FBI agent Howard Silby hated this duty. Watching over a foreign embassy was, well, foreign. He didn’t feel that the laws of the U.S. really allowed a federal agency to keep watch over a foreign government on a day-to-day basis by maintaining a constant stakeout of their embassies.
Oh, of course he knew that the government spied on embassies, and read their coded mail when possible, but all governments did that. It was routine.
This was different and possibly illegal.
Still, as one of the low men on the totem pole, he had no say about what was legal and what wasn’t, and refusal to take on any job could result in a posting to some backwater location where his career would come to a hasty and abrupt end.
So he spent the required hours sitting in his vehicle, smoking occasionally, drinking coffee to help stay awake, listening to the car radio whenever he could find something entertaining, and taking the occasional — and short — break to get rid of all the coffee that was coursing through him.
Silby was also pretty proficient with the Leica camera that had been issued for this assignment, and he eagerly snapped away at nearly everyone entering or leaving the embassy, being careful to avoid taking photos of those he had already documented.
“How’s it goin’, Silby?” was the question asked by agent Willard Cowden as he leaned down to speak through the open passenger side window. Cowden was Silby’s relief and was about to enter the car to assume the duty for the next few hours.
The agents routinely addressed one another by their last names, perhaps a holdover from the days when most of them had been in military service and such was customary.
“Pretty boring. A few new faces now and again, but nothing much happening. Makes me wonder what the director has in mind.
“Anyway, I just put a new roll of film in the camera, so I’ll take these rolls with me for developing at the office and see if any of the new faces are recognizable. I’ll leave the cigarettes. If you want coffee, run over to the shop up there and get it; I’ll hang on here ’til you get back.”
“Don’t need to. Picked up a cup before coming over. You go ahead and check out. Your ride back to headquarters is around the corner; here’s the keys.”
“Okay.” Silby opened the driver’s side door and slipped three rolls of film into his coat pocket as he exited the car.
Simultaneously, Cowden entered the passenger side and slid over behind the wheel to take up his vigil, taking his first sip of coffee, already starting to get cold.
‘Damn, I wish there was some way to keep this coffee hot,’ he mouthed to himself. ‘I’m gonna start bringing it in a thermos.’
As Silby walked the half block or so to the standby car, he had no way of knowing that two of the pictures he had taken during his shift would cause some raised eyebrows once they were developed and examined.
It was high irony that while the FBI was surveilling the embassy, both the Navy shore patrol and the Army MPs had, almost simultaneously, taken into custody two individuals who had been spotted, one photographing areas around the army base and one making sketches from a nearby high point of the layout of the harbor, with a careful detailing of the placement of the ships. This last individual was also found to have in his possession a list of virtually all the ships in the command along with accurate notations of when they were last seen entering or leaving the harbor.
Military police officers are not especially known for their polite handling of those they take into custody, and both individuals had arrived at their respective places of interrogation with a few bruises and scrapes.
Naturally, it was reported that they had fallen while trying to escape.
It was also highly possible that, at the conclusion of their interrogation, they would emerge with a few more contusions and lacerations. Interrogation rooms are dangerous places and contain numerous objects into which one can bump if not especially careful.
The interrogations yielded very little information except the names of the individuals and the fact that they were both embassy employees and just happened to have photography and sketching as hobbies.
Since all sub-command areas of both the Army and Navy had been ordered to coördinate their anti-spying activities, it quickly became apparent that the work of these two individuals was a concerted effort to ascertain the level of security and the everyday activities of the local U.S. military services.
“I’ve just talked with Major Reynolds at the MP headquarters and we’ve agreed to keep both our “guys” on ice for a while. The FBI is watching the embassy and we’ll be in touch with them as well to figure out how to proceed, but for the time being, we’re going to notify the embassy that these two were picked up at a prostitution round-up, that they got into a fight with the shore patrol and seriously hurt a couple of our guys. This will give us some cover to keep them incognito for a few days while the embassy starts screaming about diplomatic immunity.
Willard Cowden couldn’t have foreseen that this stakeout would be his last one here. He was about to become a part of a much more urgent and important operation, one which would likely not be repeated in his remaining career with the FBI.