Spy Tour Reveals Cold War Secrets

By Toto, Christian | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Spy Tour Reveals Cold War Secrets


Toto, Christian, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


History can come in the shape of a dog-eared textbook, a stack of film reels or an antiquated museum display.

At the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Georgetown, it's served up as a stiff drink, no chaser. The Yurchenko Shooter, a vodka-based concoction, invokes the spirit of Vitaly Yurchenko, a top-shelf KGB official and key Cold War figure. Mr. Yurchenko defected to the United States, then later "re-defected" in 1985, moments after consuming his last Western meal at the Georgetown eatery.

Participants in this Saturday's Spy Tour of Washington, D.C. will learn all about how the Soviet spy slipped through Uncle Sam's fingers, along with a wealth of other Cold War-related lore.

The half-day bus tour, sponsored by the Cold War Museum, showcases the role many metro-area locales played in the decades-long conflict. The bus stops at some obvious destinations, including FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but also drives near private homes where smaller moments in history have taken place.

Even savvy Washingtonians who have taken the tour appear surprised at what they learn, says Carol Bessette, tour guide and a Cold War veteran who once worked in Air Force intelligence.

"It's a different way to look at the history of the city," Ms. Bessette says.

Tourists learn a broader interpretation of intelligence and its military applications. It's beyond the "spy in the trench coat" image people have gleaned from Hollywood, she says.

Most people come away startled not only by how much history took place in their neighborhoods, but by how easily some Americans peddled their loyalties.

"They're giving away so much for so little," she recalls of some comments. "Everybody has a selling price."

Some of the historical figures tourists will get to know include Maj. Gen. "Wild Bill" Donovan, a lawyer, soldier and diplomat who served as the director of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II; Herbert Yardley, a U.S. expert on code-breaking activities; and Aldrich Ames, a CIA operative who became one of the most notorious double agents of his time.

For Ms. Bessette, a retired Air Force intelligence officer, the tour represents the continuation of a personal odyssey. She participated in two intelligence missions within Germany's borders during the '60s and '70s.

The Cold War, which began in 1945 following the end of War II, continued for more than four decades before the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991. While much of it took place on the ideological battleground, both the Korean and Vietnam wars were waged with the Cold War firmly in mind.

One tour stop examines the cryptographic work conducted at the National Security Agency. But the Cold War's colorful cast of characters draw the most attention.

"What they really like are the human interest stories and the women who gave their `all'," Ms. Bessette says, referring to spies who used their feminine wiles to wrest confidential information from enemy sources.

Ms. Bessette began offering Cold War tours around the District in 1995. Since then, the tours have attracted a fair number of Americans with ties to either the military or intelligence communities. …

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