The Cougar Affair
Beirut, March 1967
Werner Thom, a 60 year-old man, 5’10” tall with a medium build and in good physical shape, sat behind his large oak desk in his office in the East German Embassy. Max Menchoff and Elke Blume sat in front of him. Max, a 55 year-old man, average height with a thin build. He wore wire frame eyeglasses which gave him a schoolmaster appearance. Elke Blume was a Major but she had on civilian clothes. Major Blume, had reddish blond hair, 28 years old, 5’7” tall with a beautiful face and figure.
Max laid out the plan:
We have chosen a woman who would make a credible defector.
Werner Thom read from the folder in front of him, “Helga Kroll? I know this woman. She is not an agent. She is an office worker.”
Max, sure of himself, explained:
That is what makes her the perfect woman for the mission. There is no chance of her being recognized as an agent by her past actions. Our psychological experts have crafted a letter that makes her appear as a woman the CIA would believe to be a defector. She also works at the embassy and is in a position where her access will be credible.
Elke, eager to join the conversation, “It is credible because she has such access.”
I estimate our chances of mission success are as near 100% as any mission ever attempted in recent times. Even if the remote possibility of failure occurs there is no loss on our part. The success, which is near certain, would give us a great intelligence advantage in the Middle East at this critical time.
Elke, interjected, “Success would also give our Soviet Union counterparts greater respect for our capabilities.”
This pleased Werner. He asked, “What are the woman’s chances of survival?”
Max acted as if he was running numbers in his head, “I estimate 33%.”
Max sensed Werner didn’t like the answer:
If she survives that would be a bonus since there would be a better than even possibility they would want to continue to use her as an agent. Is her chance of survival relevant to your decision to approve the mission?
“No, it has no relevance except how I will approach her about the mission.”
Major Blume should approach her about the mission. After careful study of the woman’s dossier I have concluded Major Blume would be the best to motivate her for the mission.
Operation Cougar is approved. Proceed.
Helga Kroll, a short 42 year-old woman with a few gray hairs and a homely face gave an office door a single knock. Elke Blume gave a curt “Enter” from the other side of the door. Helga stepped into the office and walked to Elke who sat at her desk. Elke had on her military uniform.
“I am Helga Kroll. Mr. Thom ordered me to report to you Major Blume.”
“He told you to follow my orders, yes?”
“Yes, Major Blume.”
Helga sat in the chair in front of Elke’s desk.
Elke spoke in a firm businesslike tone:
You have an excellent work record. You pay great attention to detail and carry out your duties without complaint.
“Thank you Major Blume.”
According to your medical records you have recently gone through menopause and are a virgin. How do you account for this?
Elke’s question angered Helga and her face showed it but Helga immediately reverted to her normal stoic expression. She meekly answered, “I did not know proper behavior had to be accounted for.”
“I suppose you are right. At this stage it matters little since you have already been chosen for this mission.”
“Mission Major Blume?”
Yes, it is an extremely important mission that could give us a great advantage over our capitalist enemies. You should feel honored to have been chosen for this sensitive mission.
“Yes, I am just confused Major Blume. I understand I should feel honored but I know nothing about a mission.”
Elke handed a piece of paper to Helga.
Helga read the paper as Elke spoke:
This letter was sent to the American CIA. The plan is to make them think you want to defect with sensitive data.
“The microfilm mentioned in the letter?”
“Major Blume, I did not write this.”
Yes, your writing and signature were forged. For operational security we did not want you to know about the operation until after it was underway.
“I understand Major Blume.”
“What do you think of the letter?”
Helga spoke in a quiet tone, “It is as if an 18 year old wrote this.”
Elke stood and Helga stood but Elke told her to remain seated. Elke walked to Helga:
You are a woman who dedicated her life to her career. Your career has not progressed. You have no credible chance of finding love and you can no longer bear children. Our psychological staff crafted the letter so it appears you are unhappy with your situation and are making a desperate attempt to compensate for your plight by succumbing to the temptations of Western decadence.
Helga felt uneasy and fought to keep her composure, “What am I to do Major Blume?”
Go about your normal routine. If our plan is working, a CIA agent, or some other Western agent, will contact you. You will agree to whatever this agent asks. If such an agent contacts you then on your next scheduled work day you will first report to me.
Elke’s voice changed from firm to gentle, “Helga, if you are contacted do not be afraid to make it a pleasant experience.”
Frank Eisen, 32 years old 6’ 2” tall with handsome features and a medium muscular build, walked into a dimly lit nightclub where a belly dancer was performing. Frank stepped through a beaded curtain. Lonnie Baker, 35, an average size man with a thin frame sat alone at the only table in the small room. He had a nerdy face and wore plain glasses.
“What is your business here?”
“I am Frank Eisen and I was told you have some business for me.”
“Then sit down and let’s get down to business.”
“To whom am I speaking?
“I am Lonnie Baker.”
“I am pleased to meet you Lonnie.”
Lonnie slid a briefcase on the floor so it is close to Frank’s leg. Lonnie tapped a folder on the table.
“Most of what you need is in the briefcase. There are a couple of things in this folder I want to go over with you.”
Lonnie slid the folder to Frank and continued speaking, “There are a couple of pictures of the woman.”
Frank opened the folder and winced at a picture of Helga.
Lonnie spoke with a sly grin on his face:
You didn’t expect a dish did you? The address is on the back. There is also a rundown of her normal activities. She’s a homebody. Whatever you do don’t try to contact her at her apartment. They don’t seem to keep tabs on her but no sense taking a chance.
“I’m not a 12 year-old. I know what I’m doing.”
“I just wanted to give a reminder. It should be an easy case so I don’t want you to get overconfident and sloppy.”
“I’m never sloppy and only consider a case easy after it is done.”
“Ok, then that’s all for now.”
“I will get in touch with you in the next day or two.”
Frank made contact with Helga at an open market place. He told her to come back to the market place in 2 hours. Two hours later Frank contacts Helga before she reached the market place. He confirmed she wasn’t expected anywhere for the weekend. Then he took her to Paris. He showed her some of the sites in Paris. He took her on a shopping spree. He took her to one of the best restaurants, which had a breathtaking view of Paris. Then he took her to a hotel room.
After the Bell Hop stepped out of the room Frank embraced Helga and gave her a long kiss. Helga accepted Frank’s embrace and kiss then pushed against him. Frank let go of Helga and backed away.
Helga nervously said, “No, I can’t do this. I will get you what I promised. This isn’t right.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will get you the microfilm. I will sleep in the lobby tonight.”
Frank gave a kind smile:
No, I will find another place to sleep. You take this room. Don’t hesitate to call room service if you want something to eat or drink. I will call on you in the morning, but not too early.
Frank opened the door.
“Thank you Frank, you are a gentleman.”
“Good night and thank you.”
Frank stepped out and quietly closed the door behind him.
Helga stared at the door for a moment. She slowly stepped out onto the balcony. She had a forlorn expression as she looked out at the Paris skyline, which includes the Eiffel Tower. She looked at the street below. She stretched out her hands.
Frank and Lonnie were inside an apartment that was a “safe house”. Lonnie took an envelope out of a briefcase and slid the envelope to Frank. The envelope had a stack of 8”x10” glossy pictures. The top picture was of Helga at the airport terminal in Paris. The picture showed the sign indicating she was in Paris. Frank thumbed through a couple of the pictures. One picture was of Helga in a restaurant with the lights of the Eiffel Tower in the background. He put the envelope with the pictures in his briefcase.
“I’ll keep these in case more persuasion is necessary.”
Lonnie jokingly asked, “How was Paris?”
“She got cold feet.”
Lonnie snickered, “You’re kidding.”
“No, I haven’t had an experience like that since I was 18.”
Lonnie pointed to Frank’s briefcase. “It seems she will need that persuasion.”
“She said she would give us what we came for.”
“Well I hope she doesn’t rediscover her party loyalty.”
“No, she seemed conflicted by some personal scruples unrelated to what we want her to do.”
“Well, just keep our pictures in mind.”
“I know what I have to do.”
Lonnie gave a rundown of the situation:
Good. The dimensions and appearance for the microfilm check out. The information contained in the microfilm and format seems feasible. The plan is to substitute the microfilm with one of ours. It will have information we know, information we know they know, and the rest we just make up. This will give it an authentic appearance should anyone give it a look. With luck they will never know they have a phony.
“I would like to have 2 phonies.”
“Sure. We can do that.”
I will need a pair of shoes in size 5. They should be purchased locally. They should be stylish. It might be best to get one of the girls at the embassy to purchase them. Don’t tell them the real reason for the purchase.
“Frank, give us some credit.”
“One of the heels should be hollowed out so it can fit the microfilm.”
“Isn’t that a little cliché?”
Yes, it is, and that’s why I want to do it this way. This woman wants romance and adventure. This will make her feel like Mata Hari.
“I know just the woman to pick them out.”
I’ll also need a way out for us. She might be spotted at the airport. Israel would involve more people and more questions.
Rather than take her out it would seem better to leave her in. They are going to regularly update their microfilm. She could be our direct line into their apparatus.
“She is doing this to get out.”
“The pictures will persuade her to stay in and work for us.”
It’s too risky. She’s not doing this for our cause. She is living out some romantic fantasy. She’s not a professional. Sooner or later she would get caught. They would likely turn her and they would be supplying us with disinformation for who knows how long before we catch on.
“You have a point. Meet me here this time the day after tomorrow.”
Two days later Frank and Lonnie met in the same apartment.
Lonnie handed Frank the shoe box.
Lonnie explained, “The right heel is hollowed out, just lift the padding.”
Lonnie handed 2 strips of microfilm to Frank. Frank said “Good job” and put one in the heel of the shoe and put the other in his jacket pocket.
Lonnie continued, “We’ve worked out an escape route. As you said the airport and to Israel are too risky.”
“Obviously, once she goes missing they will check those places and someone might remember her.”
“That’s especially true since you are so mismatched. So the plan is to travel north to Sidon. Take the ferry to Cyprus then fly to Athens.”
“It sounds good.”
Lonnie looked straight into Frank’s eyes:
You know we only need the microfilm. Taking her out makes the operation more risky than it needs to be. If you kill her dead women, like dead men, tell no tales.
“Murder incurs its own risk.”
You could make it look like an accident or a suicide. Even with a murder they wouldn’t have any reason to believe her position had anything to do with it. There is street crime in Beirut just like anywhere else.
“I’ll keep than in mind. Assume I’m going with this plan. I’ll let you know if I change it.”
“If you are squeamish about doing it there are people I can get who will take care of her.”
“I said I’ll keep what you suggested in mind.”
“Okay, there is no reason to get mad. This could be a big intelligence coup for us. I just want to make sure everything goes right.”
“I know the importance of the mission and I will keep what you suggested, and all other options, in mind.”
“Just keep in mind the sea hides many secrets.”
Frank gave Lonnie an angry look.
Helga stepped off a bus. The bus stop was near a deserted beach. Helga walked to the edge where the sidewalk meets the sand. Helga nervously looked at the beach. She knew once she hands over the microfilm Frank no longer needed her. She looked at the Mediterranean knowing it could be her grave. She took a deep breath took off her shoes and calmly, with a slight smile on her face, walked towards the water.
Frank stood next to a Cirtroen DS. He watched Helga from a distance. He gave the surrounding area a quick scan then walked to Helga at a quick pace. When he reached Helga he gave her a hug and a kiss.
“Did you make the switch?”
“Yes, the microfilm is in my heel.”
Helga presented her shoes to him.
Frank told her, “It is better you hold on to it.”
Frank took Helga’s arm and walked her to his car.
They drove north to Sidon then took a ferry to Cyprus. Then they flew to Athens.
The hotel room in Athens had 2 beds. While Frank was in the bathroom Helga stepped onto the balcony. She looked over her view of Athens. She held out her left hand as if she was reaching for the Acropolis. Moments later the phone rang.
Helga answered, “Hello”.
Elke was at the other end of the phone. “Helga, if this is you just say ‘repeat please’.”
“If you can unlock the door say ‘speak louder please’.”
“Speak louder please.”
“You are to unlock the door. Keep the American’s focus away from the door. If this is clear to you say, ‘Sorry you have the wrong number’ and hang up the phone.”
“Sorry you have the wrong number.”
Helga unlocked the door and walked to the opposite side of the room. When Frank stepped out of the bathroom he asked about the phone. Helga told him it was a wrong number and the call interrupted her enjoying the view of Athens. Moments later Elke stormed into the room.
Frank raised his hands.
Elke demanded, “Where is the microfilm?”
Helga took off her shoe and gave the microfilm to Elke.
Elke told Frank, “The bidding starts at 1 million dollars. I will contact your people.”
This confused Helga.
Elke proclaimed, “Chivalry test!” and shot Helga. She immediately turned the gun on Frank, “One million dollars opening bid.” Then Elke rushed out the door.”
Frank took a step towards the door then looked at Helga. Helga was writhing on the floor. Frank grabbed a pillow case and the phone and rushed to Helga. He put pressure on the wound as he dialed on the phone.
Helga, in a weak voice, kept repeating the phrase, “I’m not a traitor.”
Frank did as Max had predicted, help a wounded woman rather than go after the microfilm.
Helga was in a hospital bed. She was weak but recovering. Werner was in the room with her.
“Miss. Kroll how are you feeling?”
“I am well Mr. Thom.”
Werner took a handkerchief from his pocket. He glanced behind the head of the bed. There was an electronic bug taped behind the head of the bed. Werner wrapped the handkerchief around the bug.
Helga pointed out, “The Americans were very kind. They brought me flowers.”
Werner walked to the flower arrangement. He saw an electronic bug in the flower arrangement and muffled it with a riding glove as he said, “Yes, these are very nice flowers. They brighten the room.”
Werner walked over to the window and found an electronic bug at the end of the blind cord.
He said, “Speaking of brightening the room you could use more sunlight.” Then he muffled that bug with his other riding glove. He returned to Helga’s bedside and asked, “Now Helga, tell me what happened.”
When Frank, the American agent, went to use the bath I went on the balcony. I held out my left hand to signal any of our agents that I was momentarily alone. A short time later Miss. Blume called. She instructed me to unlock the door and to keep the American’s attention away from the door. When he came out of the bath I talked about the view from the balcony. A short time later Miss. Blume came in. She ordered ‘hands up’ then asked for the microfilm. I gave her the microfilm, which was in my shoe. She took the film and said, “The bidding starts at 1 million dollars. I will contact your people.” I had no reason to suspect Miss. Blume before that. I was just doing as I was ordered.
“Yes, I understand. Continue.”
She said “Chivalry test!” they she shot me and ran out of the room. Frank tended to my wound and called for help.
“What did you tell them about the plan?”
“I told them nothing. After I was shot I said I was not a traitor. I was wrong to say that wasn’t I?”
“It’s understandable given the circumstances.”
“What does “Chivalry test” mean?”
“Chivalry would be tending to a wounded woman rather than going after the microfilm.”
“Well Frank showed much chivalry. I don’t think he would have had that been the actual microfilm.”
“You are a very perceptive woman.”
Werner knew the Americans will give a generous bid to keep their charade going. The German Democratic Republic will have to give an even more generous bid to let the Americans think they succeeded with the charade. Such is the espionage dance.
Max drove his sedan into an abandoned garage where Elke was waiting. Max steps out of the sedan.
Elke tells him, “They are going to pay us five million American dollars. You picked the right thing to steal.”
“I picked the perfect thing to steal. I also picked the perfect time.”
“You planned it all so well.”
“Yes, everything except where should we go to spend the money. I’m thinking of Brazil. That is where the American gangsters plan to go in their movies.”
Elke laughed as she took a handgun out of her purse and shot Max.
Elke cooed, “Why do you look so surprised? That is what you were planning for me, not true?”
Max answered as he fell to the floor, “No, I would never have done this to you.”
“You weren’t? It appears the smarter the man the bigger the fool.”
Elke checked to see he was dead then took her motor scooter and left the garage.
Elke drove into a plaza on her motor scooter. She stopped in front of the café where Werner was sitting. Elke sat in a chair at Werner’s table.
“Can I order you something, Elke?”
“I’ll take schnapps.”
Werner hails the waiter, “Cameriere, Grappe per favore.”
Elke saw Werner was drinking wine. “That isn’t your usual.”
“When in Rome, you will need to adapt to, where are you going?”
“Someplace where you won’t find me, so do not bother looking.”
“You know we are going to try.”
“I suppose, governments seem to like wasting money and effort.”
Werner scanned the plaza. “Speaking of looking I don’t see Max here. It isn’t like him to trust someone alone with 5 million dollars.”
“Let me save you some trouble. You can find his body in a garage about 20 kilometers outside of Naples.”
“You were waiting for a chance to tell me that weren’t you?”
“Yes, I really did want to tell you that. Max got old and became sentimental. A few years ago I would have been the one in the garage.”
The waiter brought the glass of schnapps to the table. Werner thanked and tipped the waiter.
Elke suggested, “Perhaps you should consider retiring.”
“I imagine there are those higher up who are making that consideration for me now. “
“Where is the money?”
Werner glanced at a parked panel van. “It is in the van.”
“Let’s see the money.”
Werner put a set of keys on the table. “You can take the van. It’s old but it handles well.”
Elke reached for the keys. Werner stamped his hand on the keys. “Where is the microfilm?”
I didn’t get in this position by being a fool. I don’t have the microfilm with me. I am going to leave with the van. When I am convinced I am not being followed then I will contact you and tell you where it is. Is that acceptable or should I settle for the American 4 million dollar offer?
Werner gave a defeated nod and slid the keys towards Elke. “You are a very shrewd girl.”
“You made a wise choice.”
Elke took the keys and walked away from the table. A young couple mounted their motor scooter. The man was driving and the woman sat behind him. The man drove the motor scooter slowly in Elke’s direction. He stopped and the woman in the rear took out a handgun and shot Elke 5 times. Elke collapsed and the scooter sped out of the plaza. The people in the plaza screamed and yelled. Werner briskly walked to Elke. He took off one of Elke’s shoes and pulled the heel off. He pulled off her other shoe, pulled off the heel, gave a nod. A car drove up to Werner. He rushed into the car and the car sped away.
There was nothing in the heel but one way or another the word would get to the Americans about the stolen shoe heel. The Americans would assume the East Germans believed they had the real microfilm. It was a way East German intelligence could minimize their losses. Such is the dance of spies.