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Ex-spies conspire to show tourists around

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WASHINGTON — Two Cold War spies — one American, one Russian — meet on a street corner in downtown Washington. They rendezvous in broad daylight, but they're headed to shadowy sides of the city.

Their mission: Take people on a morning excursion to more than two dozen espionage sites in the nation's capital.

Peter Earnest, a retired CIA case officer, and Oleg Kalugin, former head of KGB operations in the United States, are an odd couple from the odd world of spying. One-time antagonists, they conspire these days to show people Washington's premier places of intrigue and betrayal.

For two hours on a bus, they point out seemingly innocuous places where double agents met covertly with Russian handlers, agents planted bugs and spooks traded top-secret papers for cash.

Chadwick's, a Georgetown bar tucked under a bridge, is where CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames handed over information to Soviet spies.

Au Pied de Cochon, a French restaurant with green shutters, is where KGB defector Vitaly Yurchenko walked away from his CIA handlers, hailed a cab and undefected back to his homeland.

"We tend to associate espionage and the spy cities as Berlin, Vienna," Earnest tells 50 people on the bus, each of whom paid $55 for the tour. "Washington is as much a spy capital as any city in the world."

Only the naive would think that espionage in Washington ended with the Cold War, he said.

"Most likely, as we sit here in this bus," he said, "somebody is being developed for recruitment, loading or taking something out of a dead drop."

In recent weeks, the guides have had to work new commentary into their routines about the latest American revealed to have sold out to the Russians: Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty to spying over a 15-year period. The tour ends near the Taft Bridge in northwest Washington, where Hanssen and his Soviet and Russian counterparts traded messages.

The banter between Earnest and Kalugin can be as intriguing as the sites.

Kalugin can't resist taking a playful jab at his American counterpart, reminding Earnest of how easily KGB agents identified their FBI tails in earlier days.

"The FBI used the cheapest models of Plymouths," he said with a grin. "When you saw a Plymouth behind you, you knew it was most likely the FBI. And they all wore white shirts and ties."

Earnest just smiles.

Later he retorts: "We don't always agree. We have different historians."

Earnest, with gray hair and a neatly trimmed mustache, was a career CIA operations officer for 35 years. He recruited and handled CIA agents in covert activities, including 10 years in the Middle East and Europe. He was the agency's chief spokesman before retiring in 1994.

Kalugin, whose father worked in Josef Stalin's secret police, was an intelligence official in Washington and later led worldwide foreign counterintelligence for Moscow.

Kalugin retired from the agency in 1990 and became a critic of the KGB and communist system. Today he teaches at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, a training and analysis company in Alexandria, Va., which sponsors the periodic tours.

The bus stops alongside the former Soviet Embassy on 16th Street. A spy nest in years past, the cream-colored brick mansion now is home to the Russian ambassador.

In 1967, John Walker Jr., a 30-year-old Navy warrant officer, walked through the mansion's tall iron gates and handed the Soviets papers that proved he had access to secret Navy codes.

In those days, the FBI had an observation post across the street so it could keep track of who went in and out. "We, of course, knew about it," Kalugin boasts. "We monitored the FBI's conversations. They used some codes, but those codes were easily broken."

In Georgetown, the riders gawk at an innocuous-looking Postal Service mailbox. In the 1980s and 1990s, a chalk mark on the mailbox was the signal to Ames that his handlers wanted to meet or that papers or money had been placed in a dead drop.

At Sheridan Circle, the tour is shown where a car bomb killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his aide, Ronni Moffitt. The murders were carried out by the secret police of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, who ousted elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973.


On the Net: SpyDrive: spydrive.com

Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies: cicentre.com

Central Intelligence Agency: www.odci.gov/

Embassy of the Russian Federation: www.russianembassy.org