For many diplomats, the time spent under constant surveillance while in Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War could lead to serious frustration and close brushes with angered KGB agents. David Evans’ story of being stonewalled by the Soviet police and then targeted by a potential honeytrap is one such example of the absurdity of living in a country where the police and State Security all worked to frustrate American diplomats.
David Evans served as an Economic Officer at Embassy Moscow from 1971-1973. His interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in November 1996.
“There is no hooliganism in the Soviet Union”
EVANS: I arrived in Moscow with my wife and two small children. About three weeks later, our shipment of effects arrived. We were sent to live in a new apartment block, obviously just for foreigners, diplomats, and a few businessmen. We were one of the first families to be there, and at that time, they still had not completed the fence and the box where the militia men, the “milimen,” as we called it, with an extra key to monitor us. We had a very large, spacious apartment. It was not in the center, shall we say, and we had a car, because we drove in. But we did not have a telephone for some time, which was very difficult.
About three weeks after we got there, we were unpacking our shipment of effects, which was a great joy, and everything seemed to be in order. It got late.
It was about 2:00 in the morning, and we were still unpacking the boxes. All of a sudden, the quiet night air was shattered by the unmistakable sound of glass and metal being smashed. I knew instinctively what it was. I ran to our balcony, we were on the eighth floor, and sure enough, looking down, I saw my car being attacked by three thugs wielding crow bars and hammers. They were systematically smashing every bit of glass they could find, beating in the hood, smashing in the doors, of my beautiful Oldsmobile, the first new car I ever had the luxury of buying.
On the seventh floor, lived the junior Naval attaché, Steve Khime. He rushed out to see what was going on. We yelled down to each other. I was so appalled, I didn’t know what to do — here I was, on the eighth floor.
My wife had bought a big treasure for her, which was a big plant, and it was in a pot. My reaction was to take this potted plant and hurl it down to these people. My wife stopped me from doing that. She was not ready to sacrifice the pot, and of course, it would not have done any good.
Steve shouted, “Well, I’ve got my car. Let’s go after the bastards.” We raced down and got in his car. By that time, the thugs had gone off. Of course, I knew that there wasn’t any point in doing it, but, just for the hell of it, we went to the local police station to make the report. I just thought that I would do it.
As we drove in to the police station, I noticed a white Volvo parked there. It was the car with the three individuals, so we went ahead, and I said, “An act of hooliganism has been perpetrated on me, and my car had been shattered.” This was about 2:30 at night.
So, of course, the policeman said, “That is impossible, there is no hooliganism in the Soviet Union, and therefore, there can be no hooligans, therefore this thing didn’t happen.”
“Well, it did happen, and, not only that, but the people who did it, are right here, because there is the car.”
I guess it was lucky we got out of there. But I called up a friend of mine, named Bernie Gwertzman, who is the correspondent for The New York Times, whom I had known at Harvard, and I told Bernie about this because I was very upset about it. He ran a story, which ran on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post, the next day, naming me, and one other American diplomat, who had also come with me and whose car had also been demolished. This was the first and only time I had been on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
It turned out that this was a retaliation for the JDL bombing [Jewish Defense League, which bombed the Soviet cultural center in Washington, DC in January 1971], and possibly, because it was publicized, and possibly because — which I didn’t know at the time — work was already underway for the planning of the Nixon visit next year.
That was not the last nasty incident. There were a lot of nasty incidents, harassment, and threats, and so forth, against American diplomats in Moscow. I have to say — and I’m being very frank in this interview — that the reaction of the American Embassy was appalling. I found myself, the victim, having my car demolished.
But I was taken aside by the Political Counselor, and very severely reprimanded for having spoken to the press about this. He said, “Don’t you realize that bigger things are at play here, and things that you don’t know. You just can’t go popping off to the press.”
I think I was right. I think it was very beneficial that it was publicized. However, the State Department refused to pay to repair my car, nor would they lend me another car. The Embassy garage said they would work on what they could.
I called PanAm and I called General Motors, and miraculously PanAm, at no expense to me, flew in the parts, and General Motors, at no expense to me, contributed all the windows, all the headlights, new hood, new side panels, whatever it was, the chrome around the whole thing.
But I remember Ambassador [Jacob] Beam saying, “It is unfortunate, David, but those are the breaks of the game, and we can’t be responsible for such things. I realize you are going to be out of pocket for this.”
I thought that was pretty shoddy.
“There, standing outside, was probably the most striking blonde I have ever seen”
After my car was demolished, and before we had a telephone put in, one night, and again, long before the Nixon visit was on the horizon, in the fall of 1971, we showed a movie to some of our Western friends in our apartment.
At that time, the embassies behind the Iron Curtain got movies from the military, which we showed at home, for entertainment, since it was almost impossible to go out. We would invite other Westerners over, and they loved it. So, we had these informal parties.
On this particular night, I showed a vampire film, called The Return of Count Yorga, which I heartily recommend. It was really quite scary. One guest actually got so scared, she went and hid behind the sofa, as the film was nearing its conclusion, which had two beautiful girls chomping each other, one of whom was a very striking blonde.
By the time the guests left and we went to bed, it was 2:00 in the morning. We had had a lot to drink, inevitably, at a party like this. I went into a deep sleep.
I was woken up by a frantic pounding at the door of our apartment. At this point, no telephone, no car, no milimen, and no blue box outside, no fence around the building. So, the first thing I thought was, “My God, somebody from the embassy is trying to reach us.”
So, I went to the door, and then, I had a sudden feeling, “Well, maybe it isn’t quite right.” Something from the movie, some sound of danger from the movie came back, and before I opened the door, I said, “Who’s there?”
There was sort of this muffled scuffling, and this female voice said that she needed help. So I called for my wife, because I immediately sensed that this might be a problem. My wife was absolutely, totally out of it. I went back to the bedroom, and I couldn’t wake her at all, after the party.
So I went back to the door. I talked, again, through the door. She said, “Help! I need help.” So, I opened the door. I was in my bathrobe, bleary-eyed, and now it is 2:15 in the morning.
There, standing outside, was probably the most striking blonde I have ever seen, in long blonde hair, she must have been about 5’10” at least, very good looking, probably early twenties with a brand new trench coat on, with all the epaulets and stuff on, which was rather short. It came down above her knees. She had very shiny leather boots on that came right up to the knee. We looked at each other, and I was trying to clear my head.
I realized the girl looked identical to the blonde girl in the film. I was determined that I was not going to go out in the hall, which is what she seemed to want me to do. Again, I wasn’t going to let her in. First, I thought, maybe this is some sort of Swedish nanny who has gotten lost, because we had a Finnish nanny, but some friends of ours had a Swedish nanny.
But this was no nanny. Then, I realized, and all of this is going through my mind, we were way out in the sticks, how could some girl dressed like this, even get there, get through all the mud and muck at 2:00 in the morning, with no taxi cabs? She obviously was delivered. She didn’t seem to want to come in though.
The first thing I thought was, “She is going to come in, and try to compromise me. Well, my wife and children are here, that is ridiculous.” Then, I noticed, behind her, there was an alcove where the trash chute was, and a shadow moved.
She noticed that I noticed, and she said, “Oh, that is my friend, Irene.” Getting more excited, she said, “You come.” She tried to get me out into the hall. Well, I realized that “Irene” was probably Boris, or somebody of that nature, so, at that point, I slammed the door in her face. There is no peephole, which was a big fault of the embassy. They should have had a peephole, but I don’t know what happened. I slammed the door, double-locked it, and went back to bed.
The next morning, I got up and told my wife about it. She looked at me and said, “You’ve had too much to drink.”
I said, “Come out in the hall, maybe there is some proof of it.” We went out into the hall, and looked around. There was nothing there, no earrings or anything. We had put on our door, as a little indication that this was our place, an antique, lion’s head door knocker, belonged to my grandfather, I think, and I was very fond of it. It had been ripped off, the screws had been pulled out, the splintered wood was there.
So somebody was angry, and obviously, the girl had failed in her mission, which I think, was to beat me up, probably, because I had reported the car. This was shortly after I had reported the car. I do think that if I had gone out into the hall that night, I would have been beaten up, possibly kidnapped, I don’t know. It was pretty scary, in retrospect.
But what was interesting, and I believe this, that they sent this girl because she looked like the girl in the film. How could they know what the girl in the film looked like? It meant that they had to have surveillance capability of the interior of the apartment.
Well, later on, in about a year’s time, we discovered that, in fact, this was what was going on. One of the American businessmen who had come over was in his apartment, and he had dozed off, and woke up at about 5:00 in the afternoon, and he saw this tiny red light, coming out of a hole in the wall. He reported it to our security people.
They went over, and tore the wall apart, and found that this was a laser video monitoring system. The Soviets were capable of some very definite scientific achievements. They could monitor the whole interior of the room, day or night.
I honestly believed that in some way, this was no coincidence that this was an obvious attempt to try to get me, following the showing of this movie, and that the woman was like the one in the film. An average person would say, “My God, what paranoia.” But, that is the sort of thing that you had to deal with there.