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My dinner with Boris.

In its December 28 issue, Time magazine published an unusual story alleging that former Washington Post Moscow Bureau Chief Dusko Doder had accepted $1,000 from the KGB and insinuating that Doder may have been a dupe of, or a channel for, Soviet intelligence. The piece, by correspondent Jay Peterzell, was controversial because it was based on allegations by Vitaly Yurchenko, the KGB officer who "defected" to the United States in 1985, then slipped away from his CIA handlers three months later in a Georgetown restaurant and returned to the Soviet Union. Soon after, the FBI investigated Yurchenko's allegations about Doder and found no evidence to confirm the charges.

Forty-one journalists who had covered the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe wrote a letter to the magazine charging that "by drawing dark and dire implications ... without providing a shred of proof to substantiate them, Time has exposed all of us ... to similar smears based on rumor, raw police files and questionable informants." In February, Doder filed a libel suit against the magazine.

In light of the controversy, I have a confession to make.

Somewhere in the bowels of the KGB there may be evidence that I once received $160 from one of its agents. In the interests of full disclosure and in anticipation of Time's next investigative project, I am telling the story here for the first time.

My first encounter with the KGB took place in the late 1950s when I was a 29-year-old journalist in West Berlin, a civilian employee working as a radio correspondent for the Army's American Forces Network.

My wife Carlotta and I were intrigued when Oscar B., a somewhat mysterious American businessman," asked if we would like to go to East Berlin to meet some Soviet diplomats. Oscar spent a lot of time traveling in East Germany and had a girlfriend there whom he was trying to get out to the West; we suspected that he was one of those freelance, cross-border spies who thrived in that Cold War outpost doing business with both sides.

We were eager to meet a real live Soviet and, I have no doubt, the Soviets were eager to meet an American, especially one who worked for the U.S. Army. Since I was a reporter, however, I had no security clearance and was not cleared for access to classified information.

In a small East Berlin gasthaus, my wife and I met two men, introduced to us as Soviets. It was clear that only one mattered.

This was Boris M., a beefy man with a broad face. As we later learned, he was from Leningrad, an orphan who had survived the Nazi siege of that city. He told us vivid stories of that terrible time when he was a teenager helping to drag supplies across the frozen Baltic while the German artillery tried to blow holes in the ice.

According to his business card, he was a first secretary of the Soviet Embassy in East Berlin, located in a large brooding building near the Brandenburg Gate. He spoke excellent German and had a buoyant sense of humor. As we got to know him, he delighted in playing on our somewhat wide-eyed innocence about Communists and the Soviet Union, making extravagant threats about having us killed (umgebracht) if we didn't have another beer or let him pay the bill.

Since he had Soviet diplomatic plates on his chauffeured Volga, he could come across the border to West Berlin at will, and frequently did so. And we could cross the border just as easily in our Volkswagen with U.S. plates. Once he even invited us to the Soviet military compound at Pankow, a tightly guarded garrison near Berlin where the apartments were remarkably similar to the loosely guarded U.S. Army accommodations in West Berlin.

That was a journalistic coup, since, at the time, no other western reporters in West Berlin had ever seen the compound where the Soviet military command was hidden. It was also a subtle test of faith: The dinner included wild mushrooms that Boris and his wife had collected that day in the nearby forest. In the interest of good Soviet-American relations we swallowed them, along with our misgivings about the possibility that they were poisonous.

Several times we also invited Boris to our place, a romantic, aging house on the shore of the Kleine Wannsee. In the lakeside yard, we had set up a rudimentary federball (badminton) court. Boris would take off his Russian-style suit jacket and necktie and ferociously bat the bird back across the net at us. He was surprisingly quick for such a broad, muscular man, and very competitive.

In an effort to proselytize, we invited him over for a typical American breakfast at our house. First, we showed him the wonders of the Sears catalogue. He was duly impressed. We also pointed out the wide variety of foods that Americans eat for breakfast, including boxes of cereals. He was not impressed with the Kellogg's boxes. "This is very common in the Soviet Union." And what was it called in Russian? Kornflecks," he answered.

Shortly after that I was called in to U.S. Army headquarters and informed that I had been observed in the company of a Soviet agent and that our relationship with Boris must cease. I asked why and was told that Boris was, in fact, the station chief of the KGB in Berlin, under cover as first secretary of the embassy.

Boris and I were to have lunch that day in West Berlin, but I sadly informed him that I could no longer meet him, without being able to explain why. He looked genuinely unhappy, shrugged, shook hands and left.

About a year later, I left AFN and became the Berlin correspondent for the London Daily Mail as well as several American radio networks. My wife and I wasted no time in renewing our friendship with Boris and he would frequently meet us in East or West Berlin. We liked him and believed we could continue as friends, despite any KGB connections he had.

One of the first results of our rekindled friendship was that we were invited to an embassy reception for Nikita Khruschev in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War tensions in March 1959. That was a very hot ticket, particularly for a young reporter who didn't rank very high in Berlin's journalistic pecking order. We had little doubt that Boris had a hand in placing us on the guest list.

The next summer, an even hotter ticket was a visa and press pass for Francis Gary Powers' trial in Moscow. The world had been galvanized by the downing of Powers' U-2 spy plane over Sverdlovsk on May Day 1960, the subsequent collapse of the four-power summit in Paris and the announcement that Powers would be put on trial.

The whole press world was vying to get its reporters into the Soviet capital for the August trial. The Soviets shrewdly limited the coverage to resident Moscow correspondents and a few dozen Americans and even fewer representatives from British papers. The Daily Mail asked all of its correspondents to apply for accreditation. When I was notified that I was one of the lucky few, I again had no doubt that Boris was watching out for me.

The Powers trial in the House of Union near the Bolshoi Theater was thrilling drama as well as great newspaper and radio copy. Watching Powers, a high school athlete turned pilot, docilely playing his part as a Cold War pawn, was riveting. Seeing his bewildered family from rural Virginia and his hard-drinking wife was heartbreaking. Listening to the revelations about the U-2, and Powers' ill-conceived, and probably useless, suicide kit, was sad and sobering.

My career began to take off as a result of the work I did during the Powers trial. When I came back to Berlin, we saw Boris again. The big story then was the 1960 presidential campaign. Boris was supremely confident that Richard Nixon would win. I had a feeling that John Kennedy had a chance. We argued about it and then he proposed a bet, 100 rubles, which was pretty big money for a freelance reporter ($160 at the official exchange rate at the time).

I still have the payoff, a 100-ruble note, about as big as a letter-size envelope, with a picture of Lenin on one side and an engraving of the Kremlin on the other. Over the Kremlin engraving he wrote: 8.11.60 (November 8, 1960, European-style) Boris."

I left Berlin for a new job and never saw Boris again. A colleague of mine went to Moscow in 1961 and I told him to look up Boris, who had told me he was being reassigned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Someone with the same name turned up for their lunch appointment, but from the description given by my colleague, it was clearly not our Boris. The man knew nothing about Berlin, nothing about me or why he had been invited to lunch with this strange American.

Thinking about that relationship of some 35 years ago, I ask myself: Did I use Boris? Did he use me? The answers are yes and yes. I got an insight into the Soviet world and I certainly advanced my career. I suspect he was disappointed at my total ignorance of U.S. Army secrets but he surely got some credit for keeping contact with the "other side."

I imagine he or his ubiquitous chauffeur may have justified the time Boris spent with my wife and me with reports about inside information from an American source" in West Berlin, including the tip that Kennedy was going to win the 1960 election. That vital information was probably attached to a voucher for 100 rubles given to "informant." There might even have been a code name, something like "Kornfleck" or "Federball." If so, that's me.

There's another thing I ask when I reflect on the relationship with Boris. In such contacts, is it possible to have a real friendship, something more than a mutual advancement of careers? This is a question that can be asked of any relationship between a reporter and a source," whether the source works for the KGB or the State Department or the police department.

It's a complex link that is sometimes more than a simple exchange of information, since it depends on trust. It sometimes leads to a kind of friendship.

I never expected any secrets from Boris and never got any, although I got some boost in my career. He may have hoped for some secrets but his relationship with us didn't stop when it must have been clear to him that I was a reporter, nothing more, nothing less, and he was getting no inside information.

We think of him often as we look at the 100-ruble note, once worth $160 and now worth something like 20 cents, a sign of the turbulent changes that must have marked the twilight of his career. We wish him well.

Jim Anderson is a Washington correspondent for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the German press agency, and was the State Department correspondent for UPI from 1976 to 1991.
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Title Annotation:American reporter's relationship with a KGB operative
Author:Anderson, Jim
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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