Spy of the month icon

Edward Lee Howard

Spy of the Month - Edward Lee Howard - April 2008

Edward Lee Howard, the first known spy to provide very sensitive information from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the Russians, also has the dubious distinction of being the only known spy to have successfully defected to the Soviet Union. After working in the Peace Corps overseas, Howard entered the CIA in 1981. Trained for special duty despite his admitted prior use of marijuana, cocaine, Quaaludes, LSD and hashish, he was provided highly classified information related to the Soviet/East European division for a potential assignment to Moscow.

Before Howard's assignment to Moscow, his drinking problems came to light. During the course of a polygraph examination, Howard admitted to heavy drinking, continued drug use and petty theft. At this point the CIA decided he could not be a successful CIA operative and forced his resignation, which he gave in June 1983.

Although the CIA got him a job with a state agency in New Mexico, a more disgruntled and irritated former CIA case officer would be hard to find. In September 1984, he openly admitted to CIA officials that he previously considered selling secrets to the Soviet Union (of course, by then he actually was selling secrets to them, one can only wonder if he "wanted" to be caught!). In 1983, shortly after his resignation, Howard entered the Phelps Place in Washington and gave them a note that stated he was a disgruntled CIA man and wanted to "talk."

CIA personnel, concerned over Howard, were not alarmed enough to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Due to the long-standing tug-of-war regarding jurisdictional authority and rivalry between the FBI and the CIA, the CIA was loath to admit they had a problem. Never having a known spy in their midst before, they didn't want egg on their face. In their efforts to stem this potential problem, they tried to handle Howard themselves.

Information regarding Howard came to a head on August 1, 1985 when Vitaly Yurchenko, the top KGB official in Moscow, defected to the West. Yurchenko knew about all the espionage operations directed against the West from the Soviet Union. He identified Howard and Ronald Pelton (stay tuned for a future SOTM!), not by name but with enough identifying data to identify both of them (Pelton was with the NSA). The CIA's initial reaction to this disclosure was shock, dismay, and silence. However, they had no choice but to confide in the FBI, which they finally did on August 7, 1985.

Interesting to note, Howard flew to Vienna on August 6, 1985. It is widely believed that after Yurchenko's defection, Russian handlers contacted their spies to meet them in a foreign country, obtain cash, and prepare for their own defections. Whatever his reasons for going to Vienna, Howard returned to New Mexico without the FBI knowing he had been out of the country.

His house and activities under surveillance, Howard started planning his defection to the East. Having received extensive training in surveillance and surveillance detection from the CIA, Howard had no problem identifying the FBI agents suddenly jogging past his house with caps on and watching him from across the street. Howard planned his escape, with assistance from his wife Mary (she also worked for the CIA and although she assisted her husband in his escape and knew about his activities, she was never charged with any crime for her role).

Although the FBI had information from Yurchenko (who, by the way, redefected back to the Soviet Union which is a cause of no end of wonder to counterintelligence officials everywhere. On another note, Yurchenko was debriefed by none other than Aldrich Ames!) about Howard and even with the CIA now cooperating in the investigation, they had no hard evidence to arrest him. Without anything concrete, they implemented a bluff. They brought Howard in for an interrogation and confronted him with their suspicions. Howard knew they didn't have evidence at that point or he would have been arrested, so he denied all allegations.

Concerned the FBI was closing in on him (they were), he devised a plan to escape. He made up a dummy, utilizing a Styrofoam head his wife used for wigs, stuck a broom handle into it, and dressed it in clothes, then set it in the car for later use. Knowing the FBI was conducting surveillance on him, he made a tape recording for his wife to play when he made his escape. A series of unsettling events allowed Howard to escape without detection. First, there was only one FBI agent watching Howard's house, the agent claims he was concentrating on the remote camera trained on Howard's house. When Howard and his wife left in their car, they were not followed (the agent claimed the sun was blinding). Mary drove Howard out of town, and when rounding a turn, Howard pulled up the "dummy" and jumped out of the moving car, severely bruising his arm. Mary continued home with the dummy beside here. To say the FBI agent was surprised to see the car return when they didn't know it had left would be quite an understatement. At that point Mary instituted the next step in the escape plan. Knowing Howard's doctor would not be home, she called his office getting an answering machine. She played the tape of Howard's voice scheduling an appointment for the following week, thereby making the FBI think he was at home, when in fact he was on a plane to Tuscon, Arizona.

Traveling around the world for six months to lose any potential trail, Howard went to Canada, Helsinki, South Africa and Europe, eventually ending up at the Soviet Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. Warmly greeted by his KGB handlers, Howard was given political asylum on August 7, 1986. He was also provided with a house and a dacha. Mary and their son lived for a short time in Europe to be close to Howard, but eventually moved back to the US. Mary would fly to Europe to see Howard on an annual basis and there are rumors he left Russia for short excursions from that time forward. Howard wrote a book about his exploits (described by critics as bravado, a fable and full of whimpering) titled "Safe House: The compelling Memoirs of the Only CIA Spy to Seek Asylum in Russia." Howard is reported to have died in Moscow on July 12, 2002 as the result of a fall in his residence. His body was cremated privately at the instructions of his next of kin. This information has not been confirmed independently.



Spies - A Narrative Encyclopedia of Dirty Deeds and Double Dealing from Biblical Times to Today, by Jay Robert Nash, 1997, M. Evans and Company, Inc.

http://intellit.muskingum.edu/spycases_folders/howard.html - Spy Cases - United States Edward Lee Howard CIA Defector Edward Lee Howard Said to Have Died in Moscow, by Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday July 21, 2002, Page A19 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A38233-2002Jul20?language=printer

http://www.nacic.gov/pubs/misc/screen_backgrounds/spy_bios/edward_howard_bio.html NCIX - Edward Howard Biography

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2002/12820.htm - Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State - Death of Edward Lee Howard