During the darkest years of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union played a nuclear game of cat and mouse. The finest agents this side of the Berlin Wall were pitted against KGB spies determined to steal our secrets. Distrust and resentment continued to fester between the two superpowers in the wake of World War II. Federal agencies had their hands full curbing the relentless influx of spies onto U.S. soil, particularly on the east coast.
In an effort to promote stability after the War, the United Nations was created and headquartered in New York City. Regardless of American intent, some foreign states played by the rules by day and gathered information by night. A growing concern about Russian spycraft, not yet identified by the U.S., made it imperative for the FBI to out-sleuth the communists.
Operation Lemon Aid
April 9, 1977, Navy Lt. Commander Arthur Lindberg was approached by the FBI as a potential candidate for a counterintelligence operation. The FBI suspected that the Soviets were using cruise ships to recruit spies, and their office in the U.N. was used to orchestrate espionage operations.
The FBI wanted to use a double agent to gather enough evidence that would confirm their suspicions. Due to tensions, the Soviet’s KGB were operating in a heightened state of alert and would not be easily ensnared.
They devised a plan to use Lt. Commander Lindberg because his background would make him a realistic candidate to betray his country: A high ranking naval officer with a looming retirement and in need of funds. This meant that he had access to Top Secret information he could sell to ease his retirement. They hoped this would be irresistible to the enemy spies and they would show themselves.
Lindberg agreed to help the FBI, and Operation Lemonade was born.
Lindberg purchased a civilian ticket and boarded the Soviet cruise ship the MS Kazakhstan. Before disembarking at the end of his trip, he passed off a note to a crew member with a letter addressed to the Russian ambassador. The letter stated that he was willing to sell military information if he was provided money for his retirement.
The letter made its way to the unsanctioned KGB headquarters within the United Nations.
On August 30, 1977, the Soviets made contact with Lindberg via a public payphone in New Jersey. Lindberg’s cover name was Ed, and the KGB agent on the other end of the line called himself Jim.
On September 24, 1977, the spies avoided meeting in person and probed Linberg to see what kind of information he could gain access to and the price. They contacted him again in the same manner as before and gave him a list of items they wanted more information on.
Terry Tate, a Naval Investigative Agent on the case submitted documents to be declassified so they could be fed to the Soviets. The enemy was particularly interested in our nuclear submarines. If they wanted to catch the spies, they had to leak genuine information.
October 22, 1977, Lindberg exchanged military secrets using dead drops.
Dead Drop: A prearranged hiding place for the deposit and pickup of information obtained through espionage – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
He received ,000 via dead drop for the information.
Over the course of several months, the FBI was able to trace the spy who picked up the dead drops, it was Rudolf Chernyayev, a Russian personnel officer at the U.N. The FBI was now able to tail the first Russian spy until they discovered the identity of all three. With those identities, they were able to anticipate when and where they were making their phone calls. Photos of them caught in the act would nail a conviction.
By March 12, 1978, the FBI had enough evidence in writing, on video, and in photos to secure an arrest warrant.
May 20, 1978 – The arrest of the Soviet spies would have a ripple effect throughout the highest levels of our government and had to be authorized by President Jimmy Carter. The FBI arrested the three KGB agents red-handed at their last dead drop.
Valdik Enger, Rudolf Chernyayev, and Vladimir Zinyakin were arrested. Only Zinyakin had diplomatic immunity and was deported to the USSR. The others, however, were convicted of espionage and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In the end, it was one of our most important counter-espionage cases of the decade. Enger and Chernyayev were the first Soviet officials to ever stand trial for espionage in the U.S. Both were convicted and ultimately exchanged for five Soviet dissidents. – fbi.gov