enter Austria is granted, and we’re back where we started this story. The smoky cafe, the quiet meal. Aden and his team had been certain they’d catch Zulus 1 and 2 in the act, but they were once again outsmarted by the mother and son. Aden sits back in his chair at the hotel base and takes off his headphones, frustrated. Time is running out on Operation Lance Blade; he needs to show his bosses something. He believes he’s about to move on to another mission with more promise. But he ponders, something definitely isn’t adding up about these two. One crisp winter evening, back at work, the mother and son are surveilled following their routine.

ADEN MAGEE: They exit their office building at exactly 17:00. As was always the case, we had established our stakeout box around the Kaserne. 

NARRATOR: Their timing is, as always, to the minute. 

ADEN MAGEE: We followed them home. It appeared as though it was a standard trip home. 

NARRATOR: But then - six weeks into following them - they do something that the team hasn’t seen before. 

ADEN MAGEE: They made a first stop at a small grocery store, which was not unusual. Then they continue on the way home, they made a stop at another store, a pharmacy. This was the first time that they made two stops on the way home at any given time. 

NARRATOR: It might not sound like much - but monitoring the repetitive lifestyle of Zulu 1 & 2 - this represents a major divergence. Foot operators are immediately sent to the pharmacy with them. The boss on the ground - the Sierra Charlie - is informed. Aden’s communications channel back at the hotel is lighting up. They wait. The Zulus stay in the pharmacy for quite some time but no suspicious activity is recorded. Eventually, they return to X-Ray 1 and continue home. They normally arrive just before sunset, but tonight they’ll be getting home after dark.

ADEN MAGEE: Boris was dropped off to await X-Ray 1. And, as was the standard for the follows-home, as X-Ray 1 turned right off of the main thoroughfare down the small road, the surveillance vehicle that was following behind informed the team of this turn. And so X-Ray 1 was unsighted at this point. 

NARRATOR: X-Ray 1 is in the blind spot down the narrow road. The team are waiting for Boris to sight the mother and son. Silence. The team notices the streets have more cars parked on them than usual. The shops are closed. The heaters blow in the cars. Aden listens intently to the surveillance feed in his headphones. 

ADEN MAGEE: Boris continued to tell the team “X-Ray 1 unsighted. X-Ray 1 unsighted”. 

NARRATOR: The journey is taking longer than it should. Something is wrong. Aden’s heartbeat quickens. He wants action. 

ADEN MAGEE: A surveillance car was sent down that road to try to identify where X-Ray 1 was. X-Ray 1 was parked on the side of the road, but Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 were no longer in the vehicle and Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 were unsighted. 

NARRATOR: They’ve gone, and the OST can’t track them. Surveillance is hours of the mundane interrupted by seconds of chaos. The mother and son targeted in Operation Lance Blade have driven home from work, and are temporarily out of sight down the narrow road near their residence. X-Ray 1 - their car - is abandoned; parked up, lights off, doors closed. For the first time since the operation began, Aden has no idea where his targets are, and some of his operatives are silent. But the OST is trained to act on instinct. 

ADEN MAGEE: So they implemented a Lost Contact procedure, which is basically, they know based on the time that has elapsed since the Zulus were last sighted. They begin dropping operators along the routes in which they would have been traveling. And then those operators backtrack toward the vehicle and they would have logically found Zulu 1 or Zulu 2. So as that procedure was being put in place, Boris was maintaining his position at the corner. 

NARRATOR: Visibility is clear on the streets. Shop windows and car windscreens reflect the moonlight. It’s near freezing. Boris can see his breath in front of him as he zips up his leather jacket. The other operators discreetly scour the area. Boris - upon hearing X-Ray 1 is abandoned - casually walks to the corner near the shopfronts and stops. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a figure walking toward him. Don’t. Break. Cover. He starts walking to the thoroughfare so as not to appear as if he’s loitering. Boris and the mysterious pedestrian walk past each other, eyes down. Boris has never seen this person before. 

ADEN MAGEE: He looks back to see that the pedestrian now has taken up the position where he had been. And when the pedestrian saw Boris look back at his position he [became] animated, started looking at his watch, walking around in a circle as though he was there waiting for somebody to pick him up. So this little bit of overacting by ‘The Pedestrian’ was the first indicator that this scenario was going to kind of play out unusually. 

NARRATOR: Boris can’t speak to ‘The Pedestrian’ as his American accent will give him away. He can’t communicate with his team as that would look suspicious. Don’t. Break. Cover. Aden wants a visual on Boris. Is he okay? All of sudden, on the other side of the road, another figure appears as if from nowhere, outside of the shop windows below the mother and son’s apartment. Boris’ focus changes. He doesn’t know who this person is and he carries on walking. As he nears this new figure, they turn to look in the shop window. He acts as if nothing is happening, but his blood runs cold. 

ADEN MAGEE: He can identify that this is that very noticeable profile of Zulu 1; the large wig, the heavy set, the large fur coat. He's not able to inform the team that he's identified Zulu 1 because he was too close to her to make that call. 

NARRATOR: Her presence can’t be broadcast across the comms system. How did she get here? It would have been impossible for her to have walked from X-Ray 1 without having been seen first by other surveillance operators. What is happening? Boris is now isolated from the rest of the team and in possible danger. He looks across again at the shop window.

ADEN MAGEE: And what Boris saw was the face of a much younger, much fitter individual, than Zulu 1. So he immediately understood that this was a Zulu 1 lookalike, a decoy for whatever reason, something that would have never been anticipated in this type of an operation. 

NARRATOR: Their eyes catch each other in the reflection. Don’t. Break. Cover. He carries on walking to the main thoroughfare. Meanwhile, the operators can’t find the real Zulu 1, or Zulu 2, anywhere. Aden believes they’ve been picked up by another car and rushed out of the area. They also don’t know where this decoy has come from. Boris understands, implicitly, that the operation is going south. In the midst of the chaos, he’s totally exposed.

ADEN MAGEE: He hears footsteps behind him and he looks back to see that ‘The Pedestrian’ is now walking very quickly behind him and closing distance. The decoy Zulu 1 begins to cross the road at an angle in an accelerated pace that if all three of them had maintained, the two - now known to be adversarial operatives - would have pinched Boris. 

NARRATOR: Boris is walking into a hornet’s nest. From the OST’s observations so far, they know that the real Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 would not have been trained to operate like this. But Boris isn’t dealing with the real Zulus. Sensing danger, he breaks his only hard and fast rule. 

ADEN MAGEE: He broke cover and accelerated his pace to get away from the two adversarial agents and inform the team of what was going on. 

NARRATOR: The fact that Boris caught sight of the decoy, means their objective - whatever that may be - has been thwarted. He gets out, calls in the hostile presence to the Sierra Charlie on his body comms, to Aden back at the hotel, and then removes himself from the area. Aden is relieved he’s okay. The team sight three or four other suspicious individuals in the area, and the operation is immediately terminated. The hunters had become the hunted.

ADEN MAGEE: And so the vehicles began picking up their foot operators and they left the operational area. 

NARRATOR: The team meet back up with Aden at the hotel base. Brown carpets, gray tables, and drab suits. The room fills with cigarette smoke. Aden asks Boris what happened, but he can’t comprehend it just yet.

ADEN MAGEE: Everybody knew that what we had run into was something that had never been seen before, never experienced, and even to the point where, unfortunately, the surveillance team reported to case management that night that they had encountered a hostile countersurveillance because that was the only frame of reference they had with which to place what had occurred.

NARRATOR: Spies watching the spies. The hostile team knew the blind spots of the operation, they knew where to park X-Ray 1. They knew how to get Zulu 1 and Zulu 2 away from the area. They knew how to isolate Boris. But who are these people? The Stasi is no more. It can’t be them. Had they stepped on a West German operation? No, that’s quickly debunked with a phone call. It has to be the KGB. They were the only organization left in town that could staff and undertake such an effort. 

ADEN MAGEE: What Boris encountered with the two adversarial operatives was not a countersurveillance operation. It’s some type of what we would refer to as an ‘active measure’ that was executed for purposes that will probably forever remain unknown.

NARRATOR: Tradecraft laws suggest that the two stops on the way home - the grocery store and then the pharmacy - must have been the trigger for the chaos that ensued. 

ADEN MAGEE: It was likely that there were adversarial agents at those locations to confirm that in fact there was a surveillance taking place of the Zulus and probably at that second location the countersurveillance team provided some type of a signal, whether it be a Coke can on a park bench or an ‘X’ marking on a mailbox, or whatever the case may be, gave them some type of a signal to go ahead and execute the mission as planned, where they would stop the vehicle and depart and be unsighted to the surveillance team. 

NARRATOR: This is Deception Theory at work. The OST had been chasing a red herring, all along. Hurling its precious resources at a problem that had never existed in the first place. But how had the KGB put together such a dazzling wilderness of mirrors? The answer seemed to lie with West German intelligence, the same agency who’d secured the OST’s Munich license plates.

ADEN MAGEE: There was one individual named Klaus Kuron. He was a deputy for counterintelligence. I had met with him a couple of times. But again, anybody who was anybody within the BfV at the time was very aware that we were getting ramped up for a very big surveillance operation within the Munich area. 

NARRATOR: The second-highest officer in command at the BfV had eyes across all operations. 

ADEN MAGEE: For the previous nine years. Klaus Kuron had been operating as a Stasi agent, of course the KGB's strongest partner, and was providing all the information about coordination with US counterintelligence operations. 

NARRATOR: Klaus is arrested months after Lance Blade terminates. The CIA confirms he’s the one who authorized the number plates and registrations for the operation, and he confesses to passing on compromising details of BfV support to the KGB. He also admits to planting ‘fictitious tips’ to deceive and misdirect West German and partner intel services. So much for the vaunted ‘credible source’.

ADEN MAGEE: He certainly was that second channel of information, providing information back to the KGB, that the deception was in fact having the desired effect.

NARRATOR: The US Army counterintelligence unit concludes it was a victim of countersurveillance and closes the case. They don’t speak directly to Klaus. The data and evidence is ignored. No lessons are learned.

ADEN MAGEE: So we all kind of moved on in the business of catching spies and conducting operations. This has certainly been one of those that I've dwelled on for years and years because there were so many unanswered questions.

NARRATOR: Aden classifies it as a Black Swan event - something that is impossible to predict, has no known precedent, but in retrospect appears inevitable. The mother and son at the center of this whole affair may well have been oblivious to the dangerous game they were involved in. They probably enjoyed the drive across the border, seeing the locals and friends at the restaurant, eating some nice food. The more the OST observed the pair, the less likely candidates they seemed for espionage. They were easy to follow, unchanging in their routines, entirely oblivious to the surveillance they had been subjected to. And yet - such was the wilderness of mirrors in the dying days of the Cold War - all of this was taken as further proof of their treachery. Evidence that they must be very important spies, after all.

ADEN MAGEE: The KGB was lucky in that they provided a scenario that fed US counterintelligence that was going to lead them to their mole in the headquarters. So as you break it down, it's got a lot of flaws and is unbelievable. But you can see the fact that it came from a credible intelligence service, you can see the chain of logic.

NARRATOR: The OST is one of only two US units built with this level of sophistication and staff. By misdirecting their attention with this Kafkaesque wild goose chase, what other legitimate dangers might have slipped through the net? 

ADEN MAGEE: For whatever reason, on that one night, Zulu 1 Zulu, 2 were told to park and just walk away from their car. 

NARRATOR: The bait had been set, the trap unleashed, and their work was done. The KGB played their hand. 

ADEN MAGEE: Why the KGB would compromise such a successful deception operation for that purpose indicates that whatever was supposed to have taken place during that night, whatever was supposed to have happened with Boris, had a higher purpose in this very effective deception operation, which is the more confounding part of the issue. Harm to a US service member on West German soil would have been the type of event that would have probably raised to the level of a political issue.

NARRATOR: The KGB was intent on creating international outrage, pushing the US back into heightened Cold War political paranoia, and giving themselves increased purpose. Perhaps the symbolic purpose of their operation was to demonstrate, one last time, who truly ruled the streets of Cold War Europe.

ADEN MAGEE: We knew at the time the KGB had a black bag of tricks such as poison-tipped umbrellas, lipstick guns, and cigarette case guns. 

NARRATOR: They liked playing games, they liked creating mirrors and plenty of reflections and distractions. This is - in hindsight - the classic Soviet mindset. The KGB was the most ruthlessly effective and feared intelligence and counterintelligence organization the world has ever seen. They were unleashing aggressive, overt, and confusing counterintelligence methods that ultimately failed to reignite US paranoia around their old enemies. Aden lives in a need-to-know world, and once the file was closed and passed on to the West Germans, he no longer needed to know. But even now, 30 years departed from that wilderness of mirrors, he still catches himself reflecting. Puzzling over what actually went down that night in Munich. I’m Sophia Di Martino. Next time on True Spies, you’ll hear the story of two ex-CIA officers who evacuated Iraqi Christians from war-torn Erbil.

Guest Bio

Aden Magee is a retired US Army officer who has worked as a consultant to senior executives in the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and FBI since his retirement. During the Cold War he operated as the commander of a highly specialized counterintelligence element in West Germany.

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