On March 5, 1953, Joseph Stalin died after suffering a stroke. He may very well have survived the stroke had doctors in attendance been sufficiently courageous to approach him and check on his state of health. However, many past personal physicians of Stalin were now dead and buried because he mistakenly believed they were trying to assassinate him. Consequently, they erroneously assumed he was drunk and let him lie on the floor until morning. By the time they approached him, his body was cold.
No one person initially succeeded Stalin. For two years a collective group called the Council of Ministries ruled Russia. Georgi M. Malenkov held the major leadership position as Premier. Naturally, a struggle for power developed among Malenkov and leading council members.
During this time I was undergoing paratrooper training near Kiev. Although it would not be until four years later that we would launch the first man-made satellite Sputnik, I was being groomed to become one of the cosmonauts which would be required for our space programs in the near future. I had graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, having completed the four-year curriculum in less than three. As I was not a qualified pilot, I would not become a mission commander. However, I was highly qualified to become a mission specialist or flight engineer.
A selected group from Russian schools were given IQ tests annually. By all standards I ranked as a genius. In addition, the cosmonaut selection committee was impressed by my athletic ability, patriotism, and what they called my "positive attitude." You see in my later career virtually any information, KGB or otherwise, was available to me. Out of curiosity I read my own file and was well pleased. They praised my "never say die" attitude, noting one example where I lifted 100 kilograms (approximately 220 pounds) over my head during a competition between the cosmonaut candidates. Most of the others had long since dropped out, some of those remaining refused to attempt the lift, and the few that tried made very futile attempts.
Their problem was they were defeated before the attempt. Their minds knew their bodies could not lift that weight! The mind always quits before the body, otherwise the body could damage itself. All my mind knew was that I was in a first place tie, and by lifting that weight I would win the competition. I lifted the weight and then tried to ignore the pain in my back as the competition advanced the next day to the 1500 meter run.
Looking back now on those wonder years, it's obvious that my machismo was due to youthful naiveté and possibly hormones. Nonetheless, I was selected as one of the few to begin cosmonaut training.
The cosmonaut program was a grueling experience, physically and mentally. However, due to the severity of the selection procedure, very few candidates had dropped out by the eighth week of training. All had become very close friends and would help and cheer each other on to accomplish the difficult feats required of the entire group.
Having prepared myself mentally and physically for the exhausting cosmonaut program, I was surprised to be approached and invited to become a member of an even more elite and important group. This event began as I was awakened in the middle of the night during the ninth week of training and ordered to dress in survival gear. I was provided a small amount of food, a parachute, and compass and placed onboard a small military airplane warming up on the runway. My assignment was to parachute from the plane and find my way back to the barracks within three days.
Instead of bemoaning my fate, I monitored the compass as the plane became airborne, counting the minutes traveled in each direction. Later, by estimating the speed of the plane, I could roughly triangulate, approximate the distance, and head back directly to the base.
The freezing cold wind hit me like an iceberg as I exited the plane. It was difficult to judge my height above the ground due to the intense darkness, and I popped the chute long before necessary. But this did give me a chance to see the red and green blinking lights of the plane as it made a slow banking turn and headed back to the airfield. This would help confirm my mental calculations and give another indication of the direction to travel. By pulling appropriately on the control lines, I attempted to keep my front side facing toward the now barely visible lights from the plane.
Suddenly my chute caught the edge of a tree and I instinctively rolled upon hitting the ground to prevent any broken bones. I did not even want to sprain an ankle because by my calculations it was 60-80 kilometers to the base. Not loitering on the ground, I quickly scrambled to my feet and looked for the lights from the plane, to no avail. However, the low, consistent, hum of its engines could be heard. Rapidly I scrapped a line in the snow toward the plane, and scrapped an arrowhead at one end of the line so that in the morning I would know in which direction to begin my return trek. Wrapping myself in the silk parachute for more protection from the cold, I lay down to sleep pointing in the same direction as my arrow just in case it might be covered by new or wind driven snow during the night. Then, confident as always that if any of the group could pull this off, I could, I fell asleep.
I awoke as the morning sunlight fell upon my face. My eyes opened to see the blue sky and my first thought was excitement about getting started on this new adventure. Bending at the waist to raise up and see if my arrow was still visible, I sensed I was not alone.
"Good morning, Comrade," a voice rang out as I rolled over to face him without rising. The man was well dressed against the cold and it was obvious he was not lost or starving. His brown fur hat and earflaps framed his mustached face, and dark sunglasses helped conceal his rustic features. Assuming he was probably armed, I changed to a sitting position and did not stand. Why intimidate him? He was obviously here for some purpose.
"How can I help you, Comrade?" I asked.
"I'm meeting you here for a reason, to offer you a proposal. I personally believe it to be a real opportunity. You come highly recommended."
As we spoke, small puffs of steam came forth from our mouths in the crisp cold morning air. "I am currently involved in a good opportunity," I interrupted. I thought it unwise to give out any unnecessary information, so I did not state my name or that I was in cosmonaut training. "How did you know exactly where I would be in this wasteland?" I inquired.
Slowly reaching behind the fallen log on which he was sitting, he retrieved a small electronic apparatus with a circular antenna and tuning knob, obviously a tracking device. In his deep commanding baritone voice he replied, "We had a transmitter put in your parachute. I simply had to locate you before you left this fine morning."
Now it was "we" I noticed, so others are involved.
"You seem to have the advantage on me, comrade. Who are you, and what is your proposal?"
"First, I don't know your name and you have no need to know mine. That is an important lesson in my profession. Never give out more information than is required. We are here alone. The next closest human is probably at the air base which you might be interested to know is about seventy kilometers in that direction," as he pointed in the direction of my arrow.
"A very high level committee has chosen you as a possible candidate for my organization. The selection criteria were created by me. They know who you are but I do not. They will never be informed as to whether or not you joined my group. As a matter of fact, they do not even know about my organization. They select candidates and arrange these interviews. You are especially well qualified for this career as you have no close family ties. I know both of your parents died as Heroes of the Soviet Union during World War II. You must be very proud of them.
"You are presently in cosmonaut training and you will probably make the grade. You will be publicly praised and perhaps be written about in the history books. If you accept my proposal you will have to turn 180 degrees in your career. You must shun the spotlight to be successful but you will serve a much greater purpose. You will affect history but be anonymous. You will only be given enough information to allow you to make a decision. If you choose to say no, you can return to the base and become a cosmonaut. All cosmonaut candidates have to pass this same survival test. You will not know enough to harm our organization and no one would believe you parachuted at night into the wilderness and landed next to me for a job interview. So there's no reason why you would divulge our conversation to anyone. With either choice you will be an asset to our country, but we would be extremely pleased to have you join us.
"Russia is in dire straits presently with political intrigue and uncertainty. She needs patriots like ourselves. You are highly intelligent, speak fluent English, will patriotically follow orders without question, and are already trained in how to kill by the military. In addition, you are relatively handsome. That can be a definite plus in this profession. You have been provided with a dilemma this morning, a fork in the road. Let me warn you -- if you come with me there is no turning back."
"Intriguing," I responded, "but I need more information. I have worked extremely hard to reach my present situation."
"Straddle the other end of this log," he said as he stood up, unbuttoned the top three buttons of his coat and straddled his end of the log. "I have to be careful from this point on. I need to tell you enough without divulging information which would make you a liability.
"Stalin was a lunatic, at least toward the end of his life," he began. "The man was so paranoid he probably killed more good men than evil. But this is a fact of life in our country. A few are always struggling to reach the top, to become the top man. As soon as they get to the top, others are trying to sabotage or kill them. They have no one they can trust. Therefore, they trust no one and become paranoid. We will put an end to this. This is one of our directives. Presently, there is a struggle for power underway between Malenkov, Khrushchev, Bulganin, and possibly others. One of these will become supreme. We will relieve this person of these pressures so he can handle real problems in Russia and internationally. We will guard his back and destroy his enemies as required. It will be my responsibility to sell this concept to whoever becomes our Premier. I hope to have my personnel selected so he can be presented with a fait accompli. My desire is to be perfectly honest with you now and in the future. You need to understand that my success or failure in selling this proposal should weigh heavily on the making of your decision. If I am unsuccessful, you will have already abandoned the cosmonaut corps.
"In addition to doing the Premier's bidding we will work other problems as well. Drugs, organized crime, espionage, counter espionage, whatever is deemed critical to Russia. When not assigned to a project you will be a freelance agent working on your own. I will report directly to the Premier and you will report directly to me. You will be one of a small group although you will not know the exact number nor the identities of the other agents. Only I know that information. Likewise, the Premier will not know how many or who you are. You will be known only by code numbers. This way my agents will not be involved in any cleanup if and when the governmental powers change. By cleanup, I mean purges. Any cleanup would stop with me, they would not know you. We are not associated with the KGB, although we have access to any and all KGB files.
"As a matter of fact, we are not to go near KGB headquarters because CIA agents monitoring the building might photograph us. We will have special security clearances and what we say or do is never to be repeated to another person. We will devise a secure method of communication, we will have safe houses around the world, basically unlimited budgets, and will be provided cover stories, lots of travel, and excellent living conditions and salary within reasonable boundaries. We must not draw attention to ourselves through extravagance. I see this as a long-term career. If we do a good job for whoever becomes our new leader, I envision his successor desiring the same services. Of course, he would not know of our existence until he became our leader. Any questions at this point?"
"Where would I go from here? What would be my first assignment?" I continued.
"Trust me, you are not ready for an assignment. You will attend a secret school to be set up by me for extensive training. It will be similar to the CIA's "Farm" in Langley, Virginia, but even more extensive. You will learn self-defense, everything we know about the CIA and FBI, how to use the plastic explosive Semtex, and you might be sent to college in the United States."
Although the adventuresome part of my mind was becoming tempted, the realistic part said stick with a known course -- the cosmonaut program. After conversing with the stranger for only a few minutes, I had no doubt he could sell his concept to whoever became Russia's supreme ruler. He was confident, secure, well-spoken, and persuasive; and I was convinced he could sell snow to Eskimos.
"If I accept your offer, how will I terminate my cosmonaut training?"
"You simply do not survive the survival test," he said as he went over to my parachute, took out a knife from his pocket, and after some feeling around, cut the tiny transmitter from the chute. "You were eaten by bears or wolves that scattered your remains over the countryside so you were never found," he laughed. Then he stopped laughing, looked me square in the eyes and said, "Russia needs you now. I need you now. If we do not stop this internal strife soon, there may never be a space program, Comrade!"
That statement brought me back to reality. It would be difficult leaving the cosmonaut corps. Even though the individual competition was intense, we had developed quite an esprit de corps, and friendships which would last a lifetime. Our recent training was as a team, and now I was expected to become an invisible individual. Everything he had said was true. Our nation was definitely in dire straits. Perhaps my destiny was not to become a national hero as a cosmonaut but to devote myself anonymously for the greater good of Russia, as had my parents. Perhaps it was heredity. I momentarily hesitated until a sense of adventure and curiosity overwhelmed me as I walked over to him, extended my hand, and said; "You're quite a salesman, Boss."
He buttoned the top three buttons on his coat, we bundled up the parachute, uncovered two pair of snow shoes he had brought with him, and headed out of the snow covered wilderness in the opposite direction to which my arrow was pointing, confident that newly falling snow would cover our tracks.
As we trudged out of the wilderness, I became more and more impressed with my new leader. He had many excellent ideas and a vision of where our group should be within five years. Being in his presence convinced me I had made the correct decision.
He was right about my family. I had no known family as my mother and father were both killed in the German siege of Stalingrad during World War II. I was evacuated and my mother could have come with me. However, she refused to leave my father's side. Growing up I envisioned dad firing his machine gun into onrushing Germans until he ran out of ammunition and was overrun. And there was mom pulling the pin on her last grenade as she blew herself up along with several Germans that had her surrounded. In actuality, no one knows how my parents died. They may have died of disease or froze to death. In any event, they died as heroes in my eyes as well as in the eyes of all Russia. Everyone who remained to repel the Germans at Stalingrad knew they would probably not survive, and in that sense they were all heroes. Various aunts and uncles were never located and I was raised in a series of state run orphanages.
In this new career I was given a modified appearance, new name, and cover story. However, my new boss was incorrect about one item. Due to the turbulent times and political events which were unfolding, I did not go directly to school. My first assignment was later that same year when I participated in the execution of a political official. He was causing problems for Khrushchev and was executed secretly on charges of plotting to seize power. On Khrushchev's authority, the Chief of the Secret Police, Lavrenti P. Beria, had been executed on the same charges only five months after the death of Joseph Stalin.
Malenkov was forced to resign in 1955, Bulganin became Premier, but Khrushchev held the real power. By 1958, Khrushchev was Premier and leader of the Communist Party.
The "school," located in a remote, abandoned, former Siberian forced labor camp, was as severe as promised. Eight students started the school, two of us graduated! We were outnumbered by the instructors who joked about the former slave laborers having it better than us. We agreed! However, we came out of that experience knowing we could conquer anyone in the world. Our self-confidence would never again be as high. That was the last physical and self-defense training we would have. We were expected to maintain our physical conditioning through our own self-discipline.
That worked well for me because I was always a physical person. Realizing that exercise was also therapeutic, keeping in shape served two purposes. Many a time when I was overworked, depressed, lonely, or otherwise feeling sorry for myself, I would locate the nearest 400-meter track and sprint a few laps. There is something about the severe oxygen debt caused by exhaustion that cleanses the mind.
Although physical conditioning and self-defense training were individual responsibilities, our commander would periodically test these skills. Many a time we would get on the mat together and perform mock combat. He won most of the initial contests, but soon we became very equally matched. It was his way of testing our skills, teaching us new tricks, and otherwise bonding.
My mental training would continue for the remainder of my life, in formal class and in on-the-job training. Of course, in my early twenties I was more intelligent than anyone on Earth. Then I found out differently. At twenty-five, surely I was leader of the pack! Once again, I found out differently. Somewhere around thirty, I lost much of my youthful ego and learned the most important piece of knowledge anyone can learn -- that I am still and ever will be learning!
The code names devised for us consisted of a letter and a double digit. The top man who had enlisted me in the woods, became Z99, the highest letter and the largest possible number. But I continued to call him Boss.
My code name was D88. The structure of the code was never explained to me, although Boss would refer to us in the plural as his Doubles. Therefore, I assumed the digits were always an 11,22,33.... 99. In addition, he has referred to me as "D" and D88. Assuming "D" is unique to me, there could be a maximum of 26 Doubles, including Z99. The code letters were in English and not Russian since English was becoming the universal language of the world. English code designations would make it easier for us to operate on a global basis.
Small groups of "worker bees" were created within virtually every western nation to assist us in various day-to-day repetitive activities. These included assistance in infiltrating foreign borders, providing transportation, money, false identifications, weapons, and any other materials required for the mission at hand. These services were humorously referred to as "foreign aid." The amount and types of foreign aid required were always discussed in detail prior to any mission.
Only once in my career had I knowingly been in the presence of other Doubles with the exception of Boss. This was during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Premier Khrushchev insisted on meeting with all agents available at that time, stating he greatly valued our advice and discretion. The security risk of our identifications becoming known paled by comparison with the possibility that the world might be consumed by nuclear war within days.
We had backed the United States into a corner over the missiles deployed in Cuba and they were not going to back down from their demands. Premier Khrushchev was willing to remove the missiles but there was a communication problem which had occurred to no one before this time. He could not simply pick up a phone and talk to President John F. Kennedy! We provided two messengers, one Russian and one American, and Doubles discretely protected them in Moscow and Washington, D.C.
Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message stating it had come time to stop the drift toward war and the USSR would remove the missiles if the United States would agree not to invade Cuba. This defused the crisis. The United States backed down from DEF CON 2 (Defense Condition 2 -- the highest state of readiness before war), and we took our nuclear weapon systems back to a normal state of readiness.
As a result of the Cuban missile crisis the United States and the USSR signed an agreement providing for what would become known as the "hot line" at the Geneva disarmament conference in 1963. The hot line allows the President of the United States and the Russian Premier to communicate directly and instantly whenever a serious international crisis arises. The hot line would hopefully reduce the risk of war caused by misunderstandings.
As the three available Doubles entered the secure room that day along with Boss for our initial discussion, the electronic detection devices sounded their alarms due to microelectronic transmitters which had recently been surgically implanted under our left armpits. All body transmitter parts were made of plastic wherever possible to minimize detection by metal detectors which were becoming more widely used as airport security devices.
Keeping track of us had always been difficult as we would typically be scattered throughout the world. In 1957 we had launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik. By 1962 we had placed several "weather/communication" satellites into orbit. These were actually the first spy satellites and one of their functions was to monitor the location of each Double. The small transmitters implanted in the flesh under our left arms transmitted a signal every fifteen minutes. The locations were coded, scrambled, and transmitted to a satellite dish located at the Kremlin. The data from this dish flowed to one room in the Kremlin where the location of each agent was displayed on a wall-mounted 2x3-meter computer driven map of the world. Supposedly, only the system operators, the Premier, and Boss were allowed access into this room. We were monitored twenty-four hours a day by operators who did not know what the dots moving about the map represented. Their job was simply to keep the system running and report if any of the dots ever merged together. The Premier or Boss could drop by the room at any time without notice. This method served a dual purpose. First, the Premier knew we were not meeting together or with his enemies to plot his downfall. That is, the reduction of premier paranoia. Secondly, we could all be quickly located in case of an emergency such as the Cuban missile crisis. This system was the predecessor of today's Global Positioning Systems or GPS, which are now in many devices.
The Doubles were not licensed to kill like the fictional British Double-O agents. However, it was understood that we were all trained killers. I have averaged between two to three hits a year. Oftentimes one and once five in a bad year. Killing another human was never an enjoyable task. It was simply a part of my unwritten job description and was performed out of necessity. I would commit the act quickly and mechanically and then simply put it out of my mind. Sometimes the cause of death needed to appear accidental or natural, but generally a shot to the back of the head with a small caliber silencer equipped pistol was adequate. The small caliber bullet would penetrate the skull once but not exit out the other side. It would ricochet around inside the skull causing massive damage. We generally made the hits appear to be acts of the CIA or Mossad (Israeli secret service -- Hebrew for "The Institute").
We never entered a foreign country carrying a weapon. We were given an unmarked key and memorized a number. The key opened an airport rental locker identified by the memorized number. The rental locker contained five other numbered keys in envelopes and directions to the lockers they opened. One of the five keys was the original key to be replaced in this rental locker. The two odd numbered keys were to open rental lockers at airports or bus stations which contained the weapon, silencer, and any other materials and identification required to perform the mission. The weapon and silencer were always in separate lockers. If not picked up within four days of arrival the contents of the odd numbered lockers were removed and destroyed. If picked up, the devices would be returned in the even numbered lockers upon exiting from the country. They would be retrieved and destroyed by melting down with special acetylene torches. All of these functions were carried out by "foreign aid."
In any event, that is basically who I am, a Russian Double. This is not to be confused with a double agent, definitely not the same thing. I had no regrets about not becoming a cosmonaut. My life had been very exciting to this point and I felt very important because my input had been considered when world shaking decisions had been made.
Looking back, those eleven years were the good old days for the Doubles. We had formed a totally new, secret, well trained group and had affected the history of the world on numerous occasions. Our morale was high and we were confident and proud to be special people -- Doubles!
All of this was to suddenly change in October of 1964!
Proceed to Chapter Two. Table of Contents. Questions or comments?