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Shhhh! Spy Wrap-Up Is Under This Cover

January 29, 1998|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southern California is America's epicenter for hand-patted tortillas, liposuction, skin cancers, carjacking, poinsettias and, of course, epic earthquakes.

We also have a huge history of spies and spymasters, cloaks and daggers, and spooks that go poof in the night.

Jay Robert Nash, author of "Spies: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Dirty Deeds & Double Dealing From Biblical Times to Today" (M. Evans & Co., $24.95), isn't talking about our Hollywood operatives--Maxwell Smart who filmed here, James Bond who visited or Greta Garbo who once played Mata Hari.

But remember Christopher Boyce and Andrew Lee, a.k.a. Falcon and the Snowman? They were Redondo Beach college dropouts who in 1975 looted TRW's top-secret vaults, changed the cipher keys of CIA satellites, and sold information to the Russians. Neither will graduate from prison any time soon.

And what about Bill Bell? He worked for Hughes Aircraft Co., went broke, suddenly got rich again and lived high until his arrest in 1981 for peddling weapons-systems secrets to Polish intelligence (the source of his restored income).

And long before that, in the '30s, Dr. Takashi Furusawa, Torchichi Kono, Harry Thompson and Boris Morros were working deep and slimy espionage in Los Angeles.

Furusawa, a Stanford graduate, used a medical clinic on Weller Road in Eagle Rock as his front. It served no patients, just dozens of Japanese and German agents watching West Coast naval operations. With federal agents closing in, Furusawa skipped aboard a Japanese freighter from Long Beach, days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Kono was Charlie Chaplin's valet before spymaster Furusawa recruited him to work for Imperial intelligence. After plotting the locations of Navy warships at Pearl Harbor, Kono also slipped back to Tokyo--leaving no forwarding address where he might have received residual checks from "Betrayal From the East," a movie of his exploits.

Ex-Navy yeoman Thompson of Long Beach, later of McNeil Island federal penitentiary, was mentioned in the same movie. He spent three years sending shipping secrets to Japanese intelligence and may still be alive someplace. Morros, who died in 1963, was a cello protege who later became musical director at Paramount Studios.

When he wasn't directing or composing, he was spying for the Russians. He surrendered to the FBI in 1947 and, as a reward, was sent back into the cold as a double agent.

Writer Nash, poet, playwright and author of 27 volumes on the villains and blacker side of life, leaves few moles unturned in this 624-page directory of undercover careers. Here are full biographies of the biggies: Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs of the Cold War, Lafayette Baker of the Civil War, Nathan Hale of the War of Independence. Also Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt and a wild guess at whomever the fifth man might have been.

Nash squeals on the Greats, Alfred and Alexander, who were legitimate spies before the birth of Christ. So was Delilah. He reveals those later known for achievements in less covert fields. Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, authors Somerset Maugham, Ian Fleming and Daniel DeFoe, Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi--all had earlier jobs as career spooks.

Among the worst: Mata Hari once said she was much better as a harlot than a traitor. Being inept at the latter got her shot by the French, who usually show a higher appreciation of good bed partners.

One of the best: Sidney Reilly, infamous Reilly Ace of Spies, star of literature and a PBS miniseries. Reilly was a barehanded killer, a British agent, double agent, then triple agent who planned the assassination attempt in 1918 on Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

Reilly had no official name, little education and had worked as a bouncer in a Brazilian whorehouse. But he spoke seven languages, traveled on 11 passports with a wife to go with each, and enjoyed more lovers than 007. He spied for three decades and was 51 in 1925 when his luck, skills, money, scheming, lies and influence ran out in front of a Moscow firing squad.

This book is far from complete. There is no chapter on Richard Miller, the FBI agent from Los Angeles convicted in 1986 of spying for Russia. There's much ado about J. Edgar Hoover, but nothing about his rumored peculiar dress habit.

But then, what's a book on spies without a little bit of disinformation and skulduggery?

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