Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Fox

Probably the most imaginative and persistent correspondent is a gaunt long-faced man with sunken eyes and prominent ears who first wrote to CIA on 27 January 1952 asking for a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights and terrain maps of Siberia, Manchuria, and Korea. Since then he has sent thousands of letters, postcards, and telegrams and used more than 50 aliases ranging from "Alexis Alexandrovich" to "Old Woody, The Fox." Usually he signs his true name followed by "U.S. Code 143," CIA's government tie-line code. Here we shall call him Old Woody.

Even though his handwriting and literary style are well known around the DCI's office, age cannot wither nor custom stale Old Woody's infinite variety. One letter told the Director: "I have allotted you a maximum life span of 94 years, not to exceed the year 1987." Another complained that "someone has wired my head for sight and sound." A third urged the Director to "tell Hoffa to require seat belts in all trucks." A fourth began: "Allen, I regret to inform you Kennedy won the election fair and square." Then came a telegram (collect) from Florida: "REQUEST FEDERAL TROOPS, MARTIAL LAW. MIAMI SITUATION OUT OF CONTROL."

Old Woody travels widely, usually first class. He has written from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nassau, Honolulu, and Hong Kong, as well as from most major cities in the United States. On domestic airlines and in American hotels he has often registered as "A.W. Dulles, Jr." and mailed canceled tickets and receipted bills to CIA. He likes luxury hotels; his suite at a Washington hotel in 1960 was billed at $52 a day. On many of his trips he listed CIA's street address as his resident and the DCI as his next-of-kin, often reinforcing the latter claim by taking out $62,500 in flight insurance with the Director as beneficiary.

In October 1964 Old Woody was arrested for vagrancy in Richmond. Allowed only one phone call, he used it to notify CIA of his plight. A couple of weeks later he phoned to report his new motorcycle license, and still later he wrote that he was working on a boat in Miami. Back in the money early in 1965, he wrote from Bermuda that he had been appointed King of the British Empire.

The risk of arrest does not dampen Old Woody's enthusiasm for the service. In August 1960 he made a telephone appointment with the commanding officer of an Air Force base in Nevada, conducted a "CIA security inspection," used the base commander's telephone to call CIA headquarters in Washington, and on departure warned the commander that some officers were out of uniform at Harold's Club. After sending MPs on a wild goose chase to the gambling club, the base commander somewhat grumpily reported the incident in an official letter to CIA. A few months later Old Woody was not so lucky. In Ponce, Puerto Rico, he represented himself as an FBI agent, borrowed a jeep from the National Guard, and drove it across the island to San Juan, where he was arrested. "Dear Allen," he wrote from jail, "I am in trouble again." A few days later he grew petulant. "You are wasting your time and the Armed Forces' time," he wrote, "I do not intend a reconciliation."

Generous to a fault, Old Woody rented a Cadillac limousine and chauffeur at $100 a day just before Christmas 1960 and drove to the Soviet embassy, where he left $100 for Francis Gary Powers. Then he drove to the Cuban embassy with $100 for prisoners on the Isle of Pines, and then to the American Red Cross, where he contributed $70 to help unmarried mothers. Finally he came to CIA headquarters and handed the receptionist an envelope addressed to Mr. Dulles containing $50 as a Christmas present. These activities landed him in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, from which he escaped a few days later after getting back the $50 from CIA. But he was pleased with the episode; nearly two years later he wrote Mr. Dulles that "some day I'll give you another $50 bill as a token of my affection."

In November 1961 he wrote from El Paso: "When the new Director takes over, I guess I'll wash my hands of CIA." But Old Woody didn't, and the flow of letters continues. In December 1961 he put down CIA as his home address when he opened a bank account in Wilmington, Delaware. In October 1962 he telegraphed from Chicago: "FIDEL CASTRO MINUS HIS BEARD ARRIVED CHICAGO THIS P.M. HAVE DETAIL COVERING HIM." In September 1963 a Washington-Miami airliner turned back and off-loaded him; he had alarmed fellow passengers by claiming to be a personal friend of Fidel Castro and trying to communicate with CIA by radio.

Is Old Woody just a harmless screwball? In 1960 he wrote: "Allen, I am going to start carrying a regulation FBI revolver and if someone forces me into a situation I intend on using it." In 1961 he warned Mr. Dulles: "The bomb attached to my radio in Room 313 has not availed you anything so far." Who knows what Old Woody will interpret as "a situation"? At a minimum, he has cost the Government a great many dollars in wasted time, filing space, analyses, and precautions. As he himself put it in a 1960 letter from West Palm Beach: "Allen, you should deduct me from your income tax."

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