Guest Post by Dr Richard A. Rita
Retired CIA Senior Counterintelligence Officer
Former Chief, Special Investigations Unit/CEG/CIC who wrote the official history of SIU
The Fourth Man purports to tell the story of the CIA’s hunt in the mid-late 1990s for another highly damaging Russian mole in its ranks in the aftermath of the February 1994 arrest of CIA officer Aldrich Ames.
It is based primarily on a few key named sources, retired CIA and FBI counterintelligence officers who had some involvement with the investigation, and who are apparently disgruntled, as well as the usual panoply in books of this type of anonymous sources and outside observers and experts. It paints an ugly picture of an aborted investigation hamstrung by careerist senior officers and sabotaged from the inside by the very mole the investigators were looking for.
The author all but asserts that this mole, who has never been officially identified and caught, is none other than Paul Redmond, the CIA’s legendary decorated spy catcher and the senior Agency manager of counterintelligence during this time.
Although I have never talked to the author, I have the credentials to speak with some authority about the joint CIA/FBI investigation looking for this Russian mole. In June 1995, I joined the CIA’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU) which was charged with working with FBI to find a Russian penetration of CIA. I was an active participant in this espionage investigation, codenamed GRAYSUIT, until the Russian spy, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Robert P. Hanssen, was uncovered and ultimately arrested in February 2001. I later served, from 2008-2014, as the Chief of SIU, and had access to all its historical and contemporary records.
After I retired in 2014, I wrote for CIA the highly classified, in-house history of the SIU from its pre-Ames antecedents until the arrest of Hanssen in 2001. It includes a detailed discussion of the GRAYSUIT investigation.
What I write below is from memory and is not a chapter and verse book review. Nor do I address events in the book completely outside my knowledge, such as the alleged unsanctioned and likely quite illegal espionage investigation conducted by some of the author’s sources under the witting protection of a CIA Division Chief.
What I point out below are the key factual errors in the book that render it an unreliable account of what actually happened in the GRAYSUIT investigation during the period raised by the author. I also show how these errors fatally undercut the book’s sensationalist implication that Paul Redmond was likely this Russian mole, called by the author “the Fourth Man.”
Management Balked and SIU Sputtered Thanks To the Mole
The author writes that CIA senior management in the early-mid 1990s was reluctant to pursue the investigation into a reported Russian penetration of CIA more damaging than Aldrich Ames. [pp 49, 69, 88-89, 106] Moreover, the author asserts that SIU was marginalized or effectively disbanded in November 1994, and that source reporting was withheld from it—both developments allegedly masterminded by Redmond trying to hamstring the investigation because he was the mole. [pp 188-190; 194-196; 219-220]
CIA management was seized with finding the reported “more-damaging-than-Ames” mole and provided resources to do so. To assert otherwise is false. Redmond was the key Agency senior working to secure those resources.
When I arrived in SIU in June 1995, it was my job, as a senior analyst, to work with the FBI squad and CIA officers assigned to GRAYSUIT. I was a part of an almost tripling of specially vetted personnel assigned to SIU, agreed upon by senior CIA and FBI management in November 1994, to reinforce the investigation, working with new information about this penetration and on other cases.
I and others had access to all espionage reporting from sources that included Max, who is mentioned by the author as the key source for the mole hunt, as well as access to FBI investigatory results. SIU was hardly marginalized, shut down, relegated to researching dusty historical files, or denied access to any contemporary reporting in November 1994.
Off the Books Agents Were Run By the Mole
The author alleges that Redmond ran “back-pocket agents” in the mid-90s, the information from whom was denied to SIU or shaped by him to minimize any connection to him as the mole. [pp 169-170; 203; 206-207; 211-212; 214-216]
CIA and FBI investigators, myself included, had access to all information from any source bearing on the GRAYSUIT case, including from the purported “back-pocket agents” mentioned by the author. as well as other reporting sources. I and others developed intelligence requirements for agent meetings and worked with “raw reporting,” not massaged or bowdlerized information. This included being briefed on the details surrounding the collection of that reporting—something rarely allowed.
We operated in a highly compartmented world where information was strictly controlled and limited to a small group of operators, analysts, and investigators. This is not ‘back pocket” agentry. This is top notch case security against a hard target which may be secretly operating within your organization.
Redmond at the time was the Agency’s senior manager overseeing the GRAYSUIT investigation, among others. I personally briefed him and, on a regular basis, wrote a highly-compartmented written analytical report concerned with developments in GRAYSUIT and other investigations that was circulated to Redmond and other briefed-in CIA seniors. This included on occasion the DCI. My analysis was shaped in the normal and regular analytical debates the GRAYSUIT team had about source reporting, the importance of specific lead elements, and their application to specific investigation candidates.
Only One Person Fit the Lead Very Well And He Was Protected By the Russians
The author writes the Redmond was singularly positioned to fit the investigative lead elements and the Russians went to great efforts, including perhaps sacrificing assets, to protect him as their source. [pp 177-180; 219]
The investigation’s candidate matrix was composed of dozens of CIA officers, the priority ranking of whom regularly changed over time due to new information, investigation results, or revised analytical conclusions. This was an iterative process conducted by several FBI and SIU officers like myself in ad hoc discussions, scheduled reviews, and offsite meetings. Redmond was indeed a primary matrix candidate due to his access to compromised cases and his connection to other lead elements. But so were other senior and mid-level CIA Russian operations and counterintelligence officers, some of whom would “fit” as well or better than Redmond in the rankings as we worked through the information. This phenomenon was true for most of our espionage investigations.
What distinguished Redmond and other senior matrix candidates from the beginning, however, was the fact that they had access to ongoing Russia source reporting across the board and knowledge of a host of sensitive CIA cases and operations directed at the Russia target (and others). Contra the author, Russia House was not blind to developments in and about Russia. Quite the contrary. As a rule, we regarded the successful running and importance of these foreign intelligence and counterintelligence assets, cases, and operations a critical exculpatory factor in investigations.
Most critically for GRAYSUIT, Redmond knew the identity of all the sources helping us with that investigation. You can go through all the theoretical “Wilderness of Mirrors” explanations as to why Redmond, if he were the mole, would not compromise these sources to the Russians to save his skin, but experience shows that penetration agents go to extraordinary lengths to neutralize such dire threats to their security. Ames and Hanssen certainly did so. Perhaps the most well-known historical case about how far a threatened penetration will go is Kim Philby’s handling of the Konstantin Volkov defection.
So how does the author explain how important cases survived if Redmond was reporting to Moscow? You can, as the author does, conduct all the convoluted analysis you want in trying to explain why the Russians would compromise an active, important CIA penetration agent like Jim Nicholson to protect Redmond or any asset, but the reality is that they don’t. You can try to explain away, as the author does, the Russians’ willingness to let secrets hemorrhage, but not the secrets that would have hemorrhaged if Redmond compromised our knowledge about them to the Russians.
Finally, you can try find a psychological reason for Redmond’s or any agent’s unwillingness to compromise CIA or FBI sources and programs for fear he would be on an investigation short list. Indeed, that sometimes happens. Inevitably, though, a spy’s reasons for spying—money, self-esteem, ideology, revenge—win out and the spy gives up the “crown jewels” of his access and knowledge.
In short, spies spy and work to remove obstacles and threats to their spying. As part of our normal analytic process, we considered all the above possibilities; we didn’t simply disregard them out of hand. In my experience, it turns out that Occam’s Razor is a valuable approach, even in counterintelligence.
The Mole Maneuvered the Removal Of Those Closing In On Him
The author asserts that the SIU’s first chief, Laine Bannerman, was cashiered, and two other SIU officers were purged from the unit, a move allegedly engineered by Redmond to remove a threat to him as the mole. They were removed shortly after they provided to senior CIA and FBI counterintelligence officers, including Redmond, in a November 1994 briefing, a profile of the mole that they knew pointed directly at Redmond and would be seen as such by the others being briefed. [pp 172-180; 191-195]
Let’s set aside the incredulity of professional mole hunters knowingly alerting the person they believed was the mole that he had been uncovered. Let’s also let pass the stunner that senior FBI and CIA counterintelligence officers not following up on a briefing that all but identified that mole literally sitting in their midst.
Here are the facts. Bannerman and the other officers did not leave SIU until fall 1995, almost a year after this alleged briefing and after SIU was expanded and given more resources. Bannerman was relieved as chief because of a well-documented dispute with her immediate supervisors, the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Counterespionage Group, Ed Curran and Cindy Webb, respectively, over the handling of source reporting and SIU’s role in FBI espionage investigations.
As noted above, SIU all but tripled in size beginning at the end of 1994 and Bannerman oversaw that expansion. She was my boss when I arrived in June 1995. By that time, Bannerman was locked in a struggle with Curran and Webb over
- unilaterally holding back CIA information from FBI that FBI thought relevant to its investigations;
- going outside her chain-of-command to brief senior CIA officers read into the investigations; and
- refusing to accept FBI’s primacy over SIU in the CIA/FBI’s espionage investigations.
In late summer, Bannerman and other SIU officers, myself included, met with the Chief of the Counterintelligence Center and our Counterespionage Group supervisors. Bannerman herself requested this meeting to complain about FBI’s handling of CIA source information, which she strongly thought threatened source security; FBI’s treatment of SIU; and her immediate supervisors’ unwillingness to do anything about these deficiencies. She asked the Chief of the Counterintelligence Center to re-subordinate SIU directly under his control.
Not long after the meeting, she received her answer —she was relieved as SIU chief. As a result, her two close companions in SIU, Diana Worthen and Mary Ann Hough, who strongly supported her views, decided to leave on their own accord. The departure of all three officers had everything to do with clashing bureaucratic cultures, changing times, and personality issues and nothing to do with a mole’s machinations at self-protection. It was open, I saw it, and it’s in the official record.
After Bannerman’s removal as Chief, a new chief was assigned and over the next few years under her management SIU worked on a number of Russian penetration cases, achieving notable success in uncovering as Russian spies CIA officer Harold “Jim” Nicholson and the GRAYSUIT subject, FBI Special Agent Robert P. Hanssen.
Lastly, I’d like to address the term “Fourth Man.” At no time prior to Hanssen’s arrest in February 2001 was FBI/SIU looking for a so-called Fourth Man. It was looking for the GRAYSUIT subject based on lead information provided by Max and others, going back to 1993. After investigating and rejecting several matrix candidates, from late 1996 to late 2000, the GRAYSUIT team believed that CIA officer Brian J. Kelley was that subject.
All other investigations predicated on the GRAYSUIT lead material were eventually closed out. As has been well reported, the GRAYSUIT team was horribly wrong about Kelley.
Later information, added to the GRAYSUIT lead matrix, conclusively showed that the Russian mole CIA and FBI had been looking for in CIA since 1993 was, in fact, FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen. There is absolutely no doubt on this score. None.
The term “Fourth Man” was an unofficial term used by some counterintelligence officers in the post-Hanssen arrest period who believed that there were several compromises and other counterintelligence discrepancies that could not be explained by Edward Lee Howard, Ames, and Hanssen so there must be another, a fourth, major Russian spy, probably in CIA.
To be sure, after successful espionage investigations and the debrief of the turncoat, there are almost always lead items that are still unexplained. Those unexplained lead items sometimes become the basis of a follow-on investigation. This occurred after the GRAYSUIT case in 2001. By the mid-2000s, however, SIU had concluded that there was no Fourth Man hiding in the “leftovers” of GRAYSUIT, having found solid answers to non-Hanssen-related leads, some mentioned by the author, and having not received any further source reporting deemed reliable on the matter.
Of course, this did not mean there were (then or subsequently) no other Russian penetrations of the Agency. As Redmond himself reminded those of us working in the counterespionage field, it is “an actuarial certainty” that foreign intelligence agencies have penetrated the CIA. When I was chief of SIU from 2008-2014, SIU continued to work diligently on Russian espionage cases with FBI, however tenuous or strong the leads were. A “Fourth Man” investigation was not among them. I am very dubious, therefore, about the author’s assertions in the book and in later interviews that the FBI has had an active investigation on a “Fourth Man” since the mid-2000s.
Of course, since my 2014 retirement, and even though I worked in SIU off and on until December 2021, I cannot say what espionage investigations are, or may have been, underway involving SIU, let alone the FBI. I am dismayed, however, over the author’s statements subsequent to the book’s publication that FBI supports the publication because it may shake loose a person in Moscow willing to sell what he knows about a “Fourth Man.” This, to me, from experience, suggests a foundering investigation, if one exists. Moreover, from a counterintelligence viewpoint, the book may be more likely to shake loose a dangle or double agent controlled by Moscow and peddling disinformation.
Due to its key factual errors and misinterpretations, I consider The Fourth Man a fictionalized account of actual events (the author himself calls it “a thriller”) shaped to peddle a sensationalist and slyly presented accusation aimed at a CIA counterintelligence legend. It is neither a reliable account of one of the greatest mole hunts in modern American counterintelligence history nor does it provide its readers with an accurate picture of modern counterespionage investigations and operations.