Soviet Air Force Col. Vladimir Makarovich Izmaylov just got bounced out of the United States after one of those suburban nighttime capers involving "drop sites" for packets of secret documents in exchange for milk cartons stuffed with cash.
The report from our side is that the colonel, on his second tour as a military attache at the Soviet embassy, got snookered in a counterespionage setup. On being apprehended, he reportedly explained that he was prowling in quest of a place to fish. Though heavily outnumbered by his captors, he is said to have taken a poke at an FBI agent.
I hope that the colonel's career doesn't suffer when the facts are reviewed in Moscow. From some brief encounters a few years ago, I recall him as an agreeable fellow, and his wife seemed pleasant. Though he is the spy who snubbed me, I can attest that he tries hard. But I got the impression that the colonel is perhaps tinged with a tendency to screw up a bit. It may be that he got sent back here in 1984 to make amends for his sparse haul the first time around during his 1977-80 tour.
With memory freshened by old notes, I recall that the colonel sat himself next to me at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Feb. 20, 1979, where lunch was being served at a meeting of the Arms Control Assn. The ballroom was full of all sorts of arms-control and decontrol heavyweights, in and out of government, many no doubt in possession of secrets of state. Not me. The biggest secret in my inventory is a recipe for gazpacho. But looks don't tell. After the colonel told me who he was and I reciprocated by telling him that I wrote about science, he said that he would be in touch.
Several days later he phoned and invited me to meet him for dinner on March 6 at a restaurant in Bethesda, Md. I found him there sipping a drink. I told him that the woman to whom I would soon be married would be along. He nodded. She arrived, and the three of us spent the evening chatting about nothing more secret or strategic than life in Washington as compared with Moscow. The colonel paid the check from an impressive roll of $100 bills. He agreed to follow us home in his car for a drink, and the three of us separated to get our respective cars.
Whereupon a car with two male occupants suddenly pulled out of a parking place near the restaurant and zoomed up and down the street, U-turning in TV stunt style, with the likely intent of keeping all three of us in sight. Our three-car convoy made the 10-minute trip home with a madcap escort repeatedly rushing up alongside my car in the No. 1 spot, then dropping back to check the colonel's car, which was No. 2, and the fiancee's car, bringing up the rear. When we parked, they parked.
At home the colonel displayed the Soviet version of the right stuff in response to my dog, Walter, a 110-pound Labrador, who took a romantic liking to his leg. With our combined assistance, the canine suitor was subdued. The colonel joked about the incident, and we had a brandy. I inquired about the place that dogs occupy in contemporary urban life in the Soviet Union. The colonel did not appear well-informed on this subject. It was late.
We parted cordially, and as the colonel went out the door he said, "I'd like to talk to you about something. Don't call me. I'll call you"--which he did a few days after that. We were invited to his apartment in Arlington, Va., for a party on April 6.
Even for Washington it was an odd party. About a dozen women--all Soviet embassy wives, we were told--were clustered in one corner, chatting quietly. And about two dozen men were bolting down vodka, munching from a buffet table, and singing and making a helluva racket. The colonel took us in tow and introduced us all around. Most of the men were air attaches from the Soviet and Soviet Bloc embassies. Why in the world are we here? I wondered.
Vladimir, as our host insisted we call him, dramatically told a story about ferrying MIGs from the chills of Murmansk to the hot Ukraine. Several of his colleagues told their airplane stories. It was getting late, but the torrent of vodka seemed to be increasing.
It was in the doorway of that apartment, saying good night, that I last spoke to the colonel. His parting words were: "Let's get together. There's something I'd like to talk to you about. Don't call. I'll call you."
Ah, the mysteries of the espionage world. What was the colonel up to? I wondered. "Maybe he just wants to be friends," my fiancee said. The thought had never occurred to me.