Moscow, March 1980
Subzero temperatures did not make Vladimir Sudakov shiver as he walked down Vasilyevskaya Street among the crush of office workers hurrying to the metro. The sight of a coworker—a former Stasi officer—did. Stefan Kantwasser’s penchant for not covering his Nordic blond hair with a ushanke cap made him easy to spot. When they had left their desks in the Office of the Chief Translator a half hour earlier, Kantwasser said he was on the way to meet a date for the Bolshoi Theater. It was in the opposite direction. Shaken, Sudakov slowed his steps, lengthening the distance between them.
Sudakov’s heart pounded as he tried to rationalize why the German was so far away from his engagement. If Kantwasser was tracking him, and if he had found out about Sudakov’s plans, the timetable would have to be moved up—quickly. He turned toward the metro, stepping up his pace as fellow Muscovites hurried past him to their evening trains deep inside the Barrikadnaya subway station. He brushed through the crowds, trying to stay calm. He knew his next step was irreversible; his life would change forever.
Sudakov shuddered, thinking about being seen on a metro platform where he had no business. He looked left, right, up, down in a practiced movement without moving his head, worrying about a tail. He had rehearsed the plan in other metro stations, having convinced himself there was no other way. If he was caught, the note he palmed would be his death certificate.
Justification played like a favorite song in his mind. He hated the USSR for its ruthless slaughter of citizens like his grandfather in the Magadan gulags. Promotions had been denied by spiteful bosses with no explanation, and he detested his wife, who kept a long list of his shortcomings. But life in America would be different. He would be rewarded when the US learned what the Russians were doing in Iran, when they made the connection that his Middle East section comrades were persuading Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guard to pull the American hostages out of their embassy’s cellar and then hide them in six different locations—some in the Dasht-e Kavir Desert, some on the border with Azerbaijan.
In the dull routine in drafty KGB offices, Sudakov had carried out boring assignments day after day, studying notes and photographs of foreign diplomats who had been identified as spies. American CIA officers were his targets, waiting to be uncovered in dossiers about newcomers joining their embassy. Sudakov’s training at the Institute of International Relations gave him superior skills as a translator, which landed him a prized job concentrating on the bona fides of Americans on their ambassador’s staff—usually CIA operatives. One stood out; he was listed as a defense analyst. In reality, he was the number-two CIA man in the USSR. Sudakov had shadowed him for days, learning his routine.
In the cold, musty station, Sudakov spotted the man walking with the controlled confidence he envied in Americans. The target—a tall, slender, bookish man—was familiar. Glancing at his government-issued steel watch, he noted he had one minute and thirty seconds until the American’s train for Kuznetsky Station would arrive. The man continued to his usual spot on the tiled subway platform, lingering at the back of the crowd. His face was thin with a sturdy jaw and high cheekbones. Traces of gray were set against a full head of wavy black hair that had been ribbed by a wide-tooth comb. His eyes focused straight ahead, feigning oblivion. He carried the day’s Pravda—Cyrillic edition.
Sudakov envied CIA agents for looking cool, as they called it, while they outmaneuvered the KGB. His aspirations to become a “cool” senior KGB agent were always quashed by the bosses. “You are a nobody,” they had said. “You will never be promoted. You’re an imbecile.” Americans were smarter than Russians; they would welcome him like a hero—an important KGB agent who would be appreciated for obtaining deep, dark secrets. He knew he was smart.
Sudakov knew the American’s expression would not change when he approached, so he sucked in his fat cheeks, ignored a knot in his belly, and moved toward his target. He had to move quickly; in thirty seconds the train would arrive. The note in his hand felt like a time bomb; he still had time to turn and walk away before his bomb exploded. He shook off the thought and moved into the crowd.
Sudakov watched the agent tuck the newspaper under his arm. The moment had come. He sidled next to the American, brushing his elbow into the target’s side. “Take this,” he said in thick, accented English, passing the handwritten note as if it were an invitation to a party.
Middle East Unit advising Iran to disburse American hostages.
Sunday, Slovetsky Park by obelisk. Send someone. 3.00 p.m.
V. Sudakov, MEU
The American did not look at the note. He crushed it in his pocket and stepped forward to his train, just another commuter.
Sudakov joined the masses exiting up the stairs. He took a last look at the rear of the departing train; its roar trailed off as the last of its shiny silver cars disappeared into the orifice toward Kuznetsky Station. Sudakov trembled.
The borders between the East and the West are separated by a no-man’s-land, and he was in it.