Nearly 30 years ago, 1987 to be exact, I made my first of three trips to Russia. I was on a cultural exchange with an international mystery writers organization of which I was an officer. One of the other officers, who arranged the trip, was Yulian Semyonov, the best-selling author of spy fiction in the then Soviet Union and putatively a colonel in the KGB. I wrote about the experience for The New York Times (“My Week with Oleg 1 – Writers, Detectives and the Caviar Mafia“). In those days I was sufficiently politically correct for the paper to publish me.
Even though we were staying in Moscow’s Sputnik-themed Cosmos Hotel, it didn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to figure out each of our individual interpreters was an intelligence agent (in my case, Oleg 1). Spies were everywhere. No sooner would one of us cross the giant hotel lobby toward the restroom, when someone on the far side would suddenly drop the newspaper from in front of his or her face and follow. It was like a film noir spoof.
By the time we arrived at Crimea’s Yalta Hotel, our international group was making nervous jokes about our situation, surreptitiously pulling the paintings back from the walls to reveal the ubiquitous cameras and microphones. Our “substitute” delegate from Bulgaria, supposedly a mystery writer himself, was caught in red-faced embarrassment when the hotel elevator opened on him standing in a sea of the reel-to-reel tape recorders. Even then, they seemed ancient. (I told you, film noir spoof.)
So this is all by way of lead-in to give you an idea of how I was feeling when I became the object of a Soviet “honey trap.” I was told a reporter for Soviet Screen wanted to interview me (I was the only member of the group who was also a Hollywood screenwriter). Cutting to the Hollywood chase, I soon found myself alone in a room with a twenty-something, very attractive “reporter” who — after saying two or three extremely flattering things about work of mine I doubt she’d seen — soon had her hand on my leg as she talked about how I could “help them when I was back home.” Incredible as it seems, it was that obvious.
My reaction was anything but to be turned on. It was panic. I knew immediately that if I did anything with this young lady it would be filmed and recorded forever. Who knew what would happen? Would I be arrested on arrival home? Or, if I refused, was I headed for the Gulag? I did the thing almost any normal (panicked) person would do under the circumstances. I made flimsy excuses and got out of that room as quickly as possible while trying not to be overly obvious.
Now the presidential suite of the Moscow Ritz Carlton has got to have surveillance capabilities that would put the Yalta Hotel of those days to shame. The whole place is probably the next thing to a holograph with hidden cameras you probably won’t find until the iPhone 15. They undoubtedly get your DNA the minute you press the fingerprint sensor on the express elevator.
It’s hard to believe Donald Trump wouldn’t know that. I mean Trump Tower’s pretty wired when you go there and we’re talking Czarist, Stalinist Russia, for God’s sake! So when I read the salacious semi-details of his alleged kinky ménage a trois in (where else?) the Daily Mail and then BuzzFeed and then started to hear about it all over, you’ll have to excuse me if I was a tad skeptical. Donald may be a lot of things but he is not, thus far, suicidal.
Anything’s possible in this world of course, but, since these allegations have apparently been around unsubstantiated for months, as of now the most logical explanation is that this is the CIA suddenly getting payback for Donald’s casting aspersions on the legitimacy of their Russian hacking investigation. It’s bloodsport and we’re likely to see a lot of it for the next four or eight years. As Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”