BITS and PIECES # 17

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January 4, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 17

Hello again from Luquillo,

I trust your holidays were pleasant and relaxing — to start the new year, here is a sort of ‘spy story’ that involves my friendship with a minor member of the Russian Embassy in Ankara Turkey in the 1960’s, my father’s involvement with the Polish government during and after World War II, and subsequent FBI investigations of both incidents…

Sound vaguely interesting? Read on…


I recently read in a ‘Politics – Afternoon edition ‘ on-line article that the National Security Administration (NSA) is encouraging its overseas operatives to record and report all conversations they have with foreign nationals. Reading about this new regulation reminded me of when I was working as a government contractor in Ankara, Turkey in 1964. I was a systems engineer with the RAND Corporation’s System Development Division (SDD) on a ‘classified assignment’ working closely with the Turkish Air Force.

My family and I had spent our first few months in Ankara as guests at the Ankara Palas hotel, a famous landmark, while we waited for our household goods to arrive from Los Angeles – a longshoreman’s strike was in progress on the docks, so our shipment had been delayed indefinitely. During our stay at the hotel, we had acquired many new friends – Turkish nationals mostly, involved in business and government. We had also been befriended by the Third Secretary of the Russian embassy, a genial, portly individual named Rostov.  It was December and very cold on the Anatolian steppes – snow was in glorious profusion most days. Mr. Rostov invited us to bring my family to the Russian embassy to try-out my son Michael’s new sled on the snowy slope that slanted down from the embassy’s front gates. When spring arrived, and the snow had melted away, I was often invited to join him at his embassy’s tennis court as his doubles partner — we became fairly good friends. Because of the sensitivity of my assignment,  I had been granted a Top Secret security clearance, which caused me to report the conversations involved in each encounter with Mr. Rostov, no matter how mundane, to the US Embassy’s Air Attaché, who dutifully forwarded them (in triplicate, of course) to the Air Force Security Service. I often wondered if Rostov had an ulterior motive – he seemed innocent enough – never asking any dubious question — although his ‘driver’, a stolid gentleman named Kerensky, who I was dutifully informed, did not speak or understand English, obviously did — his facial expressions revealed the breadth of his understanding – I suspected that he reported all he heard, no matter how boring, to his superiors…

We remained friends for my entire tour, and I continued to report every contact I had with Mr. Rostov, no matter how innocuous or unimportant they seemed at the time. 

I returned home in 1965 and soon after, I left SDD as the military contract business was on the wane and I was compelled to re-invent myself in the more commercial civilian technology sector.  A year or so later, while employed as an engineer with AMPEX Computer Products in Culver City, California, our engineering group’s secretary came to my office to inform me that a man from the FBI was in the lobby and wished to speak with me — since I was deep in thought about my latest project, the letters FBI didn’t register immediately – I scratched my head and asked the secretary to remind me which of our many suppliers used those initials to abbreviate their name – the secretary looked at me somewhat impatiently and said ‘ he’s an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alan!’

Curious, I trudged downstairs to the lobby to discover a gentleman clad in characteristic dark suit, white shirt and dark tie, wearing a stern expression on his otherwise unremarkable face. He introduced himself curtly and asked me to follow him to his car in the parking lot for a ‘private interview’ — I asked to see his credentials, and when I had assured myself that he was the real thing, I enquired what he wanted with me — he replied by cocking his thumb toward the exit and arching his eyebrows expectantly…

When we were seated in his austere government vehicle, he came right to the point, asking me if I knew a Russian named Rostov.  I thought for a moment and then told him that the only Rostov of any variety that I had ever known was a fellow who worked for the Russian embassy in Ankara when I was assigned there in the 1960s as a government contractor. His ‘Ah Ha’ expression was quickly followed by an unsympathetic and uncompromising line of questions about the ‘truth’ of my relationship with Rostov, while writing my answers down in his spiral notebook – I noticed that he had flipped a switch that automatically locked the car’s doors, which made me slightly uncomfortable…

The questions became more hostile as time wore on — I finally had heard enough — I asked him if he or his agency had ever compared notes with the United States Air Force Security Service — he said, no, why should that matter — I replied, “because I reported every meeting I had with Mr. Rostov, no matter how inconsequential it had seemed at the time, to Colonel John Brady, the US embassy air attaché, and my reports were duly recorded and sent in triplicate to the Pentagon for dissemination.”  “Oh:, he said, somewhat lamely – “we didn’t know – I’ll have to check into that and get back to you — you’ll need to remain available until I do,” he stated ominously…

I never heard back from him, although I ‘remained available’ for many months thereafter…

FBI suspicions of Soviet Communist involvement would seem to run in my family — in the late 1940’s, two equally implacable minions of the FBI arrived at our front door in Beverly Hills, demanding to see my father.  When they were escorted to dad’s study, he courteously asked them if they would like a drink and to have a seat — they refused both proposals, and curtly began to ‘grill’ him about his ‘relationship’ with the Polish government (a Soviet Communist enclave at the time), inferring that they had ‘information’ linking him to that government’s ‘activities’. My father explained that he had helped to raise money for the Polish War Relief Society during World War II, and that, at the present time he was writing a play about the famous Polish actress Helena Modjeska, which he hoped to produce on Broadway.  When they still looked doubtful, he proudly showed them the award he had received from the ‘Free Polish Government in Exile’ for his outstanding support to restore the anti-communist ‘legal’ government of Poland to its rightful place.

As a final bit of evidence he showed them a piece of official stationery, revealing that he was currently on the board of directors of the Motion Picture Alliance of Actors against Communism (MPAAC)…

When he asked them once again if they would care to sit down and have a drink — they, swiftly (and with obvious embarrassment) departed — probably quite disappointed in their failure to capture their intended prey —  a middle-aged British actor/spy!

One hopes that nowadays, the FBI, CIA, NSA and all the other ‘intelligence’ agencies have become more ‘intelligent’ over the years with the advent of high-speed computers, and are thus better able to properly discern, and then share pertinent information — somehow, I kind of doubt it…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.  


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