THE FIRST OF THE PHONE calls came in the dead of winter.It came right after the arrests and the caller wanted to tell about the woman. There was a woman involved, the caller said, and that is why the man did what he did - spied. Later there were other calls, calls about the politics of the thing and calls from some relatives and finally, there was that last call. It came from a friend after the jury had returned its verdict. "Richard," the voice said, "they're guilty." It was months after the first call and by then it was spring.
This was Washington's espionage trial. This was the trial of David Truong and Ronald Humphrey and it was a perculiar trial for a peculiar town. Humphrey had worked for the U.S. Information Agency. Lots of people knew him. They knew that he had gone to Vietnam for the government and there he had fallen in love. It happens all the time here but the rule is you don't look back and you come home and pick up your life again and say nothing of what happened.
And then there was Truong. Did you know him? Lots of people did. He used to frequent Capitol Hill and hang around with the Dupont Circle peace community - the committee for this and the council for that and the institute for this, and the other thing. He passed information which is a crime anywhere. Here it is a minor industry. Here were people who knew him. They like Truong. They would vouch for him. They would look you in the eye and swear he could not be a spy.
There was a television show once where Jim Bishop, the author, was on with Jack Paar and it was soon after Fidel Castro had come out of the closet as a communist. An American had been arrested and charged with being a spy and Bishop was talking about this with Paar. Paar was going on in his style yes the long way, the way ssome preachers say God, when Bishop came up with a snapshot of the spy. It was a kid with bad skin and the look fo baseball in his eyes.
"Does this look like a spy to you?" Bishop asked.
There was a stir in the audience and Paar said something like "ooh" or "aah" and Bishop went on about this kid and how someone who looked like that could not be a spy.
You could say the same thing about Truong. He has the look of a child on his face. There is always a smile, a silly, embarrassed smile of a kid caught doing something naughty, and the handshake when you met him was weak - not strong like a proper spy's. The only time he ever looked like a spy is when they brought him into the courthouse in handcuffs, his arms before him. The cuffs added on his bonafides. A man in handcuffs is a menace.
Anyway, later was another phone call. It came from another friend and he said, watch this case - look at it closely. Watch what the government does. He said, talk to Troung's sister who is in town and talk to other members of his family, but whatever you do, watch this one. he was a leftie, this friend, with political antannae so good they should be insured by Lloyds of London. Like a pianist's hands. Watch this one, he said. I watched.
There were things to watch. The government bugged and tapped and followed and literally went to town on these two. The president was in opn this one and the attorney general and the CIA and even the State Department, and you would think that this was a trial of the decade but all the government had was a guy with a problem over a woman and a Vietnamese who wrote down on note paper little hints on how to be a spy - "An agent is deliberately misled of the true purpose . . ."
You had to wonder where all the real spies had gone, the ones who work for money, and you had to wonder, too, about how badly the government wanted to win this one for reasons that had nothing to do with Truong and Humphrey. It took cannon to kill flies. When they arrested Humphrey, he spilled his guts in three hours of cathartic confession. In the movies, the government started to take them apart and their guilt became apparent. They had been doing wrong, but they had their reasons. With Humphrey it was his love for a woman and with Truong it was his intention to reconcile American and Vietnam. Buy it, if you want, but even if you don't, the fact of the matter is that he peddled junk, nothing - garbage. The two of them were toyed with, watched like bugs under a glass.
I mean, that's the point, isn't it? My government probably has its reasons, but you have to wonder why someone didn't step in at the beginning and say, "Humphrey, you're fired" and "Truong, get out of the country" and end it at that. Instead, they let it go and they charged espionage which is like murder, it's so serious. They sat, Humphrey and Truong, in that little room at the courthouse last week, waiting for the verdict that had to go against them. Truong smiled occationally and Humphrey was grim and outside spring had come.
Later the jury came with the verdict and during the night the phone rang for the last time and the voice said, Richard, they're guilty." It was over, and on Sunday I went down to a cafe where I read the papers and I remembered that the last time I was there, David Truong had been there. He was standing, waiting for someone - out on bail and smiling.
This had been a cruel spring.