NER Washington forum; FBI counterspy John Huminik
At this meeting with Valentine ravening who is a one of the scientific counselors at the Soviet Embassy he gave me a large amount of money to purchase a camera to photograph secret documents from the various defense industry in the Washington area which would then be passed on to the Soviets by using secret methods which we called dead drops. When you lived in Washington for a while amid the granite and marble splendor of federal buildings and streets that echo with history you eventually become blasé about the stories of intrigue the tales of Russian spies furtively meeting under fog shrouded street lamps. Somehow it all seems unreal something out of a B movie. It doesn't really happen. But the voice you just heard is that of a young scientist an engineer who lives just outside Washington. His name is John human IC and for six years he lived the life of a double agent a spy for the Soviet Union and a secret agent for the FBI. This is NPR Washington forum. I'm national educational radio public affairs director Vic Sussman. John Hume and how did you become a spy and when did all this
happen. It started in 1961 and ended in 1966. It started at the meeting of the American Society for metals it's a technical society for metallurgist here in Washington where the Soviets applied for membership. They do belong to many of our technical societies. And since I was of Russian background and I was vice president of an engineering company here and was preparing a book on rocket re-entry codings. The Russians were attracted to me and they discussed many things with me as to what I thought about world affairs and I just got a good conversation starter of each of these meetings and they found out that I was of Russian ancestry and this was probably one of the most important things to them in their approach to me so I felt that they were more than casually interested in what I was doing so I went to the FBI and they said that these people are spies and that we'd appreciate it if you would play along with us and see what'll happen what will develop. And they said it would be no no money paid
for your services and you'll take all the risks and the other words. The wasn't really a bonafide agent of a US government at this point. And they said Just keep in touch with us and we arranged a secret technique of getting in communication with each other and the meetings proceeded. And it took about six or eight months before the meetings progressed to the point point where we were sure that the Soviets had intentions of using me as a spy here. They progressed to the point where we were having lunch as had this particular Russian was Dr. Sergei Stu Parr who is the scientific counselor at the Soviet Embassy here in Washington. And he proceeded to ask me questions about my background I want to know everything about me hobbies. The family I'm married have four children. He wanted to know about my parents and what I felt about the Soviet Union this was older it was wearing it was already just a real relaxing but I was well keyed to this
thing by now by the FBI had to know what to expect. And finally he said he'd like me to do some favors for him you know get some reports and these reports were unclassified and easy to obtain which I got when the FBI said go ahead and get him. I'd actually run through the motions of getting him you know and it wasn't something the FBI handed me and I passed him because you never knew where they were checking they check very closely as to what you're doing you can't write FBI phone numbers and phone books because they might you know pick your pockets or something like this. They're very thorough. We finally reached the point where I left this one company and started my own small chemical company a company run the camp rocks and we then were approached by the Soviets to have a trade agreement they said well let's have a trade agreement and we'll put a lot large amount of been this into your company and in exchange you will do some things for us here and that's when it really started and they proceeded to bring all the Russians and the the scientific division brought in the commercial
division the commercial counselors were brought into and they supposedly started to negotiate an operation of trade. And actually they said well show us your face to the Soviet people by getting us to certain things and some of these things would be like they want to be detailed blueprints for the oxygen steel process which U.S. Steel was putting in so they know how to do this and they want details they gave me an example that we don't want just pictures of an airplane with a lot of specs and things like this that come out of magazines we want the details of blueprints that we'd rather have just the tip of the wing completely blue print out then a lot of general things and many Americans feel that we put so much in magazines here that we must be giving away all our secrets what the Russians have had some bad accidents by trying to copy or recreate something we've done here on insufficient information at one time they killed 300 of their people in an atomic experiment because they didn't have all of the safety information. So we then progress to another stage where
another Russian entered the picture by the name of Valentine revenue. And he was a full fledged spy and he was the one that took me along many roads including learning what dead drops were and how you passed documents without the FBI trying to detect you or detecting you. What is the draw. Now I'll give you an example of I like to give an example of what I live past says and then a dead drop these are the two different areas that are interesting I think to your listeners. A live class can be a situation where two people meet but it's got to be in an area that cannot be monitored easily so in this case a Soviet will pick the air you know give you the exact example in northeast Washington I would go at 11 o'clock at night to a shopping center go into a phone booth pretend like I'm making a call. And I go back to my car and sit Ten minutes later the Russian shows up he goes into the same booth and pretends like he's making the call this is merely so that we see each other. Then I follow him for an hour we'd chase through the streets here in Washington it would be about midnight or
a little bit after when we finally rolled up to a stop sign and Silver Spring Maryland in the north part of the city. And he blinked his lights and I just happened to be looking to the left and I saw some headlights go on in a car that was parked in an apartment lot and that car swung in right behind me and then we went down a long road. It was like oh Creek Parkway has five miles roughly a road with no access roads. And the car behind would slow way down so that if I was being electronically tail off the Russian was mean electronically tailed the person would have to run upon him. See we're running down the road it's a 16 this elephant is going 10 while you can only electronically tail from about a mile or a mile and I have backs on a five mile road. If we're three miles down the road and there's nobody running into this other car then they know it's clear. So when we reach the end of the road and the Russian stops he lifts up his hood as if he's having car trouble. And I walk up like I'm going to assist him and as I do this I throw the documents in the front seat so they know they've got the complete area
behind them safe and he knew where he was going to stop and it's unlikely that the FBI could be right there. So this is. Live past when it will there is physical contact between the people. A dead drop is done in this way now. The Russians have had given me money to buy a Zeiss camera a German camera which they recommended and I was to photograph these various classified documents that I was obtaining for me at this period this is now four years down the road in the six year gain we can cite. I have tried to photograph the documents in my home I'd take the film and put it put it into beer cans or cola canes. Then I would take these cans to a place like Fort Washington in Maryland and we'd have a say a fence post on a farm select that this is a wooded area and now we're talking about a suburb of Washington D.C. I would plant the the can of film in the in the area of this post in a certain spot certain depths in the ground and then I would leave and this is precisely timed again this is late at night and I
would go into a phone booth at say 15 miles away. And I would turn to page 200 of the yellow pages and at the bottom I would write a phone number ending in three zeroes. This is merely a signal to the Russian that the drop was loaded and the Russian or or some of his accomplices would check the phone booth if the number was there they would retrieve the film if they could if it was dangerous or look bad they'd leave it alone. No way I'd know that they retrieve the phone is another phone booth was selected on page 100 of the white pages. They would write a number ending in three zeros at the bottom. So if I checked if you don't read very late that night or early morning if the number was not there I knew they did not retrieve the film and I'd have to go and get it and use an alternate drop if the number was there I knew they had it and it was all done. Everything was very safe. Where were you getting these these classified documents steal them from various places you actually know yet supplied Well you know I'd have to steal it because they you never can tell the Russians watch me closely and they follow you and things like this and you have to run through
the whole route because maybe they ask you to get something and they already have it they know just where it is now watching it or have put some kind of a device on there that triggers to know when someone is there and so you have to get to that document and then you get it by other techniques which are secret get it cleared by the government we didn't pass them everything they asked for and some things we volunteered that they didn't ask for you know there was. A trade off here you decided to keep the case going you want to give them something you know of value so you weigh this against what you give them because the reason you want to have a case like this Ron is to learn their techniques of operation. Sometimes they can expose other things that will help us break other cases. And so it was an involved thing this was a highly complicated case. There were seven Russians involved and there were actually two different Russian intelligence agencies involved the KGB energy are you the KGB is the secret police as well as international as Reno as in the
JI are U.S. military intelligence so this was all happening right here right here in Washington you know it's hard to believe but we would meet in fashionable restaurants or in apartment projects and discuss our plans X-acto when we're going to have these dead drops or meetings and what documents they want this is all done under the noses of the people in this area. Now were they paying you because the Russians were paying the many thousands of dollars yes for this. They eventually told me that there wasn't going to be a trade agreement because obviously that would put this thing out in the open and I would become under suspicion if I had much in the way of relations with them. But. They said well we'll just pay you for consulting to the Soviet Union and you just put the money your company if you want to whatever you want you know. There was never any actual conversation about that. You might be doing something illegal all the while they said you have to be cautious you know I'd even bring it up I said look this is too dangerous it's this is. It would shatter my career you know if anyone knew I was working with a Soviet diplomat they said well
look you just keep working was by then they had enough information to blackmail me this is what you want and say I've given him some things in my own handwriting and things that's good blackmail information they could always say well we're going to turn this loose and show that you've been working with the Soviets if you don't keep playing along a lot we never had to have that kind of situation evolve. The Soviets said look when you're through working here we're going to bring you to the Soviet Union and you're going to continue your work there just like that I mean they had done it all planned out. We'll get you a new wife will teach you a language I only knew a little bit of Russian and they said that we would arrange for a forged set of forged passports to get you out of the country. And so I had a forged American and forged. Dominican passport photos made and then these were while they were the photos were genuine and these were sent to Russia to be made into passports. And their plan was to pick me up by submarine off the coast of the Dominican Republic and then bring me safely to the Soviet Union they said. What about your wife did she know what was going you a little bit.
She knew I was going on she didn't know the details but this was an operation that took most of my nights and you know with the FBI with the Russians so she had to know we had Russians to the house part way through. How did you meet with the FBI and try all this is very this is a secret this is one of the few things that are secret in this so you still can't talk about right because we can still use these techniques in my book double agent. We describe very thoroughly the Russian method of operation and not so much the US method so that people can see how they are and they're operating here without jeopardizing our system here. What happened to the money that you were paid that was over to the FBI. And they I think added to it as miscellaneous income you know you never really you never really made any money you know I have a right to government. Oh that's right. That's right yes. I have a Raj so that the Russians gave me this Amiga wristwatch which was a gift from Valentine rabbit and I have the camera and a few other gifts that the Russians gave me but you know what just the hardware but no cash.
Now I understand you at one point made a rather. Visit to the Dominican Republic just before the 1965 revolution. Yes I want the details of that I went down to check on some trade agreements with the Dominican government and I was actually a guest of the president of the minicon Republic and two days after I arrived there on this April 1065 revolution broke out this was a very bloody savage revolution and many people were killed and it was total anarchy actually in for five days I ran around the streets getting shot and I got strafed by a plane once and it was quite an experience. And after five days I managed to join the other Americans there that were being evacuated from the island and I caught the last helicopter and actually it was the last group to leave and I went to the aircraft carrier box and I gave a briefing to Marines aboard their own.
What a situation where you were sent to the Dominican Republic by the Russians where it was no not that not at that trip you know. Were you working for them on the trip. Oh I know they did know I was there and they put a lot of heat on me when I came back because they said how come you didn't tell us you were down there and here you were interfering with the people's revolution. And they had we had some hot little sessions on that. And finally they said well you like the Dominican Republic so well that's the way we're going to get you out of this country. And I'm still not clear on why they wanted to get you out of the comp when the when my mission was done here the Soviet nation. Then my usefulness was completely at an end or else the FBI was on to me. Then they found I could go to Russia and I could help them interpret you know other things that are brought in and since I was a scientist that I could be of some use to them. So this is one of the things many real spies or real traitors would think about you know what's at the end of the road here you know I'm working here in the United States and what's going to happen to me you know. I can't just quit because the Russians are not going to let you so what they
try to do is to give you enough job security you know everybody when my job security that you keep on working form and then you would eventually end up in Russia and then they could make political hay out of that that an American scientist defected during the course of all these these events. Did you ever meet up with other Americans working for the Russians or were your contacts just so vague. I couldn't comment on that particular quote. I know that some of this is still class yet so many things are classified and yes I mean especially in the nature of you know our agents. Well what happened to the Soviets that you were working with. Well more to the you know one of them was Laos some were already back there one of them was thrown out personifying got into up and left right away and they would be listed as undesirables now. Well their careers are shattered and in Russia this is a big thing. If you're if your career is if you made a mistake an error in judgment which is what these people did they judged me to be you know loyal to the Soviet Union when I wasn't. Well this means they can't be relied on in the Communist Party so they have to be given a lower job they used to execute these people. They failed but now they just give them a
lesser job which means and you know a less desirable vacation a less desirable apartment. Almost everyone lives in apartments there. Now I understand you testified before the House Un-American Activities I was right and also the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What was the gist of your testimony while I detailed how the Russians recruited Americans and how they operated there were several other people testified in the compilation of all of this testimony came out as a publication called US Soviet or communist espionage in the United States and this was released about two or three months ago and we detailed their exact techniques how they recruit you know complete details on this and it's and how did the case finally end it ended. I had actually a plan to defect a Russian which I had submitted to the government and they had tentatively approved but I think someone got nervous in the State Department the State Department has the prerogative to in these cases and
they all the sudden just call the Soviet charge d'affaires to the State Department who said that Valentine revenue was not behaving himself he's been spying. And here's a list of the charges they had he had asked for the surveyor moon probe secret certain ones in there which we did not give them in that particular case. They thought this was very important he was at the same time the Russians were saying they were not in the moon race with the United States. The Russian revenue was pressing me in the hardest way to get certain space secrets. So I learned after the Russians learned. That the case was over and I was I SHOULD I thought I should have been told first not the Russians first because here I was roaming around the streets and the Russians were manned as a as a you know a nest of hornets and well what this point was your life in danger. Well I think you you have to be careful. You had to during the whole case it could be because if they found out that you're just taking them down the garden path they wouldn't hesitate in doing so much because you're walking evidence. And I still have to be careful I can't go overseas because they would love to kidnap me to find out more about the details of
the case you know how did we happen to take them for six years. This is you know they're not stupid they're sophisticated they're especially good at the spy been that you know they've been doing it a long time. They've got schools and they pick their agents carefully and these people are completely fluent in English and just to give you an example Raben was a student at the University of California in Berkeley. For two years studying atomic physics he spoke very precise English you know with almost no trace of X and he looked like a college student you know he wore glasses about my high is very much my build and he knew how to dress American style and he knew the city while he knew all our idioms and everything else he was very Americanized person and very bright and able to think both in Russian and English. What was his position with the embassy he was the assistant scientific counselor. And the man I started with was a scientific Alles which is a pretty high job you know in the in the embassy but you can't always tell the position in their SBI how operation
could be anything as opposed to his job in the embassy I was a chauffeur could be the boss because I've always done that they've always rotated these positions around so that the counterintelligence couldn't figure out who to watch. Did you carry a gun at any time. I did you know many times. Was it supplied to you by the Russians or no one supplied by the Russians. You know if you cared if your own protection you have to take care of yourself in these kind of operations. The as the FBI told me to beginning that if I get any problems I've got to get my own self out they can't be everywhere. You know what I wondered what would have happened while you were stealing these documents if you had been caught with the FBI have backed you up already Yeah yeah but they'd have to do it very quietly in the background because suppose the Russians themselves arranged for you to get caught just to see what would happen see first of all I was fortunately skillful enough to steal these documents without getting caught and I knew where were they being stolen from. From defense companies in this area which you had that you had access to some of.
Yeah but I don't really want to comment too much about how I got these things because I guess too many people I.D. it but I did obtain these things. There was a review in The National Review which at the end of it said that your book double agent is not the sort of book that should be in one's library it should be out on loan to friends and acquaintances who still believe the Russians are trustworthy souls. So in line with this I wonder if you would comment on your feelings about that. Oh coexistence or detente with the Soviet Union. Better relations. Why I think we're on a road towards And I think there's still a lot suspicion the Russians themselves from early childhood are told that we are a vicious enemy and that we have warmongers and depending on that would strike you know if their guard was down and yet when they come here they see what we are but they still don't believe it quite so it's going to be a long slow road to a real good coexistence where militarily we both relax a little bit say we both have a tendency to counter the other ones new weapons with even a greater weapon or a new system like we have
the anti-missile missiles and things like that so I think it can be a slow road until their people are free enough to cross their borders see that just basically they only have 900 people come to this country on the average every year we have 18000 go to their country and the people that they let arrive in the United States you can be sure are screened in there and you know my horror stories Joy you know sort of you know just plain old tourists and I was just at the the tradeoff of people you know to talk with one another is it is not. Not really conducive to building better relations because their newspapers are constantly grinding away you know all kinds of falsehoods about us and I in fact there were three articles written especially on me after this case. Broken they were very nasty articles and you know they're accusing me of partaking in the germ warfare that we engage in in Vietnam you know. And I was there saying we're doing this in Vietnam because I was a reserve chemical officer and that was one of my specialties was chemical biological warfare. And they said that people
like me you know that your response a lot of the reasons that you know that we're using gas in Vietnam so they make these things up they're feeding it steadily to their people. This is gonna stop. So they've got to paint a different picture of the U.S. to their own people and then as the years go by I think it will get better but I think we're we're better than we were maybe 10 years ago we're not so much better that we can relax. I understand you. You go on lecture tours talking about your book and your experience and this sort of thing. That's right. And I understand that on these tours you often produce some of the equipment. Yeah it's you could you describe. You know I had to go on camera and you know we have a camera with tripod and closeup lenses and things like that and tape record the Russians at one time wanted me to go into the Pentagon and tape conversations with high officials that I knew get opinions on Vietnam and things like this. And we had lock picks in. Other little miniaturized equipment almost all of it aimed toward the photographic collection of things in the way that you
would handle the film and put it in the cans so they wouldn't slip out things like that was there ever a time when you were close to being caught or Oh I think there were several times it was the Russians were very suspicious you know a couple times one time they were following me on the beltway here and I cut off rapidly and I made a U-turn and got back on his ship one of the fellows I want to where I was I go in at midnight you know. And I told him I'm going to see one of our stockholders that worked for me on earth. And then and then I think that after the Dominican revolution they were very very suspicious then because they knew that I had you know stayed a little too long and was involved somehow in that thing and they just kept on hammering away at that. And I give this word for word in the book where Brevan is just you know constantly pressing he said you had diplomatic passport didn't you and I said no and I just. My intuition told me to bring my passport that they cause people don't carry passports around I just brought and I threw it on the table I said here it is. You know that kind of embarrassing but it was constant pounding.
He was sure that I was not what I appeared to be. You know but yet I had already done some things for me he was afraid not to let the record spy case run on. But they were suspicious Yes definitely. And what happened when the case finally broke what was the reaction of your friends and your family and your coworkers most of the people didn't say anything to me at first in other words it was just complete shock I guess on their part and I was even in the neighborhood and not a word was said. Then gradually you know as this story unfolded then people would talk but there were some people that saw me at these technical meetings talking with the Russians and they thought that I wasn't being a very good American you know by doing that. And they came up and apologized for their thoughts. So you saw there's all kinds of mixed feelings in people that just saw you talking with the Russians at the meeting and they thought you know this shouldn't be done. And I think some people who are let's say ultra left wing here thought on that this was a bad thing that I did that these were very few people saying this that the Soviets are doing
anything bad here and that you know what are you causing trouble for. But by and large most of the people I think appreciated what was done then they feel that you know somebody has to do this once in a while and this is the way I felt about it when I when I got into it I saw what it was developing into and I was quite surprised at how. Thorough they aren't just espionage operation and I wanted to do what part I could to you know wreck the little operation that I was involved in. Are we doing the same thing in the Soviet Union we can't spy like they do here we do intelligence work and we have YouTube and satellites and the ships like the pueblo that everybody knows about now and we use radar sets that listen to what's going on in the other kind of thing. We don't go for this people to people spying so much like they do what they like to blackmail a mourner in. And they're beat up people things like this to get him to work for more too. Francis is one sergeant broken heart who got 30 years recently. Everybody knew about this case while he worked
with a Russian man I knew. Alexi when and why they told him that they were going to murder his father who was still in Germany so he was an immigrant to this country and they were using that as a threat so they do this kind of thing say and they have a larger apparatus and we would never dream of they have 300000 people in the KGB and maybe our CIA has 10000 say so that's a big big difference. They have more agents operating in the western hemisphere than we probably got employees in all of our intelligence systems. They may like this. You know people are people. Technique of stealing things just like to use the Rosenbergs to get the atomic secrets. One last question Mr. humanlike if you had to do it all over again would you. Well I think you would I think you have to say that although you know the time probably wouldn't present itself to do it again but I think I would. Thank you. You've been listening to a conversation with John Hume an echo of Washington DC who for six years lived the life of a double agent acting as a spy for the Soviet Union and as a secret agent for the FBI. Mr. humanlike is the author of the book Double Agent published by The
New American Library which describes his bizarre experiences. And this has been any Our Washington forum a weekly program concerned with significant issues in the news. I'm national educational radio public affairs director Vic Sussman. This program was produced by W AM us fam American University Radio in Washington D.C. This is the national educational radio network.
- NER Washington forum
- FBI counterspy John Huminik
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- Former FBI counterspy John Huminik, author of Double Agent; for six years he worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union and the FBI
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Host: Sussman, Vic S.
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- APA: NER Washington forum; FBI counterspy John Huminik. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-v698bm7f