Inside the Hunt for the Russian ‘Fourth Man’ in the CIA

By Marc Stout

In the 1950s, the British intelligence community and the British press were fascinated by the subject of espionage. Two diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, had defected to Moscow and it was clear they had spied for the Soviets from the heart of Britain’s national security establishment. But was there a “third man”? Suspicion quickly centered on Kim Philby, the former MI6 liaison officer to the CIA and confidant of the agency’s top mole hunter, James Angleton. For years, however, nothing could be pinned securely to him.

According to former CIA officer Robert Baer, ​​author of the next The Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin’s Russia, the CIA and the US intelligence community are in a similar introductory period. Since the mid-1980s, there have been lingering suspicions that Moscow had a major spy within the CIA, a spy who has yet to be arrested. Baer refers to this person as “the fourth man”, counting Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI as the first three traitors. He tells us that since the mid-1990s there has been a candidate for the Fourth Man, a prominent figure in the CIA, but nothing can be pinned down definitively on this now retired but still living officer. .

Baer previously wrote a memoir from his time at the agency, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the War on Terrorwith the old New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh, as well as several other non-fiction books and a novel. At one point in his career, when he was head of the Caucasus and Central Asia branch in the Central Eurasia (CE) division’s operations directorate, he worked with a woman named Laine Banner man. She was a counterintelligence officer who had played a key role in the hunt for the fourth man. When she arrived at Baer’s branch, however, she was a refugee from that job. At the time, she never breathed a word about it, but when retired Baer learned of the Fourth Man controversy, she and a significant number of other former officers were ready to tell him at least parts of what they knew about the matter. Drawing on these snippets as well as two key books, circle of betrayal, by retired CIA mole hunters Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, and The main enemy by Milt Bearden and journalist James Risen, Baer have produced a compelling account of the ongoing search for the fourth man.

Curiously, throughout Baer refers to the would-be Fourth Man as a “double agent”, incorrect terminology, as he certainly knows. (A double agent is someone who spies for a power but actually secretly serves the interests of the power he appears to be spying on. For example, if spy Aldrich Ames had secretly helped the CIA feed misinformation to the KGB , he would have been a double agent, but he just delivered stolen documents to the Russians.) Baer also sometimes seems to implicitly assume that only hostile intelligence penetrations matter (as opposed to, say, a diplomat or officer military).

Also, throughout this book, it is often unclear what Baer’s source is for any given claim. This, of course, is not surprising. Baer depends, by necessity, mainly on former colleagues who, to varying degrees, speak out of school. Indeed, it’s a bit of a surprise that the CIA allowed this book to be published, since so many authors who have served in the agency – including the current reviewer – have asked the Publications Review Board to write information much more banal than it seems. throughout this book. We wonder about the backstory here.

Either way, Baer is an engaging writer, and the book is an engrossing and mind-blowing read. If the cliché that counterintelligence is “a desert of mirrors” applies everywhere, it applies here.

In broad outline, the story is as follows: Apparently in the late 1980s, a Russian intelligence officer named Alexander Zaporozhsky, nicknamed Max, whom the CIA had recruited from an East African country , told his agent that the Russians had two penetrations from the United States. intelligence, one to the CIA and one to the FBI. The first would turn out to be Aldrich Ames, and the second, Robert Hanssen. Max was then able to provide ironclad evidence pointing to Ames, so when, in 1994, Max added that there was in fact a second CIA penetration, his claim was taken very seriously. In fact, a small group of mole hunters had already concluded that some of the CIA’s losses in Russia could not be attributed to Ames, Hanssen or Howard.

“In addition, there were strange, disturbing or unexplained behaviors on the part of the Soviets and the Russians. ”

Max provided two important clues. The alleged mole attended meetings of the Operations Directorate (DO) division heads and at one point had access to a set of three-by-five cards on which the DO kept some very sensitive operational information. If Max’s report was correct, the spy was quite experienced and capable of doing untold damage.


People walk in Red Square near the Kremlin wall in central Moscow, Russia, March 9, 2022.


Thus, in June 1994, Ted Price, the head of the DO, created a discreet Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to identify this alleged spy. Operating under Paul Redmond, the deputy head of the Counterintelligence Center, who had performed a similar function in the mole hunt for Ames, the team consisted of three CIA officers – the former colleague of Baer, ​​Wool Bannerman, along with MaryAnn Hough and Diana Worthen, who had been on the Ames team) and a wise FBI analyst, Jim Milburn. The SIU began compiling a matrix of “exceptions” that might be relevant since the early 1980s.

These were various glitches, failures or coincidences mainly in CIA operations against the Soviets and Russians, but also in a few British and French cases. In addition, there were strange, disturbing or unexplained behaviors on the part of the Soviets and the Russians. For example, Milburn was able to provide information on the dates of “starbursts”, occasions when the Soviet or Russian residence in Washington had suddenly flooded the streets of the capital with agents. This tactic, according to the bureau, was used to overwhelm FBI agents monitoring the embassy so that a Russian intelligence officer would have a high chance of escaping FBI surveillance and carrying out a significant operational act.

By putting all of these anomalies into a matrix and cross-referencing them with lists of CIA officers read from particular operations, CIA officer travel records, etc., the SIU was able in November 1994 to focus on a particular suspect. In one remarkable scene, Baer describes how the SIU held a briefing for Paul Redmond and a few other luminaries, in which they revealed that the CIA officer most likely to be the fourth man was… Paul Redmond.

Baer describes how Redmond retaliated against the SIU, forcing its CIA members to flee to the CE division where Bannerman eventually came to work for Baer. The refugees carried on with their work as best they could but accomplished little more. Over time, other suspects for the fourth man were considered – sometimes based on information from clandestine sources handled by Paul Redmond – from his “back pocket”, as Baer put it – then clarified and thus the mystery remained. Eventually, the members of the SIU, along with Redmond himself, retired. Then, in 2006, the FBI began investigating Redmond, contacting various retired CIA officers (shades of George Smiley) to question them about an allegation that had emerged about Redmond – that he had made a Unauthorized and highly unorthodox solo trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s.

Redmond, who was surprisingly willing to talk to Baer, ​​denies that such a trip ever took place. Baer, ​​however, quotes Milburn, the former FBI analyst, as saying of Redmond, “he knows exactly what the FBI has on him and you don’t know a quarter of it.”

Ultimately, we are left with the question of whether Paul Redmond, a counterintelligence legend for his work on Ames alone, was really a spy for Moscow. Baer is careful to say he’s not sure. This is consistent with his posture throughout the book, that he tells a story of the hunt for the Fourth Man, not aiming to uncover the Fourth Man’s identity. It’s also likely a position Baer’s lawyer would advise him to take.

“He even observes that it’s possible that the original instigator of the hunt for the fourth man, Max, passed on misinformation, knowingly or unknowingly.”

Still, the reader can’t help but think that Baer really isn’t sure. In fact, he freely admits that there may not have been a fourth man at all. The book states that it is very plausible that there was, but it is far from certain.

A key point for Baer is that the Fourth Man does not appear to have caused anything like the kind of vast and visible damage that Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen did despite being much older and having access to a much wider range of extraordinarily sensitive information. One could also observe that the assumption that the anomalies that the SIU placed in its matrix were related to each other is just an assumption. Indeed, it looks suspiciously like a fallacious “centralized leadership perception,” a cognitive trap that intelligence analysts learn to avoid but conspiracy theorists enthusiastically embrace. Moreover, Baer is abundantly clear that most, if not all, of the anomalies could have innocent explanations, or at least explanations that don’t logically necessitate the existence of a Russian spy on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters. . He even observes that it’s possible that the original instigator of the hunt for the fourth man, Max, passed on misinformation, knowingly or unknowingly.

So, as we consider whether Paul Redmond was a spy, it bears remembering that counterintelligence agents are obligated to look at the available facts in the worst possible light. Indeed, in a key passage, Baer accuses the CIA’s senior leadership of taking “Occam’s razor-sharp unimaginative approach to evidence,” channeling the frustrations of counterintelligence officers. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this type of thinking, many injustices have been committed and many people have been presumably, but wrongly, accused of spying. We remember, for example, Leslie James Bennett of the RCMP, Roger Hollis of MI5 and Brian Kelley of the CIA.

But spies really To do exist and someone has to find them. We now know, from declassified counterintelligence records, for example, that the American diplomat Algiers Hiss had really spied for Moscow. And in 1963, Kim Philby, who regularly dined with the CIA’s top mole hunter, James Angleton, defected to Moscow. Only then did it become clear that he been Britain’s third man. There would be a fourth and a fifth.

So maybe, just maybe, the United States had a fourth man. And maybe his name is Paul Redmond.

Dr. Mark Stout is an intelligence historian and former US intelligence officer. He was the founding president of the North American Society for Intelligence History.

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