This world of intrigue unfolds all over Washington, from a mysterious suicide of an ex-KGB agent at Hotel George to a bench in Lafayette Park where an old headmaster of Georgetown College plotted President Lincoln’s kidnapping and even to secret meetings at Martin’s Tavern with a double agent who was known for always carrying a red flower. These sites act as markers for activities and secrets that were never supposed to be uncovered. Due to the nature of trade, the true number of these incognito spy sites will never be revealed to the public. However, there are a still a few key places that reveal a piece of the true shadow-and-dagger nature of the capital city.
One of these sites is the home of the Confederate spy nicknamed the Rebel Rose. The house, located at 398 16th St., no longer stands, but at the time of the Civil War, it was ruled by D.C. socialite Rose Greenhow. This premier hostess plied the upper crust of D.C. society with dinner parties of oysters, wild turkey and champagne in order to coerce generals, congressmen and diplomats into spilling valuable secrets. Greenhow and her ring of Confederate spies succeeded in leaking the Union plans for the first battle of Manassas, which led to a major Union defeat. Greenhow passed this information to Confederate General Pierre Beauregard by disguising a female courier as a milkmaid with messages hidden inside the woman’s chignon.
Most of D.C.’s espionage, though, was not found in a home but within a restaurant. Chadwicks at 3205 K St., a location now occupied by Mr. Smith’s Bar, was a place for burgers, beer and betrayal. On June 16, 1985, CIA officer Aldrich Ames met with Viktor Cherkashin, the Soviet chief of counterintelligence at the Soviet Embassy. This meeting, attractively known as “The Big Dump,” was one of the biggest intelligence disasters in U.S. history. Ames carried two shopping bags full of classified information into this quaint pub and handed them over to the diplomat. In physical weight, the bags contained over five to seven pounds of dangerous secrets. However, the damage this action caused is incalculable. Many agents were arrested, scores of operations were compromised and at least 10 agents were executed. Chadwicks was just one of the “dead drop” sites for information. Ames’ activities covered the Georgetown area. On the corner of 37th and R Street, there is a blue mailbox on which Ames would make a chalk mark to tell his Soviet handlers that he was ready to make a drop.
Georgetown features another clandestine restaurant: Au Pied de Cochon. The restaurant has been replaced with a Five Guys burger joint, but it used to stand as a French bistro and the site of a major CIA embarrassment. It was in this restaurant where former KGB agent Vitaly Yurchenko re-defected back to the Soviet Union. Yurchenko, a high-ranking Soviet spymaster, was a prize for the CIA when he defected to the United States in 1985. However, the relationship clearly soured. During a dinner with his handlers, he excused himself and snuck out a bathroom window. From the restaurant, he walked to the Soviet Embassy at the top of the hill and returned to Soviet hands.
Although the world of secret agents and covert operations will remain shrouded in mystery, visiting these sites help the clandestine capital emerge from the shadows and D.C.’s history of deceit and intrigue step into the light.
Blair Kennedy is a junior in the College. D.C. Uncovered appears every other Monday.
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