Arthur Lindberg Was Not A Cloak-and-Dagger Man, But When He Accepted a Not-So-Routine Assigment, He Unmasked Soviet Spies.
On Aug. 30, 1977, late in the morning, Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Lindberg left the naval base where he worked in Lake Hurst, N.J., got in his car and drove to the Castle Diner in Neptune, N.J., on N.J. Route 33. It was 11:15 when he arrived, and he was early. He drove around a little, never going too far away. Then at 11:40, he pulled up right in front of a phone booth outside the diner. He parked the car, rolled the window down and waited. Five minutes later the phone in the booth rang.
Lindberg's heart beat fast. He stepped out of the car and answered the phone. "Hello, Ed?" a deep voice with heavy foreign accent came across the receiver. The voice wanted to know from Lindberg if he was, in fact, the right Ed. With that quickly established, the voice said pleasantly, "We were pleased to receive your note."
The set-up had worked.
The deep voice would soon become "Jim." And "Jim" and "Ed" would continue to meet like this, in brief phone calls, lasting no more than a couple of minutes, at designated out-of-way phone booths up and down the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway for the next nine months.
"Jim" was part of a Russian spying operation. "Ed" was Arthur Lindberg posing as a naval officer with Navy secrets to sell.
As a result of the nine-month drama that had Lindberg darting up and down stretches of New Jersey highways from one public telephone to the next, two Soviet employees at the United Nations were arrested by the FBI last May and convicted in October on charges they paid $20,000 for antisubmarine warfare documents.
Valdik Enger ("Jim" on the phone) and Rudolf Chernyayev have each received 50-year prison sentences. They are currently confined to the area surrounding the Soviet residential complex in the Bronx in New York pending their appeals. A third Russian, Viadimir Zinyakin, attached to the Soviet mission at the U.N., was picked up by the FBI but not charged because of his diplomatic immunity. Zinyakin has since left the country.
Meanwhile, Lindberg, 43, retired in mid-October from the Navy as he had planned long before the chance to work undercover for the FBI came along.He is now assistant director for material management at Jersey Central Power and Light.
Lindberg's drama was not the Graham Greene world of unsuspecting vacuum cleaner salesmen drawn into danger-ridden spy networks, where a constant check over your shoulder is necessary. Nor was it the world of real-life danger, the kind that struck Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov, who died two months ago, revealing on his deathbed that he had been jabbed in the thigh with a poisonous umbrella tip.
Still, it was a drama that suspense writers write novels about-the elaborate plot of an American never connected with the FBI, the CIA or any intelligence outfit who suddenly becomes the pivotal figure in uncovering a major spy ring.
A Secret Assigment
Lindberg is a tall, well-built man with sandy blond hair, bright blue eyes and very polished shoes. He smiles easily, making fun of his awkwardness and apprehension at this first interview he has ever given. "Dealing with reporters is like dealing with the Russians. I'm not quite sure what to expect," he says with a smile, as he settles down in his living room to tell the story.
At the beginning of his assignment he did not really know what to expect. Everything he learned from the FBI first and from the Russians later came in pieces over a period of time. One day in April of 1977. Lakehurst's resident agent of the Navy Investigative Service and a good friend, Terry Tate, telephoned Lindberg, who was in charge of buying all supplies and equipment for the Lakehurst naval base where he had been stationed since December 1973.
Tate asked Lindberg some routine questions about the processing of documents. The following week Tate called Lindberg to his office for another routine question about how a certain employe might obtain a certain piece of information.
Another week went by and Tate called Lindberg in to ask him a not-so-routine question-would he like a special assignment? "I don't remember exactly what he said, but he used the word 'counterintelligence,'" says Lindberg. "He said, 'I don't want an answer now.'"
It would be a secret assigment, Tate explained. No one could know-not Lindberg's wife, not even his own boss. "And he said right out front, there would be no material gain, no money, no reward," says Lindberg, "except in the sense of accomplishment. And even then it was a secret," he says with a chuckle."I thought, gee, I can go to bed at night and tell myself I did a good job."
But it was an interesting period in Lindberg's life. His job was well under control. He was planning to get out of the Navy in two years. He was involved in the community-Lions Club, parent-teacher organization. This strange assignment smacked of the same kind of adventure that had drawn him of volunteer for a Navy mission in the Antarctic, the two years before Lakehurst, that had put him on a destroyer for two months in 1958, that had lead him on a mission aboard a ship stationed in the Bay of Pigs during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was tempted. And he was flattered.
Yeah, he told Tate, he was interested.
A week later, Lindberg slipped away from his job at noontime to meet with Tate-this time in a room of a local Howard Johnson motel. Lindberg walked in to find two well-dressed FBI agents there. They flashed their badges, shook hands with Lindberg and exchanged pleasantries. "I had the feeling like 'What am I doing here?'" Lindberg recalls.
They told him little, saying only that he would meet more people. Over the next two months he went to more meetings with the FBI, slipping away discreetly on his lunch hour to go to out-of-the-way motels, where FBI agents would talk to him, sizing him up, he surmises.
"I can't say at any one time I knew everything going on. I'm not sure I know everything now," he says. "Everyone knew their parts."
On June 20, he was finally asked by the FBI if he would take the assignment. He was given some time to think about it.
A week later, he was sitting in a Methodist Church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he, his wife Kay and his three daughters were vacationing. It was Sunday service and the minister was urging his congregation to take opportunities to do what they could for God and for country. It hit Lindberg between the eyes like a two-by-four, he recalls. His mind was made up. He would take the assigment.
He returned from vacation and met with the FBI in another motel room. The agents handed him a clipping out of a newspaper advertising a pleasure cruise to Bermuda on the MS Kazakhstan, a Russian-owned vessel.
"We wanted to find out if the ship was being utilized for spying," he says. "If we could find out who, that would be even better. And then, possibly, we could find out what they wanted."
On July 7, Lindberg drove the 70 miles to New York and met an FBI agent at a small park across from the World Trade Center, during the morning. The agent gave him money to buy his ticket for the voyage.
"Ask for Ed"
On Aug. 13, having told his wife he was going to Detroit to work on a big purchasing contract for the Navy, he went to New York to board the ship. FBI agents had told him simply to be careful-someone had fallen overboard from the ship once and drowned.
He stayed to himself on board, nervously enduring the week-long trip. It wasn't physical violence he feared. He was afraid he'd botch the mission. He eyed the Russian crew members. They were cold, aloof, most begging off conversation with friendly passengers by saying they didn't speak English. He watched them all, wondering who was the Russian spy among them. He kept expecting one of the crew to approach him.
The plan was simple. Lindberg would write note and simply leave it on board as he left at the end of the cruise when the ship docked back in New York. He wrote it the night before his last day on board. "I am interested in making additional money prior to my retirement and can provide you with information which may be of interest to you," read part of the note. "If you are interested, telephone me at (201) 922-9724 at 11:45 a.m. Aug. 30, 1977. Ask for Ed."
The next day the ship docked in New York and Lindberg hung back from the covered gangway. He watched the other passengers file off. Ship officers stood at the gangway.
His note was in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. He had put it in an envelope addressed to the Soviet ambassador, and folded the envelope in half so the address could not be seen. As he waited at the gangway, he kept touching his pocket to see if it was there. He checked it so much that even the FBI agents watching him from the terminal outside the ship could notice it.
He walked toward one of the officers, his note in his hand now, and passed it to the officer as if he was passing a tip.
"What's this?" the officer asked, then he smiled and said, "Oh, thank you."
Lindberg walked off to the terminal and never looked back.
Lindberg drove to the Hilton and met FBI agents there who wanted to know all about the ship. He also gave them a rough draft of the note.
Ten days later, Lindberg was waiting at the diner phone in Neptune, N.J., for the phone that would signal his note had made its way to the spy operation.
When the phone rang and the conversation began, the "heavy foreign voice" tried to set up a personal meeting with Lindberg in New York that evening. Lindberg said no. When the voice tried to set up meeting the following Saturday, Lindberg said no, knowing he could never account for his time away from home. Another phone contact was set up for the following Saturday.
The FBI had decided not to tail Lindberg to his phone meetings. It was too risky to the operation, Lindberg says.
So when he went back to the diner again, he was alone. This time when the phone rang, the voice told him that for security reasons Lindberg should go to another phone, outside a Sears store. The voice gave directions, and they set a time.
All Expenses Paid
The directions were wrong, Lindberg stopped, asked directions and frantically drove to the Sears store to make the appointed time.
When the phone rang, he was instructed to read note that had been stuffed into a magnetic key container under the ledge of the phone booth.
It was single-spaced, typed and began "Hello, Ed. We urge you to give a thorough consideration to our proposal to use your vacations for going to Finland, Guyana, Columbia or Jamaica where we can discuss with you all the questions under the utmost security measures," the note read. "Of course, all the expenses will be paid (even if you go with your family)."
Lindberg sat reading the note in his car, near the Sears store, by a huge open parking lot and a cemetery. He wondered if someone would come and tap him on the shoulder. No one did. The phone rang again, and a Sept. 24 meeting was set up at a public telephone along the Garden State Parkway.
The pattern was being set now-2 p.m. on Saturdays. As instructed, he cruised through the Herbertsville Picnic Area on the 24th, a dark, drizzly day. The area, off the parkway, was deserted. But there were two cars parked there. One was a '72 Dodge Dart, with New York tags. As Lindberg drove by, a man in the car raised a bottle to his face as if to avoid being seen. There was another parked car with New Jersey license plates. Lindberg remembered the New Jersey plate number and the last three letters of the New York plates: XLT.
Prowling the Garbage
For the next meeting on Oct. 22, Lindberg went to another service area along the parkway. It was a beautiful fall day and he was just walking around, killing time. He saw the New York car again, pulling up by him. And he saw the man in it. He got the full license and later made an identification of the man in court for the FBI. The car was registered to a U.N. employee and the man was Rudolf Chernyayev.
Lindberg drove on to a railroad station and dropped an orange juice container of materials as instructed on a loadind terminal. He felt like the few people who stood anywhere near were watching him dump trash. He caught sight of the now-familiar New York-tagged car.
After dumping the orange juice container he drove north to a wooded area by a gas station, as he had been told to do in a previous note. He was told to park by a fence. He waited for a nearby phone to ring. When it did, he was told he would find a milk carton in front of his car on the ground.
The carton was pummeled and dirty. He picked it up and pulled out $2,000.
By this time the Russians were trusting Lindberg. The set-up was working so well that money was being paid in return for the information Lindberg was leaving. (It was information which Lindberg said was often old and always cleared by official sources in Washington first.)
The FBI also was beginning to follow him, now more secure of the Russians' trust. Lindberg began to worry that his wife, Kay, used to him going off to dozens of community meetings, was perhaps growing suspicious of these extra meetings. The secrecy of the mission was becoming uncomfortable. For example he had to get containers for the information the Russians wanted. He was buying orange juice and throwing it out. He was prowling through family garbage and retrieving empty juice cartons. It was getting inconvenient.
The FBI agreed to tell Lindberg's wife about his secret work. Lindberg brought her to a motel room to meet an agent from the Navy Investigative Service.
He told Kay Lindberg her husband was involved in a counterintelligence assignment. "I can't tell you everything, but if he's spending more time away, that's why," she remembers him saying. "What do you think of this?" he asked.
"Well," she said, "you couldn't have picked a better man."
Kay Lindberg began helping her husband. She would find and clean the containers he needed for his secrets. She backed up excuses he had to make to meet a contact. When he had to miss his daughter's birthday party in December to make another phone meeting, she supported his excuse.
As things went smoothly, the FBI surveillance began in earnest although Lindberg claims he never knew exactly when and where FBI agents were because he never asked. At his Dec. 3 meeting at the Grover Cleveland Service Area of the turnpike, as he waited for the phone to ring, he noticed an attractive young woman playing the biorhythm machine there.
He wondered why she stood so long there playing the game. Lindberg later found out she was an FBI agent.
In addition to accidental bystanders, the FBI planted an agent in a washroom once at a service area where Lindberg was making a phone contact. A casually dressed Terry Tate, the Navy investigative agent, once followed Lindberg, enroute to a spot, on a motorcycle. Taft looked no more suspicious than a kid on a motorcycle, Lindberg said.
The FBI began videotaping some contact spots, making photos of Enger and Chernyayev. At one service area, a trailer, located no more than a few feet from a designated phone booth, was taken over by the FBI for a vantage point from which to photograph the booth.
Lindberg was told by the FBI to stop his car on the highway once enroute to a phone conversation and open his car trunk. Lindberg speculates that was for aerial identification.
Lindberg's car was equipped with a remote control camera, a radio and a button that he could press to create a flat tire, if he needed a legitimate excuse to stall for time.
The Russians also were clever-sending detailed notes complete with directions and pictures with arrows pointing to spots where he should park or pick up money. In fact they were so good at hiding and camouflaging containers that Lindberg almost didn't find some things.
On Jan. 7, Lindberg deposited a milk carton of 35mm film of defense documents near a quiet, isolated animal shelter in New Jersey no more than 150 feet from the cemetery where Lindberg's father and uncle were buried. "Gee, Dad," he thought to himself, "I wonder what you'd think of this."
A little while later Lindberg was stumbling along some railroad tracks by the Lincoln Technical Center looking for a fence. He couldn't find it. Worried, he crossed the tracks, slid down a muddy hill and still didn't see it. He retraced his path back to the tracks and saw the fence on the other side set way back. Near the fence was an unpaved parking area where he was to find a radiator hose.
He stood there and just looked. It was several minutes before his eyes picked out the radiator hoses covered with dirt and grassy debris. Inside was $5,000.
By this time, the Russians were becoming a known quantity.
It was obvious to Lindberg and the FBI that the Russians were not going to appear in person before Lindberg. It also was obvious they trusted Lindberg.
Still, he meticulously prepared for the monthly meetings. He always arrived early for phone meetings, checking over and over again to make sure he was in the right spot. In March he arrived early at a service area for a phone call and routinely began checking all the phone booths on one side to see which one he was supposed to be waiting at. He glanced in the first booth to check the number. He glanced in the second booth to check the number. There sat Chernyayev. He wasn't even on the phone. He was simply sitting there.
Lindberg recognized him as the man he had seen before in the car and quickly pulled out glancing at the other booth numbers. When he finally found the right one and the phone rang, the voice told him to go to another phone booth and find a package. It was the same phone booth that Chernyayev had been sitting in minutes before.
On May 20, Lindberg drove to the A&P in Woodbridge, N.J., for a phone contact. The back seats of his car had been removed and FBI agents were hiding there under bags of peat moss. On the phone Lindberg was told to pick up a whipped cream container with a note inside.
Who Could Forget?
The note said the Russian now wanted to arrange a personal meeting with Lindberg in Austria. He should go there with stopovers in other countries first. They wanted to know when he could come.
Lindberg never told them. FBI agents arrested Zinyakin and Enger near their car over a mile from the A&P. Later they picked up Chernyayev. The Russians said they were shopping. Their car was parked in a secluded unpaved area, across a highway about half a mile away from any shopping center.
Lindberg says he has no contact with the FBI now. Despite the fact that he was told long ago there would be no monetary reward, he has received $1,950 from the FBI for his time and inconvenience. His '72 Maverick, drilled and rigged with devices for his assignment, he can no longer even drive.
He is secure, fearing no retaliation. He dismisses the notion of moving from the suburban wooded area of Toms River. "No, that's just not the way the game is played," he says. In fact, the only thing that worried him as the months of his assignment dragged on was that his upcoming retirement would interfere with his "availability" for the job. "The primary objective was to bring this to a fruitful conclusion." He wanted to finish the job.
Lindberg has packets of photoes now, souvenirs from the FBI-pictures of himself with a whipped cream carton, used for transporting "secret documents" to a contact point, pictures of Enger outside a phone booth on a snowy February day.
He seems oblivious to the uproar that the arrest and convictions of the spies has caused."I don't think the arrests or anything connected with it have strained relations," Lindberg says. "It was the presence of . . . the MS Kazakhstan that has contributed to the strain." (The ship, Lindberg says, is no longer harbored in New York.)
Of the men he helped arrest, he says, "These men are trained professional KGB men. I'm led to believe, they knew what they were doing. I certainly don't respect their motives. They're so alien to the U.S. They knew what they were doing and they got caught."
On his way to his Morristown job, Lindberg drives past much of the same stretch of parkway that he traveled in pursuit of phone booths. He speaks of them in that "who-could-forget" tone of voice that sounds like a quarterback reliving the highlights of a game hard fought and well won. He can't ever go by a service area without remembering a crushed container. He can't ever go by Woodbridge without remembering the A&P.
"I relive it a lot," he says.