OSI counterespionage program nabs Soviet spy

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Hisrorian

In the mid-1980s, Col. Vladimir Makarovich Izmaylov, a Soviet national serving as an Air Force attaché at the Russian Embassy, attempted to recruit an Air Force officer assigned to the National Capital Region as a spy.


When the officer reported the offer to the FBI and OSI, both agencies agreed that he should accept the position in order to uncover Soviet spy methods and to build a case against Izmaylov.


The American officer maintained the relationship for more than a year. Izmaylov and the officer occasionally met face-to-face, but for the most part he relayed information through secret locations known as “dead drops.” During their conversations, Izmaylov would tell the officer to bury information in remote suburban areas of Maryland and Virginia, typically adjacent to roadside landmarks. Izmaylov would eventually go to the locations and dig up the supposedly stolen classified information left there.


Izmaylov would leave monetary payments, further instructions and tools of the trade at the drop sites in exchange for the packages of classified documents. A ‘roll over’ camera, allowed a spy to conceal the camera in a small film roll, and was capable of photographing up to 130 pages of documents.


The Russian revealed a chemical iodine recipe that could be used to develop cellophane transparencies with hidden messages and additional dead drop instructions. The messages were often as small as one inch square, and the American officer was to use these items to convince Izmaylov of his authenticity and reliability. Izmaylov also instructed the officer on how to pass a polygraph test if he were ever given one.


Agents finally decided to apprehend Izmaylov after burying one of the packages in a dead drop site in suburban Maryland. Agents from OSI’s District Office 4, Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., along with their FBI counterparts, had no idea if or when Izmaylov would arrive. They were prepared to live in a wooded area for an unspecified amount of time if it became necessary to catch Izmaylov in the act of recovering the information. One of the agents noted that the hours waiting for Izmaylov in a horse pasture were some of the longest of his life.


Agents manned the remote location around the clock. Once Izmaylov arrived and started digging up the package shortly after 10 p.m., one evening, agents immediately surrounded him. He was brought to the FBI’s Washington Field Office and held until the State Department confirmed his status as a diplomat. He was declared a persona non grata and left the country shortly thereafter.


After being caught in the act, the U.S. Government expelled Izmaylov from the country in 1986, bringing a successful close to the case. The officer who was in contact with Izmaylov recounted that the man was very bold, blunt, and aggressive. He was never satisfied and demanded more “Grade A” classified documents. In addition to expelling Izmaylov, OSI agents practiced joint operations with FBI colleagues and learned many of the intents, methods and tactics of Soviet outreach, communication and document transfer with potential spies.


The case also revealed just how real the threat was, and that Soviets could potentially cause grave damage to U.S. interests if they approached someone susceptible to their espionage advances.