REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: FBI Director Shatters Preconceptions in Moscow
MOSCOW (AP) _ Who would have believed it? The FBI has an office in Moscow. A restless FBI director tours Red Square at 1 o’clock in the morning. The FBI director leads a gaggle of U.S. lawmen into the Lubyanka Square home office of KGB spies in the United States.
Louis Freeh’s visit to Moscow this holiday weekend served as a milestone in the changing relationship between the United States and Russia. Every step he took was a first.
On July 4th, he opened the FBI’s first office in Russia and in effect became its first occupant.
The two agents picked to man the office have yet to arrive, and the U.S. Embassy hasn’t selected a room for them.
So Freeh spent 10 hours visiting the chiefs of most of Russia’s national police, justice and security offices from Lubyanka Square to the Kremlin offices of President Boris Yeltsin’s national security adviser, Yuri Baturin.
For decades, FBI agents hunted KGB spies in the United States. The last caught was arrested in February - Aldrich Ames of the CIA, who also spied for the Russian Federation that replaced the Soviet Union.
But there was no public mention of Ames on Monday as Freeh headed a team of officials from the Justice and Treasury departments into the feared yellow building on Lubyanka Square. Its basement once housed a KGB prison, where by U.S. accounts murder was not uncommon.
Their host, Sergei Stepashin, director of the counterintelligence service, one of several successor agencies to KGB and not Ames’ employer, found it ″quite symbolic that the first meeting between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Counterintelligence Service is here in Lubyanka Square on your Independence Day.″
Freeh’s arrival in Moscow on Saturday capped a typical grueling day.
He went jogging at 6 a.m. outside Vilnius, Lithuania, met officials of three countries there and flew to Kiev, Ukraine, for more meetings before dinner in Moscow ended around midnight.
At that hour, Freeh was anxious to see Red Square and took most of his delegation by motorcade.
He left the square about 1 a.m. but returned almost immediately upon discovering Assistant Treasury Secretary for Law Enforcement Ron Noble had stayed behind with some reporters in a city plagued with rising street crime.
″Mr. Noble, I’m sorry the director doesn’t think it’s wise,″ said John Behnke, the FBI agent Freeh sent to retrieve Noble. Trailing close behind Behnke, Freeh shrugged at Noble and said, ″It’s not worth the risk.″ They left together.
Despite days that regularly ran 14 to 18 hours, Freeh jogged in Berlin, Budapest, Warsaw, Vilnius and Moscow in eight days.
The 44-year-old director puts in a fairly fast pace of under-7-minute miles that left one of the bureau’s agents in the dust in Warsaw. But Freeh usually runs for just 20 minutes.
Sunday night, Gen. Mikhail Yegorov, head of organized-crime control in Russia’s Interior Ministry, took Freeh and about a dozen of his party to an informal ″shaslik″ or shishkebab dinner of roast suckling pig at a government dacha outside Moscow.
Honoring the tradition of this kind of Russian evening, Freeh downed something close to 10 shots and one tumbler of vodka in an effort to remain within polite hailing distance of his host, according to participants. Freeh didn’t jog Monday morning.
The Yegorov dinner ended with a momentarily hair-raising incident that suggested that the new U.S.-Russian crime-fighting alliance still has some cultural gaps to close.
As the U.S. guests headed to their motorcade, two high-ranking Yegorov aides, filled with the spirit of celebration and considerable spirits of vodka, emptied their pistols into the air, according to several participants.
As American officials flinched or ducked, the FBI agents who have guarded Freeh on the trip sprung to alert and crept warily back toward the dacha for a few moments before it became clear what had happened.
Freeh’s closest brush with crime came in Lithuania. He stayed at a new hotel nearly 20 miles outside the capital, Vilnius.
″It’s owned by the mob or has organized crime investors,″ Freeh said on his plane later.
Why would an FBI director trying to mount an international effort against organized crime stay at such a place?
″There’s no choice,″ Freeh replied. ″Every new hotel there is like that.″
The same hotel provided an unexpected surprise. Freeh and several others stopped in the hotel’s bar Friday evening and then discovered it overlooked an indoor pool a floor below where two couples were cavorting nude. Freeh’s chair faced away from the pool and he later told aides he was surprised to learn there were swimmers there.