Mexico, Cuba and Brasil

Palace of Fine Arts, one of the many beautiful backdrops for the shadow world of espionage.

Palace of Fine Arts, one of the many beautiful backdrops for the shadow world of espionage.

Being on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean made contact with my handler difficult and sometimes dangerous. The MfS was unwilling to meet inside of the United States, so all that remained was Latin America. For immediate needs, Mexico was the obvious choice. Messages to Berlin were required to be sent by postcard in code from a mailbox in Mexico itself. Mexican postcards, Mexican stamps, all were 4-6 hours away depending on where I decided to get them. Mail was sent out of Ciudad Acuna, and other tasks, such as flying to Mexico City to meet with my contacts, were done from Nuevo Laredo. Meetings were arranged in Mexico City, where the MfS could work out of the nearby embassy. Although I was often travelling as a tourist, I rarely had the chance to enjoy much of wht I was seeing. I have returned to Mexico City many times over the years, and it has become a favorite place to simply wander the streets of Centro or make a trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan.

 

Mexico City on a rare day with good visibilty.

Mexico City on a rare day with good visibilty.

Tower of the Americas in the background, meeting place for handing over film to contacts. On the left a hotel that has stood vacant since the 1985 earthquake.

Tower of the Americas in the background, meeting place for handing over film to contacts. On the left a hotel that has stood vacant since the 1985 earthquake.

The Zocalo in Mexico City. A great place to buy jewelry, have a cup of strong Mexcian coffee or lose any potential tails.

The Zocalo in Mexico City. A great place to buy jewelry, have a cup of strong Mexcian coffee or lose any potential tails.

Brasil

In February of 1984 I set up a meeting with my handler in Rio de Janeiro. Carneval had just ended and the first ‘Rock in Rio’ had taken place, making the city a good choice for any traveler wishing to arouse little suspicion. Brazil in the 1980s was considered a moderate threat to US interests, and the fact that the country was still ruled by the military made it unlikely that US assets operated freely within the country.

 

Sugarloaf Mountain viewed from Corcovado. A picture postcard view. For me it was only window dressing.

Sugarloaf Mountain viewed from Corcovado. A picture postcard view. For me it was only window dressing.

From the very beginning, starting with the flight from Miami, I was watched by Brazilian intelligence. On the very first day, shortly after my arrival, an attempt to establish contact was made. Luck had combined with experience at outwitting any tails, and I was able to meet with my contact on the first and second days without incident. During this phase of the operation Berlin had passed on detailed lists of documents and directives they wanted photographed. Although I no longer had the tiny Minox I once used to photograph documents in West Berlin, I was now using my own camera (a Canon AE-1 program that I still have today) to reproduce documents from the technical library at Goodfellow AFB. The fact that I was now using a speedwinder was an indicator of the level of our success.

Just as in Mexico, I was unable to enjoy much of the scenery. My excursions were usually nothing more than camouflage for my activities, although I always managed to take a few pictures.

Brazilian Military Policemen I befriended on my early morning walks on the beach. Men like these also surrounded our hotel and kept us separated from normal Brazilians.

Brazilian Military Policemen I befriended on my early morning walks on the beach. Men like these also surrounded our hotel and kept us separated from normal Brazilians.

Taxis in Rio

Rio offered unique locations to lose any surveillance tails. This taxi mash-up at the feet of Jesus atop of Corcovado was proof of how difficult vehicle surveillance could be. Cable cars, tunnels, jam-packed public transport and dangerous neighborhoods made Rio ideal for espionage work.

Cuba

When I first landed at Jose Marti airport on that hot September day in 1985, it was the first time I had felt safe in weeks, perhaps years. Of all the GDR’s allies, only Cuba and Czechoslovakia offered assistance in helping to return me safely to the GDR. In the aftermath of the ‘Falcon and the Snowman’ scandal, not even the USSR (which benefited immensely from my work) was willing to assist in my exfiltration from Mexico City. Just as one does not forget being snubbed, one also does not forget help when it is offered in times of need. To this day I am grateful to the Cuban government and the Cuban people for their help and display of true solidarity. Of all the nations the GDR approached for help, Cuba would have had the best excuses for declining any requests for help, being small, poor and with limited resources. What Cuba lacked in resources, it made up in resourcefulness. This is precisely what I would see when I landed on that island. I was treated with respect and courtesy, which was often not the case with the MfS. As I sat on the beach in Varadero looking out across the waters in the direction of Florida, I wished that I would be able to stay on this island. Had I known that the MfS would soon consider sending me off to Sweden to fend for myself, I would have stayed. Little did I know that one day this island would be all that remained of the socialist bloc.

El Morro guarding the entrance to Havana’s harbor

El Morro guarding the entrance to Havana’s harbor

Midday scene in Old Havana.

Midday scene in Old Havana.

Sitting on the sea wall along the Malecon. Ninety miles behind lay the United States.                                                                                  This is the only picture taken of me in Cuba. September, 1985

Sitting on the sea wall along the Malecon. Ninety miles behind lay the United States. This is the only picture taken of me in Cuba. September, 1985

Soviet freighter leaving Havana harbor. These were the last years of Soviet subventions. Truly hard times were already on the horizon.

Soviet freighter leaving Havana harbor. These were the last years of Soviet subventions. Truly hard times were already on the horizon.