Earlier this week The New York Times published an article by Portland, Ore.-based freelance reporter Bryan Denson revealing one of my undercover missions for the FBI, which was, until now, publicly unknown.
I did not include this assignment in my 2008 nonfiction book “Ruse: Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence” (Potomac Books) because I did not know at the time if that operation was still active. If it was, I could not risk compromising it.
I cooperated with Mr. Denson to help establish the facts. From my experience, it is always better to speak with journalists and assist them with accuracy rather than let their imaginations run wild and write a one-sided story. Plus I’m proud of the work I did over an eight-year period in service to my country.
Here follows, from my own perspective, what went down.
THE BOOK MODE
Craig Rosebraugh of Portland had styled himself into the mouthpiece of the Earth Liberation Front and, as such, had drawn attention to himself from the Portland field office of the FBI.
At that time (around the turn of the century), ELF activists had attacked various sites in and around Portland and elsewhere with firebombs, earning themselves the label “domestic terrorists.”
I had, years earlier, created what I called my “Book Model” for the FBI as a way to ruse targets into telling me what they were thinking, doing and thinking of doing.
This formula worked like a charm against Edward Lee Howard. I rendezvoused with the CIA traitor in Moscow, Havana, Geneva and Zurich to extract from him “positive intelligence” of interest to the FBI and to penetrate his circle of Russian and Cuban intelligence contacts, in addition to trying to repatriate Mr. Howard in an extraordinary rendition to face the music in court for his treasonous scheme.
The Book Model also worked in our favor against hippie-guru Ira Einhorn, who fancied himself a should-be-famous author and invited me into his existence in Champagne Mouton, France, where he was fighting extradition to the U.S. for bludgeoning to death his ex-girlfriend Holly Maddux in Philadelphia 20 years earlier.
Thus I contacted Mr. Rosebraugh — a cold call — on the presumption that he desired to write a book.
He did, and I quickly inserted myself into his existence as his editor, publisher and, as my mentor CIA legend Clair George liked to say, his “new best friend.”
RENDEZVOUS IN SANTA BARBARA
My phone rang at 5:17 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2002.
Caller ID pegged an L.A. number: Craig Rosebraugh, calling from his sister’s home to confirm our meeting the following day in Santa Barbara.
I told him I’d reserved a room in his name at the Inn at East Beach, please phone me upon arrival.
Next day, Craig phoned at 3:07. Twenty-three minutes later we met in the hotel’s lobby. I introduced my editorial hitman, code-named “Floater,” with whom he would work IF (I told Mr. Rosebraugh) we determined he could deliver a revelatory book.
In his late 20s, Mr. Rosebraugh looked like a cross between the actress Shelley Duvall and the pitchfork farmer in “American Gothic,” the famous painting by Grant Wood.
Craig had a narrow, pasty face framed by a nerdy haircut and ornamented with wireless spectacles and acne around a mouth jammed full of teeth featuring prominent canines. He was costive, intense and prone to eyeballing new people and not letting go.
Having been eyeballed by the former KGB chairman, assorted Cuban Intelligence officers and Ira Einhorn, this was by no means challenging. At one point Craig said, “I NEED to be serious and paranoid.”
This was the brains behind America’s most dangerous domestic terrorist group?
My first impression, probably the best one, was this: What Craig needed most was a hug.
Floater and I drove him in my Jeep to the East Beach and grabbed a picnic table where I gave my spiel about book publishing and asked Mr. Rosebraugh if he had any questions. He shrugged and shook his head no.
I asked him if he thought he’d been followed to California. Craig proceeded to educate us about two kinds of surveillance, overt and covert. He said he was followed overtly on a regular basis. “I walk by my local coffee shop, and there they are, looking out at me. I’m used to it.”
I asked where he’d like to go for dinner. Craig didn’t care, so long as it was vegetarian. So at 6:30 that evening, Floater and I collected Mr. Rosebraugh from the inn and drove to The Natural Cafe on State Street. America’s No.1 domestic terrorist told me he’d been vegetarian for 12 years and that he drank only water because he was allergic to alcohol from abusing it as a teen.
“I drank everything,” said Craig with a grin that suggested he’d drunk everything all at once.
“And I’m sugar intolerant,” he added.
No soda or fruit juice. And no caffeine because he would suffer heart-pounding and shortness of breath.
Mr. Rosebraugh added that he once worked late into the night but no longer possessed such energy. And it was all about work, no play; very one-dimensional.
I listened to him ramble on about how he had joined the Animal Liberation Front after taking part in demonstrations against the Gulf War in 1991. He soon left the ALF, he said, because “they didn’t see the whole picture” (meaning, the environment).
These movements were just stepping stones in Mr. Rosebraugh’s personal odyssey of self-discovery to become, it seemed to me, The Rebel with the Right Cause. To this end he was matriculating toward a Ph.D. at Goddard College in Vermont. His thesis? “Rethinking Nonviolence: Arguing for the Legitimacy of Armed Struggle.” A doctoral degree, he told me, would enable him to teach.
That was Mr. Rosebraugh’s ambition: To motivate others to take direct action and choreograph them from behind the scenes.
I asked Craig how he saw himself five years down the road. Teaching and writing, he said, on his own “farm retreat” someplace rural, maybe Montana.
And he had already discovered the sad truth about the mainstream media. “They make deals and renege,” he told me, citing John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20,” who waited till the cameras were running to say to Craig, “You’re a thug.”
Craig confided that he had lost many friends because of his rebellious stance.
“They just didn’t want to risk trouble from the authorities,” he told me, agreeing to write a book, minimum 300 pages, within three months, for five-grand. A lot of work for so little brazhort was exactly what I wanted to hear.
When I arrived at the Inn at East Beach to settle Mr. Rosebraugh’s tab next morning, the jovial clerk looked at me and said, “Oh, so you’re 007 — oops,” he looked at Craig, back at me. “Sorry to give your secret away.”
He was referring to my American Express card, with which I’d booked the reservation. Its last three digits: 0-0-7.
I laughed. Craig laughed. It wasn’t exactly a poetic moment, but one worth filing under I for irony.
We drove to Pierre Lafond in Montecito’s upper village for coffee. It was a lovely day in mellow Montecito.
Craig was relaxed — and happy that we had tentatively agreed to a book deal.
Floater took a photograph of me and my new best friend, “the most dangerous domestic terrorist in the United States.”
ENTER THE SPECIAL AGENTS
One hour after Mr. Rosebraugh departed, FBI Special Agents descended upon Montecito. They were getting more intelligence on Craig and the ELF from me and Floater in two weeks than they had amassed in two years.
They had asked me to make reservations for dinner, someplace we could eat for under 20 bucks a head. So I booked upscale Lucky’s on Coast Village Road in Montecito, where a fine glass of unfiltered Robert Mondavi cost that much. It was time to break in the new agents in my case, teach them how to enjoy life.
Dinner was a lovely affair, a large round table for six. Bo Derek dined nearby; Andy Granatelli was at his usual table. Montecito author T.C. Boyle stood at the bar sipping chardonnay. (Those were the glory days of Lucky’s, when James Sly was in charge of the kitchen.)
I extracted from my folio an eight-by-10 color photograph of me and my target.
“Gee.” Special Agent John scratched his head. “I’ve never seen Craig Rosebraugh look so happy. Come to think of it, I’ve never even seen him smile before.”
Floater, to my left, overheard. “You’re kidding? We had him laughing.”
“Craig’s not so bad,” I said. “Just misdirected. He needs somebody to give him a hug.”
Special Agent John looked at me with a shocked expression.
“I could be his big brother,” I said. “Steer him in a harmless direction. Or even better, put him to work for us.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Special Agent John.
“Craig wants to move to Montana and start a revolution cult,” I said. “So we should set him up as an anarchist guru, and he attracts all the other violence-prone anarchists from around the country to join his commune. This will enable us to keep our eyes on everyone in one place, a kind of open prison for wannabe domestic terrorists.”
No, no, no. They wanted to assemble evidence against Mr. Rosebraugh and throw his scrawny butt behind bars, set an example for others.
I shrugged. “Well, at least wait till he writes us a blueprint of the ELF. He won’t tell us everything in a book, but it may be enough to connect the dots.”
“What about having to publish the book?” asked Special Agent John.
“You don’t understand the book biz or our Book Model,” I winked. “I can stretch this out for two years and still not publish his book, just by saying it didn’t turn out as good as I expected.”
“But what if he publishes it on his own?”
“What do we care? But if we care, we could probably stop him, because I’ll make him sign something that says his writing is commissioned for payment. That way we’ll own copyright.”
For a measly five grand, staggered into five payments of $1,000, Mr. Rosebraugh was ready to spill his guts — and we’d own the product.
Floater, his “editor,” would travel to Portland and work with him, hammer away at any reluctance to reveal all on the basis that “we can always edit out the parts that incriminate anyone, including yourself.”
“I promised Craig a decision in two weeks,” I said to Special Agent John. “Can you get into gear and approve $1,000 by then?”
Headquarters was impressed, approval was surprisingly swift, and Floater traveled to Portland in mid-April to consummate the deal with cash.
Mr. Rosebraugh, excited by the project, had jumped the gun and already written more than 100 new pages, including details of his love life.
I called Floater’s cell phone, by pre-arrangement, while he was in Portland.
“I’ve got Craig here with me,” said Floater. “Want to talk to him?”
“Hello?” said Craig.
I said, “How’s my favorite author?”
“Everything working out OK with your editor?”
“Yes,” replied Craig. “Very well.”
“Excellent,” I said. “It’s going to be a fabulous book.”
EVERYTHING THE FBI ALWAYS WANTED KNOW BUT DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO ASK
Floater telephoned me later. “That worked out good — Craig was happy you called,” he said. “But we have a new problem.”
“FBI Portland wants me to cut you out of the loop.”
“I’m working directly with them, and they want to keep everything in-house. They don’t want FBI Albuquerque in on this.” (The Albuquerque field office administered my activities so we were necessarily involved.)
After I had conceived and launched this operation, FBI Portland wanted me gone so they wouldn’t have to deal with FBI Albuquerque, typical feebie disjointedness and rivalry. Never mind that Craig Rosebraugh believed that I, not Floater, was supposed to publish his book.
“Tell them to —- off,” I told Floater. “This is our Book Model on the line. We’re running this operation, not them. And we’re doing it our way. If they don’t like it, tell them we’ll stand it down.” (The joy of being an independent contractor.)
With greater discretion than I, Floater conveyed my sentiments to FBI Portland.
Special Agent John said, “Oh, OK.”
Over the next nine months, Craig Rosebraugh wrote 395 pages on everything the FBI always wanted to know about the ELF but didn’t know how to ask.
Craig also sent us his doctoral thesis — another 379 pages — in which he called upon readers to reject the peaceful techniques of Mahatma Gandhi and join him in “an effective revolutionary movement within the United States.”
Had we been Russians, we would have given Craig whatever he needed.
FBI Portland, however, had lost the plot.
The way I’d conceived this, Mr. Rosebraugh’s scribing was not supposed to be the end-all but a vehicle for getting close to him and earning his trust for incriminating confidences, same as earlier book model cases targeting Edward Lee Howard and Ira Einhorn. We could have used Craig and whatever entity we helped him create as a magnet for every revolutionary in the U.S. bent on violence.
But without defined goals (as usual), the FBI chose not to recognize the opportunities available to us. Instead it focused on taking a scalp (law enforcement), not intelligence collection.
At some point after the operation was left to meander aimlessly, Craig became impatient, searched my name on the internet — and linked me to the CIA’s Clair George.
This spooked him into terminating our relationship and refunding the money we’d paid him, which was dutifully returned to FBI coffers.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.