Text: Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring (Pete Earley)
Illustrations: Photographs from a walk around Waddinxveen
We think we know the landscape. But we don't have skin in the game. Soldiers and spies know the landscape better, since their lives depend on it. Details that escape us, get meaning in the field of tradecraft. One chalk line on a lamppost signals a secret meeting. We topographers, we would never notice that chalk line:
John and the KGB used a series of signals to contact each other when he did have a delivery. John would fly to Washington, rent a car, and drive to Sixteenth Street, a major north-south route in the northwest section of the city. He was supposed to use a piece of chalk to mark a signal at a prearranged spot along the busy street. The signal was changed after every drop, but it always was a single letter or number, such as A, F, 6, or 7, and John always drew it on Sixteenth Street near the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on a Thursday. At various times during his spying career, John drew his signal on the wall of a corner appliance store, a bridge abutment, a stone retaining wall, and on the side of an apartment complex. The Soviet embassy also is on Sixteenth Street and John assumed that an employee drove to work each Thursday along the route and watched for his mark.When your freedom depends on it you will become a deep topographer. You will search for remote places and get to know them well:
The locations that the KGB chose for exchanges were always remote areas and John, fearful of getting lost at night, had made it a practice to arrive several hours before the scheduled time to familiarize himself with the region. He drove quickly along the blacktop roads, picking out key sights – a small bridge, an elementary school, a grocery store – that would help him keep his bearings later that night.We should not only visit places, we should leave our own traces there. Enhance the mystery! Drop strange books under bridges, glue strange CD's behind traffic signs, leave mysterious sigils on the roadside. Make traces that only a deep topographer would recognize:
John had begun his portion of yesterday’s dead drop – just as the KGB instructions required – by turning onto a narrow road that meandered through a sparsely populated area. He altered his speed to check for tails, just as he had done earlier during his drive from Norfolk. The Russians had placed an empty 7-Up can upright on the right edge of the road at a predetermined spot, an unobtrusive signal to John that his KGB contact was in the area and ready to make the exchange. The next move was up to him. Five miles later, he stopped to put a 7-Up can upright beside the road to signal that he was ready. He then continued on to the drop point, where he left his bundle of classified documents near a utility pole and a tree with a “No Hunting” sign nailed on it.
Make your landscape more interesting. Leave gifts for other urban explorers:
John had prepared 129 stolen naval secrets for the KGB. The eight-by-ten-inch copies of classified documents were wrapped in a white plastic trash bag to protect them from rain. Even the Soviets couldn’t control the weather. He had hidden the bundle in the bottom of a brown paper grocery bag filled with an empty Diet Coke bottle, a used container of rubbing alcohol, an old box of Q-Tips, and a soap wrapper. At the same time that John was dropping off this package, the KGB was supposed to be dropping off a package of cash for him at a spot a few miles away. The Russians would also wrap john’s bills in plastic and hide them in a grocery bag filled with trash.
About this series Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.
Previous posts are 1:The paranoid method, 2:Rooftops and sacrifices, 3:Oil and electricity, 4:Sewing machines, 5:Rooftops and apparitions, 6:Woods, 7:Mushrooms, 8:Formlessness (2d), 9:Formlessness (3d), 10:Autumn, 11:Monsters and mad scientists, 12:Empty spaces, 13:Stars and planets, 14:Addiction against emptiness, 15:Suggestive vagueness, 16: Ominous places and books, 17: Military technology, 18: Ominous telephones, 19: Observation, 20: History distortion.