This arti­cle is part 8 of 8 in the series War Plans

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.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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