By John Irvin, NOIR Staff

One of the most desirable ancillary benefits of the proposals put forth by Dr. David Charney, MD, in NOIR: A White Paper (accessible in its entirety on this website), is the potential for at least partially solving the problem of the so-called “non-prosecutable spy.”

This is the individual who is suspected of espionage, for whom a file full of incriminating evidence may exist, but who is, for one reason or another, not considered successfully prosecutable.  Maybe the evidence is substantial but also circumstantial.  Perhaps there are other legal or confidential issues that lead prosecutors to believe they simply cannot sufficiently guarantee a guilty verdict.

This scenario is probably the most professionally and morally unsatisfactory for counterintelligence professionals.  The caught spy goes to jail.  The suspect spy who flees all but confirms his guilt by making a skin-saving exit.  The non-prosecutable spy may lose his job, may suffer professionally and personally, but otherwise walks the street a free man.

There is no admission of guilt and no clarity as to whether any classified information was lost and, if so, precisely what.  There is no closure.  All that is left is perpetual uncertainty, professional frustration, personal disappointment, and a profound sense of injustice.

On the other hand, until sheer, dumb luck intervenes in his or her favor, the non-prosecutable spy, like all insider spies, lives in a constant state of anxiety.  As Dr. Charney points out in Part One of NOIR, most insider spies are not caught through any slip-up on their own part, but because someone from the “other side” defects and reveals the spy’s deceitful activities.

They know this, which means they know that regardless of the precautions they or their handlers take, any day and without warning the other shoe may drop.  The spy who knows he is under suspicion suffers the additional anxiety of not knowing just how much investigators have on him.  He doesn’t know he’s non-prosecutable, he just knows the jig is likely up.

Unfortunately, under current practice the non-prosecutable insider spy facing the reality of a very lengthy prison sentence (who, remember, won’t find out until later that he is non-prosecutable) has no incentive to admit guilt.  Even agreeing to work with authorities would be an admission of guilt, and he knows what unavoidable legal consequences would follow.

So the only option is to ride it out and hope for the best.  Hope, however, is not the most reliable strategy.  Betting that authorities will fail to obtain sufficient incriminating evidence or suffer some unforeseen legal setback that saves the spy from prison is a fool’s bet.

A National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation (NOIR), as described by Dr. Charney, would give the insider spy, who is unaware he also happens to be non-prosecutable, a venue for relieving that constant, tormenting sense of anxiety. 

Admitting guilt and cooperating with authorities still brings punishment…the insider spy doesn’t “get away with it”…but by turning to NOIR he does save himself from years and years of isolation in a federal prison, not to mention the ignominy of being forever labeled a traitor.

Unlike the case of the non-prosecutable spy, there is justice (although perhaps not the vengeance some strict moralists would prefer), there is a damage assessment that makes quite clear exactly what was compromised, and there is exposure of the spy’s hostile intelligence service handler.  There is closure.

A real-world example of the problem of the non-prosecutable spy, and the possible solutions provided by a NOIR, helps put this argument in perspective.

Perhaps no example is better than that of US diplomat Felix Bloch, son of a Viennese family that fled the Nazis to start a new and very successful life in New York, 32 years of service with the US Department of State, former Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the US Embassy in Vienna, and suspect insider spy who, despite a lengthy investigation, was never prosecuted.

The best description of the Bloch case was provided by author David Wise in a May 13, 1990, New York Times Magazine article, The Felix Bloch Affair. The article is based in large part on Wise’s conversations with Bloch, who at the time was still under active suspicion.

In short, while serving in Washington, DC, as Director of European and Canadian Affairs at the State Department, Bloch came to the attention of US counterintelligence officials because of his relationship to a Parisian stamp collector who went by the name Pierre Bart.  In reality, Bart was a KGB “illegal” who, at least while living in Vienna from 1979 until his disappearance in 1989, claimed to be a Finnish citizen named Reino Gikman.

The FBI, CIA, and the French Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) had all participated in the investigation of Bloch when, three weeks after meeting Bart/Gikman in Brussels, Bloch received a telephone call from Bart (which was recorded by the FBI) stating that he had caught an illness and hoped that Bloch had not caught the same.

The nature and timing of the call suggested to counterintelligence officers that Bart was warning Bloch.  Bart/Ginkman disappeared from Vienna shortly thereafter.  The story leaked to the press and the FBI’s continued surveillance of Bloch became something of a circus, with the FBI attempting to follow Bloch while being trailed by reporters and news crews themselves.

The investigation ended in November 1989 and, while Bloch did lose his job at the Department of State, authorities deemed that there was insufficient evidence against him to secure a conviction and no charges were ever brought.

At the time Wise wrote the article, it was unclear who had warned Ginkman that he and Bloch were under investigation, leading to speculation that there may have been a mole within the US intelligence community.  After the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen almost twelve years later, it became clear that he was the one who had tipped-off the KGB.

Much of Bloch’s story takes place with the city of Vienna, Austria, as a backdrop.  He was born in Vienna and served at the US Embassy there from 1980 to 1987.  The KGB agent known to Bloch as Bart lived in Vienna as Ginkman from 1979 to 1989.  Furthermore, Vienna has a centuries-old tradition as being a hub for international espionage and is often referred to as “The City of Spies.”

Author Emil Bobi, in his recent book of the history of espionage in Vienna, Die Schattenstadt (The Shadow City), claims the city may be home to perhaps 7,000 active covert agents.  The film noir classic “The Third Man” portrays the romantic image of Vienna as a shadowy Cold War battleground.

Vienna is also an appropriate location for the discussion of Dr. Charney’s NOIR concepts, as it likewise demonstrates the intersection between espionage and psychology.  Arguably, most of the current practice of psychology is based on the pioneering work of long-time Vienna resident Sigmund Freud.

Much of the psychosexual theory found in classical psychoanalysis has gone out of favor, but Freud’s idea that the mind is analogous to an iceberg (with the conscious part being simply the small portion we’re aware of, while hidden beneath lies an immensely larger unconscious) is the foundation on which the reality of complex behavioral motivation is based.

Furthermore, the concept of the ego and the lengths to which an individual will go to defend his or her sense of self are key to understanding the often hidden or opaque motives that lead the insider spy to the ultimate decision to commit treason.

Finally, Freudian ideas regarding psychological anxiety and the need for the individual to find a means of relieving him- or herself from that anxiety not only explain why the insider spy initially takes the plunge into espionage, but also the existential dilemma he faces thereafter, constantly concerned that one day unexpected and uncontrollable events might expose his subterfuge.

How might a NOIR have changed the story of Felix Bloch?

Bearing in mind that Bloch was aware he was under suspicion but unaware that the case against him was insufficient for prosecution, he had no other viable option but to continue claiming his innocence in order to (hopefully) avoid a lengthy prison term.  This would, no doubt, have caused him considerable anxiety.

With reconciliation being offered by a NOIR, Bloch would have had another, better option, one that would have relieved a great deal of his anxiety and answered many of the questions that still weigh on the minds of counterintelligence professionals (for more on the concept of reconciliation, see Section A, Part Two, of NOIR: A White Paper).

The first question, of course, is simply whether Bloch was actually guilty of treason.  Did he knowingly provide information to the KGB via Bart or was he only guilty of innocently keeping precisely the wrong sort of company?

Without conclusive, damning evidence, the only person available to US authorities who could answer that question was Bloch himself.  Simply hoping to avoid prison through sheer luck or incompetence on the part of authorities is not a comforting strategy.  Had someone in Bloch’s position been able to pursue reconciliation through a NOIR (facing punishment but at least avoiding prison and public disgrace), any question of guilt would have been resolved.

The second pressing question is, assuming the non-prosecutable spy is in fact guilty, exactly what information was compromised, when, how, and to whom?  This is the all-important damage assessment that follows every known case of espionage.  The spy who flees has no incentive to cooperate with US authorizes and is unavailable for debriefing anyway.

The caught and incarcerated spy has some incentive for cooperating with authorities, but that incentive ends when the verdict is read and the cell door is slammed shut.  The non-prosecutable spy is still probably available to authorities but has no incentive to cooperate (cooperation would be an admission of guilt that would have predictable results).  He also walks away with whatever financial or material benefits he obtained through his treachery.

However, in the weeks or months between when the spy becomes aware he is suspect and later finds, much to his relief and the frustration of authorities, that he is non-prosecutable, there is a window of opportunity when he is likely to view reconciliation as his best option.

With reconciliation comes a detailed damage assessment that involves the full and continuing cooperation of the reconciled insider spy, whose incentive for cooperation is the knowledge that failure to fully cooperate means breaching the NOIR agreement and facing public exposure and a lengthy prison term.

Furthermore, as part of the agreement, the reconciled spy forfeits any financial or material benefits gained through his espionage.  If a NOIR had been available when Bloch first faced investigation, it is likely the question of his guilt or innocence could have been answered quickly and definitively by none other than Bloch himself.

Another vexing question at the time and for years afterward was how Bart/Gikman learned of the investigation of Bloch, which allowed Bart to subsequently warn him in an odd telephone call.  That was answered almost twelve years later with the arrest of Hanssen.  While only conjecture, that revelation does raise the disturbing question of whether a full debriefing of Bloch would in any way have assisted in earlier identification of Hanssen as a KGB mole working in the FBI.  Instead, Hanssen continued his treason for more than another decade.

Finally, the question of Bloch’s possible motivation may seem academic (or moot, considering subsequent events), but in fact has significant operational impact.  Without the clarity that would have come from either a successful prosecution or reconciliation, had it been available, there is no way of knowing for certain why and when Bloch (if guilty) first began working with Bart.  Different theories have been postulated which could have had significant potential operational impact.

One theory is that Bloch was a disgruntled employee with a grudge against the Department of State for both withdrawing him from his DCM post at the embassy in Vienna (at the request of the US Ambassador) and failing to award him the ambassadorship he believed he deserved.

This would raise a number of operational questions, to include whether a disgruntled Bloch first approached Bart as a volunteer or whether Bart, learning of Bloch’s disgruntlement, first approached Bloch.  The latter would raise questions as to how the KGB agent in Vienna became aware of Bloch’s potential vulnerability.  This would be useful information in addressing the methodology of similar KGB approaches.

Another theory is that Bloch was coerced into cooperating with Bart in order to hide his frequent visits to a Vienna prostitute who specialized in sadomasochism.  Reconciliation would have been a particularly attractive option since, in the case of coercive recruitment (employing blackmail, the threat of violence or actual violence, for example), the insider spy’s greatest wish is simply to get out of the coercive situation with minimal negative personal consequences.

Given current legal practice, even an insider spy who engages in treason as a result of blackmail or some other form of coercion is still likely to face a lengthy prison term.  Reconciliation gives someone in that situation a better, less damaging way out.

If a guilty Bloch had been blackmailed based on his extramarital and potentially embarrassing sexual activities, understanding how Bart and the KGB came to learn of those activities could have been operationally useful.  Knowing the identities of other well-placed customers might also have assisted in identifying other possible blackmail victims.

These and other questions might have been answered had there been a full debriefing of an insider spy grateful for being freed from the coercive control of a hostile intelligence service while suffering the minimal amount of embarrassment.  If Bloch was guilty and had at the time the option of reconciliation, there is likely a great deal authorities would know that will, instead, forever remain a mystery.

Felix Bloch, Sigmund Freud, and the ancient and beautiful capital of a small, central European country that was once the focal point of a vast, complex, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, polyglot empire demonstrate the confluence of espionage and psychology.

As author Frederic Morton wrote in an August 9, 1989, New York Times article, “Vienna has long been a center of accomplished deception.  For centuries, the Hapsburg capital was above all a courtier town whose citizens were trained rigorously to hide purpose under manner…No wonder that Sigmund Freud explored in Vienna the ingenuities with which we hide who we are and what we feel, from others and from ourselves.”

In the cafes and narrow cobblestone streets of Vienna, it would seem Bloch, and no doubt Gikman (or whoever he really was), felt very much at home.

What do you think?