The Epic Honey Trap: A Classic Case Shows Just How Far Moscow Will Go

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The French ambassador looked like an easy target, but 100 operatives were called on to get him laid, and get him recruited.”>

Eh bien, Dejean, on couche.

With that contemptuous locution, which one might translate very roughly as, Well, De Jean, one gets laid, with perhaps the added thought that having made ones bed, one must lie in it, Charles De Gaulle dismissed his old friend Maurice Dejean from diplomatic service to the Fifth Republic.

It was 1964, six years after the KGB had staged one of its long-running and most elaborate honey traps in Moscow against a Western diplomat. The operation involved over 100 officers and agents of the KGB including, incognito, the head of the Second Chief Directorate, the branch responsible for domestic surveillance and the monitoring or recruitment of foreigners inside the Soviet Union.

Celebrated Russian writers, actresses, painters, and intellectuals, and not a few prostitutes were conscripted for this mission of interlocking plots and subplots, featuring Dejeans wife and the wives of others. Even Premier Nikita Khrushchev played a role in snaring the high-value mark he himself ordered snared. It was a mission of entrapment that repeatedly risked coming undone and likely would have but for the cosmic surety of French womanizing.

Dejean had served faithfully with De Gaulle in the resistance during World War II, first in Morocco and then London. Although the two had quarreled in the Free French administration after the Allied liberation of Paris, Dejean went on to become political director at the Quai dOrsay, the French foreign ministry.

From there, his career was largely a series of botched attempts to extricate postwar France from various folds in the Iron Curtain, a somewhat quixotic search for a third way between the democratic West and the totalitarian East.

Dejean served as ambassador to Prague and worked assiduously to restore Franco-Czech relations until the 1948 communist coup, which Dejean blamed (rightly) on the Soviets. He headed the French mission in Tokyo in 1950; then he was dispatched to Saigon where he watched the siege of Dien Ben Phu and its fall to communist insurgents in 1954: prelude to an engulfing conflict that would eventually lure the United States into its first disastrous war of choice.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Dejeans next posting would also be his last, in Moscow, a year later. He was 56, eager to establish cultural ties and, as the haughty De Gaulle put it, not above sleeping around.

In the age of email hacking and cyber insecurity, it is easy to forget the more cunning, intimate, and human side of tradecraft, which is why over the last several months Ive been taking slow, deep sips fromKGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, a book published in 1974, at a time when we knew far less than we do now about how the Cold War was being fought in the shadows and street corners and embassies of the world.

The author, John Barron, a Readers Digest journalist (and not the spokesman Donald Trump used to conjure out of thin air) , spent years accumulating first-hand accounts from Soviet defectors about the nature and style of the special services invigilation of the citizenry and of usually unsuspecting foreign visitors to the USSR, or foreign marks abroad.

Barron, who was himself a spook in the 1950s, was so accomplished by the end of his spadework that he frequently testified for the FBI in prominent espionage cases, explaining the patterns of Soviet surveillance and spy-running. The Dejean operation is in many ways the summa of KGB and the subject matter therein.

It all began in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Revolution, at the Moskva Hotel, with KGB Col. Leonid Kunavin instructing one of his subordinates, the dramatist Yuri Krotkov, that Dejean was the target for recruitment, given his closeness to De Gaulle and the likelihood that the latter was on his way to ruling France. The order comes from the very top, Kunavin said. Nikita Sergeyevich [Khrushchev] himself wants him caught.

The use of Krotkov as the seconded scalp-hunter was as clever as it was customary, given his bona fides in the artistic milieu of Soviet Moscow. Born in Tbilisi, he was the son of a famous Georgian painter who once did a portrait of Lavrenty Beria that Stalins last-appointed security chief so admired, he had copies made and hung around the security services Lubyanka headquartersuntil, of course, Beria was purged by Khrushchev following Stalins death.

Even so, paternal accomplishment and connections afforded Krotkov the necessary state protections, as a writer, to advance quickly through the ranks of the nomenklatura. He relied on his friends in the NKVD, as Berias spy service was then known, to evict squatters who had taken over his former room in Moscow, prior to the Nazi siege, which had forced him to flee. Krotkov then worked for TASS and Radio Moscow. He became an agent of the KGB in 1946, at the age of 28.

Heres Barron:

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As a writer, intellectual, and friend of the Boris Pasternak [author of Dr. Zhivago] family, Krotkov was welcomed by foreigners in Moscow. This tall, slender man, with a handsome shock of dark brown hair and an intense, expressive face, could talk suavely in English or Russian about the arts, history, and prominent Soviet personalities. Soon he learned to exploit the hunger of visitors for communication with the Soviet people. All the while, Krotkov was instructed to look for attractive girls whom the KGB could use to tempt foreigners into trouble. He picked them primarily from among actresses he met while writing film scenarios. The KGB offered them various inducementsthe promise of better roles, money, clothes, a measure of liberty and gaiety absent from normal Soviet life.

The girls were called swallows and they flew solo or in formation, depending upon the needs of Krotkov and his masters in the special services. Quarters were provided to them for assignations with their foreign marksthese were swallows nestswhich consisted of two adjoining rooms; one for the tryst and one for the KGBs audio-visual squad to record everything for the inevitable blackmail and Faustian offer.

Upon their arrival in Moscow, in December 1955, Dejean and his wife Marie-Claire had already been put under extensive surveillance. Their apartment at the French embassy was bugged. Their chauffeur was a KGB informant. They didnt go anywhere or see anyone without the KGBs knowledge, in accordance with Second Chief Directorate policy.

We know everything about him there is to know, Col. Kunavin told Krotkov during their meeting at the Moskva Hotel. A day later, the colonel told Krotkov his role would be to get to know Marie-Claire. You must gain control of her; make her ours. You must get her in bed.

Nor were the Dejeans the only mark. The Soviets also wanted to recruit an assistant air attach at the French embassy, Col. Louis Guibaud, who was also married and whose wife Ginette would also have to play a sexual part in Krotkovs little cinema vrit production. Moscows Frank Sinatra at the time, the actor and singer Misha Orlov, would be the one to seduce Madame Guibaud.

The next cast member to enter the plot was nicknamed Little Napoleon. He was Lt. Gen. Oleg Gribanov, at the time the head of the KGBs Second Chief Directorate. He was infamousat least internallyfor crushing dissent and counter-revolutionary activity within the broader USSR. He had won the esteem of his superiors by helping to oversee the destruction of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the year Dejean came to Moscow. So Little Napoleon was enlisted to try to foment treason against La France.

Gribanov was given a legend, or back story, that made him an important official in the Council of Ministers named Oleg Gorbunov. He was married to a woman named Vera Andreyeva, who was in fact a KGB major. Her introduction to the Dejeans came by way of two more agents: Sergei Mikhalkov, the co-author of the Soviet national anthem, and his wife Natalia Konchalovskaya, a childrens book writer. Vera Andreyeva and Madame Dejean, who had yet to go to bed with Krotkov, became good friends.

The two couples took dinner together at the Grubanovs supposed home, a spacious apartment in Moscow, which was really a KGB-run residence. They holidayed at a lavishly appointed log cabin in Kurkino-Mashkino, just outside the capitalactually, the dacha of Ivan Serov, the chairman of the KGB. Meanwhile, Andreyeva was tasked with keeping Madame Dejean preoccupied and out of town as often as possible, the easier to fly swallows across her husbands line of sight.

The first to catch his interest was a French-speaking, curvy divorcee named Lydia Khovanskaya, who was repurposed as a translator and made a point of brushing her hair up against the ambassadors face at a ballet put on just for the benefit of allowing her to entice him into an affair. A subsequent dinner at the pricy Praga Restaurant brought Lydia back into his attention; and, just in case he wasnt interested, two more swallowsactresseswere invited along as insurance.

But Dejean was interested, as it turned out. At a later art exhibit, Lydia asked the ambassador for a ride home. Then she asked him up for coffee and to see how an ordinary Soviet woman lives. He came down two hours later, according to his KGB chauffeur.

Her mission accomplished, she was instructed by Kunavin to play hard to get. Gradually build up the relationship, he told her. But dont appear too available for a while.

It would be a minor victory to let the cage descend upon Dejean when he was still just an ambassador to Moscow. The goal was to wait until he climbed the ladder from diplomat to cabinet official or national security adviser to De Gaulle, now coming into focus, in 1958, as the likely next prime minister or, indeed, president. Dejeans recall to Paris now appeared inevitable.

Act II was an unexpected rearrangement of the dramatis personae.

Lydia had succeeded but had been miscast, according to Kunavin, because she only had an ex-husbandone well known in Parisand this operation, to be fully realized, required an active spouse who could barge in on the ambassador and his swallow.

Lydia fashioned an excuse: She was leaving Moscow to shoot a film on location and wouldnt return for some time. Her replacement was already known to Dejean; one of the beautiful young ingnues brought to the Praga Restaurant as backup.

Larissa Kronberg-Sobolevskaya was an unruly and flamboyant mess, overly fond of the bottle and inclined to take her clothes off without official permission. She had agreed to go along with Moscow Centres designs on Dejean in exchange for a permit to acquire a room in the city.

When Dejean and Lora finally made it back to the apartment, a telegram had been placed there, ostensibly from Misha saying that hed be back from Siberia the next day. So Dejean and Lora undressed, this time together.

The code word for Mishas abrupt entry was Kiev and as soon as Lora spoke it, the thuggish Tatar and Kunavin sprang into action, beating Dejean about the body and also smacking Lora around for theatrical effect. She screamed that the man they were on the verge of killing was the French ambassador, so Misha and Kunavin pretended to think it over. Misha decided that hed instead call the police and Dejean would find himself in disgrace and out of a job in the embassy.

Dejean drove home in agony and terror.

In the apartment next door to Loras, the champagne glasses were clinking, as the actress-swallow still strutted around naked, taking her bows and chiding Misha and Kunavin for hitting her too hard. Shed earned her room with distinction.

Later, Kunavin received the Order of the Red Star, according to Barron. Krotkov was feted at an expensive feast at the Aragvi Restaurant. One KGB general referred to what had just transpired as one of the most brilliant operations ever consummated by the organs of State Security. He personally handed Krotkov a gold Doxa watch.

The same day he was beaten up, Dejean attended a dinner engagement black-and-blue under his black tie.

Gribanov/Gorbunov was at the dinner and, seeing a familiar face and someone plausibly in the Soviet Council of Ministers, Dejean approached him and confided all. Gribanov, ever the wise counselor, told him that if Misha sang, he could make quite a scandal given that Soviet law was on the jilted husbands side in such circumstances.

Gribanov offered to try and help but made no promises to Dejean, being suitably downcast about the chances of plucking the Frenchman from his own misfortune. Days later, he delivered. Gribanov said that hed convinced Misha to keep quiet in the interests of Soviet-French relations. The implicit understanding was that in future Dejean might have to return the favor.

But De Gaulles ascent had not yet led to the ambassadors. So the KGB kept Dejean in its good graces; it even arranged to have Lydia return from her movie to take up with him again, all the while feeding every utterance and move by the incorrigible diplomat back to Moscow Centre.

For his part, Dejean relayed whatever Gribanov and his new secret-sharers intended for him to relay back to Paris, whether it be truthful or false.

Everything, in other words, had gone off beautifully, save for just one thing.

The assistant air attach, Col. Louis Guibard, finally succumbed after a series of swallows had flitted past him and one proved irresistible. The KGB wasnt as artful in entrapment this time, however. Plainclothes Chekists presented Guibard with photographic evidence of his indiscretion and told him he had two choices: either work for Moscow or be exposed. He opted for a third choice: suicide.

In death, he didnt confess to what he had done, making it easier for the KGB to invent a story that he shot himself out of severe depression. But to one man, Krotkov, Guibards demise did not appear to be self-inflicted at all.

It was murder and it haunted the Georgian dramatist for years afterward and there was only one course of action he could conceive of to exorcise his demons.

While touring London with a delegation of Soviet writers and artists in 1963, Krotkov defected and explained what Barron calls one of the KGBs most massive entrapment operations since World War II.

The British were shocked, but not nearly so much as their French counterparts. The counterintelligence official stationed at the French embassy in London flew back to Paris the same day he was briefed by MI6 about Krotkovs tale. De Gaulle ordered an investigation and had Dejean recalled for interrogation.

The French concluded that everything Krotkov had said was true, but could not find evidence that Dejean had yet betrayed his countryhe was still being cultivated at the time of the Soviet playwrights defection, and had apparently not given up any state information. Nor did he know that Gribanov/Grubanov was a spy.

The entire plot had been uncovered just in time, before De Gaulle had had reason or chance to promote his old ally in the resistance to a more sensitive portfolio in the French government. When the pouty moralist De Gaulle pronounced his famous animadversion, he allegedly refused to shake Dejeans hand in dismissing him.

Her Majestys Secret Service, meanwhile, faced its own dilemma: Should it out Krotkovs story to humiliate the Russians, or would doing so only scandalize and antagonize the French, then still dyspeptic over Churchills policies toward Paris during the war, as the Soviets well appreciated and, indeed, tried to exacerbate. In the end, MI6 convinced Krotkov to keep his mouth shut, at least temporarily.

Krotkov came to the United States in 1969 to testify before the Senate about the Dejean case, by then no longer a secret. He decided to expatriate to these shores and write novels. He died, as it happens, the same year that his erstwhile victim Dejean did, in 1982.

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