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Accused Spy Said to Have Died in Russia

July 22, 2002|LISA GETTER and JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Former CIA agent Edward Lee Howard, who fled to the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s after he was suspected of selling secrets to the KGB, reportedly has died after an accident at his residence outside Moscow.

Howard vanished from Santa Fe, N.M., in September 1985 before the FBI charged him with espionage. He surfaced about a year later in Moscow, where he was granted political asylum.

Disclosures made by Howard reportedly dealt a powerful blow to U.S. intelligence networks in the Soviet capital, and a Soviet aviation expert said to have been turned in by Howard was executed for spying.

Richard Cote, ghostwriter of "Safe House," Howard's 1995 memoir, said Sunday that he received an e-mail Friday about the death from a friend who was "intimately involved with [Howard's] business dealings around the world." Cote would not identify the man who sent him the e-mail, which said Howard had died from a broken neck suffered in an "accident" at his dacha. The friend added: "As far as I can tell, the Russians are covering it up."

The CIA said Sunday that it was unable to officially confirm the death, which was first reported by the Washington Post, citing a friend of Howard's. In Moscow, a U.S. Embassy spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity said the embassy had received reports of Howard's death and was seeking to verify them with the Russian government but had not received a response.

Howard joined the CIA in 1981 and was being groomed for a Moscow posting in 1983 when he failed a polygraph test and was fired. He got a new job with the legislature in New Mexico, where he was born in 1951. In 1984, he allegedly met KGB agents in Austria and sold them secrets for $6,000.

As the FBI closed in on him, he eluded capture with an elaborate ruse involving a dummy made to look like him and a tape recording of his voice.

Howard and his wife, Mary, went out to dinner. As they drove home, he jumped out of the car as it rounded a corner and she propped up the dummy in his place. Once his wife arrived home, she placed a phone call using the recording. The FBI, which had the residence under surveillance and was listening to calls from the home, apparently believed that he was there.

He left behind his wife and his toddler son, Lee.

Cote spent 11 days with Howard in Russia in 1995 but has not kept up with him since.

"Ed was very candid with me, but having a professional spy be candid with you doesn't mean a single word was true," Cote said.

He said the dacha where Howard apparently died was owned by the KGB, had been used as a safe house and is about 10 miles outside Moscow. The two men grilled steaks there while Cote interviewed Howard for the book.

Howard also had an apartment in Moscow. Cote said both dwellings would have been considered luxurious by Russian standards but "decidedly lower middle class" by U.S. standards.

He said Howard lived in "total isolation" for years, his only contacts being KGB and Soviet officials. He was allowed visits with his wife and son once a year.

In infrequent public comments over the years, the defector claimed that he loved the United States and denied giving the KGB vital information that led to the arrest and execution of U.S. agents.

Getter reported from Washington and Daniszewski from Moscow.

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