The Spies Next Door

You just never know what your lawn-mowing neighbors are up to.

So what did they get? According to anyone who is willing to say anything, the answer is some version of “I’m not going to get into that too much.” Ray Feldman says it wasn’t any missiles, that’s for sure. “The Golf II sub had three missile tubes in the aft portion of the sail. It was obvious from the video from the capture vehicle, that two of the tubes furthest aft in K-129 were completely destroyed. It appeared that the last tube, which was damaged, might contain the warhead but not the entire missile. In any event, it was all moot since the entire sail, including remnants of the missile tubes, were lost when the sub broke apart on the way up.”

A few days after the Glomar pulled up its piece of K-129, Dave Sharp received a package aboard the ship. In it were the cremated remains of John Graham, the ship’s designer from Global Marine, who had died on shore while the mission was ongoing. “Just a plastic bag of ashes,” he says. “He decided he wanted to be buried from that ship, that it was the finest thing he felt he’d ever done in his career.” Sharp spread the ashes in the sea. A few days after that, a secret funeral service was held at sea for the six Russian seamen whose bodies were recovered inside the piece of K-129 which was recovered. Dave didn’t stick around for that though. He was already on his way back to Langley. Any slaps on the back when he returned for a job well done, I ask? “No, not that I recall…It was an operational failure.”

Sherm Wetmore is a bit more upbeat. “I don’t consider it a failure,” he says. “I don’t have any feeling of, ‘Oh god, we blew that.’ I think we did a good job. A magnificent failure, if you had to say failure.”

Ten years after my neighbor Rod Carlson passed away and three years after his wife Pat followed, I finally had a chance to speak with their daughter. Ingrid Carlson is 52 and still lives in Arlington. She’s an accountant. We laugh about my inability to “steal” the annotated CIA history book from her parent’s empty home. “You just walk out with it,” Ingrid says without hesitation, and I can see she’s got her father’s spy genes, not mine. (My neighbor Kasey called a few days after that open house. “I got it!” she said. “How?!?” I asked. “Through the basement window?” “No. I asked the realtor if I could have it,” she says, and I think oldest trick in the book.)

“I guess dad told us when I was in high school,” she says of her father’s vocation. “But I have to say that it went over my shoulders. When you’re that age you’re only worried about what’s going on in your own life. I know I didn’t understand the implications of it. Frankly, when you grow up in that kind of environment, everybody you know has parents who did things you didn’t know about. It just seemed so normal. I didn't think anything about it until I was much older.” She pauses for a second and adds, “Until you go out into the real world and realize how boring your job is.”

Her mother and father met at a blind date at the Agency, she tells me, and dad would dress up as Abe Lincoln for Halloween when she was little. Ingrid tells me a funny story (or maybe not) about those years in Moscow, when she was just one. “My sister Karen was born in Moscow. Mom was supposed to fly to Copenhagen to have the baby, because who would want to have a baby in a Moscow hospital back then?” But her mother went into labor early and that’s exactly what happened. So the spy who was secretly meeting with a soon-to-be executed informant was now dependent on a Soviet hospital to deliver his baby daughter. “I remember my dad saying they were leaving the hospital in the middle of the night and cars starting following them.”

A week after our conversation, I meet a former Agency employee who knew Rod well. “You know he was Oleg Penkovsky’s case officer, don’t you?” I shake my head yes. “He had a hard life. In those days the Soviets would bombard the embassy in Moscow with microwaves. That’s probably where his leukemia came from.”

And the dark days, too. When Aldrich Ames was unmasked as one of the most infamous traitors in American history, responsible for the loss of scores of foreign assets, her father was inconsolable. “They had been friends,” she says. “He felt incredibly betrayed. He wouldn’t even talk about it. ‘I thought I had a good judge of character,’ he would say over and over. ‘I guess I was wrong.’”

You always want to know more before it’s too late. I was just a neighbor and I wanted to know more. Ingrid was his daughter. “I wanted to ask him a lot more questions but he died so suddenly. Why didn’t I ask those??” She knows the answer to her own question. All the spy stories, all the danger, her entire youth—“It was just a blur to me. He was just my dad.”

With a promise to get together sometime, I hang up the phone with Ingrid and get ready to walk my dog past the house where her mom and dad once lived. I wonder if the curtains will still sway.

Sometimes moms and dads do pretty amazing things. Ray Feldman is moving to Napa, to be closer to his daughter. Feldman is getting to move up towards Napa to be closer to his daughter. “Maybe a month or two ago, she said, ‘You know, I don't think I’ve ever told you but I’ve always considered you my hero.’ She said that. That was kind of nice.”

Dave Sharp, now addicted to the water, still holds out hope that a movie studio will do for AZORIAN and Glomar what it did for Argo.“We have had some interest from a company called Mainline Pictures, which had a big hit in January called “Texas Chainsaw 3D.” But I don’t think they’re...” and his voice trials off.

A few months later, I call Dave to make sure he's seen a info graphic in the Washington Post. It was in the midst of nonstop Malaysian Air coverage and the graphic was designed to give readers a sense of just how deep the remains of that airliner potentially are at rest. As a reader scrolls down through the graphic, he passes various milestones. At 555 feet would be the depth if you were to invert the Washington Monument. At 1,250 feet, the Empire State Building upside down. Keep going down and you’ll pass the test depth of a U.S. Seawolf sub (1,600 feet), the depth a giant squid can swim (2,600), and the point at which light can be still detected from the surface (3,280). Scroll further still, past the mile mark, then the two mile mark, past the point where there’s not very much of anything represented on the screen, and you’ll finally get to the remains of the Titanic at 12,500. You think to yourself, wow, this is deep. Now keep going further still, until the graphic comes to an end at 15,000 feet, the depth at which the pinger signals have been detected emanating from Flight 370 and where the pressure is a whopping 6,680 psi. For the reader it’s the end of the line, though my hands feel like they want to keep pushing the mouse down even more. There’s no wreckage of K-129 included in the illustration, no indication that a bunch of guys once went out to sea and came back with part of a submarine from a depth greater than anything shown in the graphic.

“Yeah,” Sharp says, fully aware he’s become historically invisible, “it would have been neat if they had something that went to 17,000 feet in there.

"Oh, well,” he says. At least he still has that coffee cup.

Originally published in Washingtonian, August, 2014.

recent Posts
recent Links
follow Matt
subscribe to Mailing List
Enter your email below to receive updates:

Coming Soon

To schedule an appointment with Matt call 703.795.8659