Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles about the CIA and the Monaco intelligence service that columnist Robert Eringer led.
Former CIA Paris station chief Bill Murray (just retired from the agency) popped up in Monaco and took me to lunch.
By now, I greatly lamented no longer having this rough-and-tumble tell-it-like-it-is intelligence professional in charge of our relationship with headquarters.
Instead, we had LIPS. When I mentioned his name to other CIA officers, they would scratch their heads in bewilderment and say, “Don’t know how he got Paris.” Clearly, LIPS, as this agent was called, was out of his depth. “A renowned liar,” said another spy, “and not very good at it.”
Not giving up despite LIPS’s best efforts to circumvent CIA headquarters, I flew to Washington, D.C., and sat with a CIA team to be brought up to scratch on several matters involving our mutual interests.
From this meeting, I went straight to Café Milano in Georgetown to join the ex-CIA crowd for lunch: Bill Murray, Tyler Drumheller and Mike Sulick, who much later would be called back to service as deputy director for
operations. I picked their brains for liaison contacts at other services and took the opportunity to invite them to a party at our Monaco safehouse in honor of the prince’s enthronement on Nov. 18, 2005.
At that party, old pros Messrs. Drumheller and Murray arrived 15 minutes early, plunked themselves at the bar in the center of everything and never left that spot until everyone departed. They were practicing an old intelligence trick for such gatherings: Be first to arrive, last to leave. Place oneself in a prime position in the middle of everyone (in this case, representatives of various foreign intelligence services chatting with Prince Albert) to vacuum up as much conversation as possible.
Early in the new year, we created a liaison relationship with SISMI, Italy’s external intelligence service. Alberto Manenti (who would later become director of that service) noticed the STE on my desk and took it upon himself to provide counsel. Once plugged into the wall, he confided, the cryptographic hotline could monitor all our landline conversations and eavesdrop on conversations within our safehouse. Unplugging it would not solve the problem, he added, as it was equipped with a backup battery.
After Mr. Manenti departed, I moved the cryptographic phone from my desk to an appropriate spot adjacent to the toilet. The only conversations it picked up thereafter were, shall we say, rather flatulent.
It wasn’t long before I received an urgent telephone call from the CIA in Paris: Their cryptographic phone was not working properly. “There’s a problem, needs fixing, crackling on the line.” They wanted to collect it for servicing.
More and more, I’d begun to question the CIA’s professionalism. The new European division chief’s visit had been canceled abruptly and never rescheduled. LIPS had canceled several visits, once not bothering to call to say he wasn’t coming. And the team that was supposed to visit from headquarters, following my last visit to Washington, also got canceled.
I stopped paying attention to LIPS, but when Prince Albert was about to embark on an expedition to the North Pole after which he would meet Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, LIPS dispatched an officer to Monaco with secret briefing papers on the Russian president. I looked through the documents when they arrived and found their contents pitiful compared to the masterful briefing Christopher Steele of MI6 provided to the prince and me at our safehouse.
On June 1, 2006, I flew to Washington because the CIA told me “Important things” were happening. One such important thing: President George W. Bush had just fired Porter Goss as CIA director, and my friends, the Goss-lings, were out of power with him.
That evening, I dined at Morton’s Steakhouse in Bethesda with Clair George, who I enthralled with tales about rampant corruption in Monaco.
“You’re messing with their rice bowls,” he finally said. And in a scene borrowed from “The Godfather,” Clair foretold the end of my mission in the prince’s service. “This is how it will happen: A group will go to Albert and demand, ‘Get rid of Robert.’”
When I met with the CIA team, they reaffirmed several points, ticking off each, as if all that mattered was that we acknowledge the basis of our relationship.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
In December, the wise words of Clair George came into play when minions of Prince Albert, without his authorization, attempted to terminate my role as spymaster. I could not get a hold of Albert and therefore could not be sure he would be present for meetings we’d scheduled several days hence in Monaco with LIPS and another intelligence service.
I spent the next few days shredding documents originating from our liaison partners, not sure what would happen next. I spoke with LIPS on the hotline and assured him we would safeguard the agency’s cryptographic equipment until it could be collected.
With still no word from Albert to clarify the situation, I booked a flight to London. At 9:30 a.m. in Nice Airport, waiting to board EasyJet, my cell phone chimed.
“Aren’t we supposed to be meeting today?” asked Prince Albert.
I could scarcely believe my ears.
“Albert,” I said, “I’ve been told by the Palace accountant we’re out of business, that we must shut down.”
“Oh, no — he wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I needed to talk to you.”
About money, he added, and a complaint from the police chief that I was working his turf.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I had to cancel your meetings today because after hearing your accountant’s news I could not be certain you would appear, and I could not risk embarrassing you and inconveniencing our visitors. Are you not receiving my messages?”
Albert said he had not received my phone or fax messages. (Intercepted? And if so, by whom? More likely, Albert could not be bothered to check his messages.) This was, apparently, the first he knew of any possible problem.
“So your accountant acted without your authority?” I asked.
“He doesn’t know how complicated this is,” said the prince. “I’m going to bawl him out.
“Are you just arriving?” Albert asked me.
“No, I’m leaving.”
“When can we meet?” he asked.
There was no point, we agreed, in my retrieving checked baggage and returning to Monaco. We’d meet after the holidays, in early January.
I arrived back in London bullish and buoyant, if emotionally drained. One thing about a crisis, you’re able to identify your true friends. That evening I met the former MI6 Washington station chief in the Cigar Bar at the old Churchill Hotel on Portman Square and recounted the events of the past four days.
When I finished, he shook his head and said, “You cannot raise the flag, say you want to crack down on organized crime, then lower it. It sends all the wrong messages and isolates Monaco much worse than before. But they won’t go away,” he added. “They’ll come back harder next time.”
SURROUNDED BY VIPERS
One month later I was escorted to a breakfast nook in the kitchen of Prince Albert’s private quarters inside Palais de Monaco.
When Albert entered and took his seat opposite me, I asked, “So who’s trying to do me in now?”
“What do you mean?” he replied, taken aback. “No one.”
No one turned out to be Monaco Police Chief Andre Muhlberger. He probably never liked the idea of a non-official outsider — especially an American — instructing several of his officers what to do, but with others now trying to terminate my service, Mr. Muhlberger judged his timing right to put his own boot in.
He had whined to Albert, accusing me of stealing the police department’s reporting on Islamic fanatics in the area and repackaging it as a product of our service.
“As I’ve already told you,” I said, sipping coffee, “your police intelligence unit produced several reports over a 10-year period that no one at the Palace bothered to read, assuming the reports even reached the Palace. And as I also told you, since the police department and Interior Ministry had not conducted an assessment of such reporting, even after 9/11 and bombings in London and Madrid, and since we had received intelligence from a liaison partner suggesting Monaco could be targeted by independent Islamic cells, we took it upon ourselves to translate the reports into English, analyze them, mesh the reporting with other intelligence we’ve received from several liaison partners and write it into an easy-to-comprehend, up-to-date report that fully credits the police department’s input.”
Albert said, “Oh.”
“Have you read it?” I asked.
I then returned to my safehouse for a meeting with … Chief Muhlberger, who knew I’d just met with the prince. The police chief obviously hoped that I’d had been seriously reprimanded, if not curtailed or outright terminated. Thus, when I appeared relaxed and confident, he seemed devastated.
We sat down. I told him I’d enjoyed an excellent dialogue with Albert and that I understood he, Chief Muhlberger, had some concerns.
I told him I would be delighted to deal with his concerns directly.
He shrugged as if he had no concerns and said nothing more.
I escorted Mr. Muhlberger to the foyer and saw him into the elevator. “Thank you for your support and friendship,” I said, looking him straight in the eye.
The police chief looked away, then down. He knew I knew.
Surrounded by vipers, it was a good thing I knew a thing or two about snake charming by now. Because the next face I saw in our safehouse belonged to LIPS from the CIA. We were still in crisis mode, fighting for our survival, and he wanted to recite his playbook, the basis of our relationship, or “The S’s,” as he called them: Support, security, structure, and separation —though “the S’s” could have stood for s**t-squared.
My situation wasn’t Intelligence 101. It was the real thing, as in hardball.
LIPS told me that CIA’s new director, Michael Hayden, had finally been briefed on the CIA’s relationship with us, fully supported it and sent his greetings. Really? I felt like saying. To hell with greetings — and lip service — how about a bazooka?
A MESSED-UP TOWN
At some point I recruited Prince Albert’s cousin, Jean Leonard de Massy (known as J.L.), to work with our service. I viewed him as my natural successor to run the Monaco Intelligence
Service (if it survived) on the basis that, in so cutthroat a place as Monaco with its many warring factions, Albert’s intelligence secrets should be kept within his family. I flew with J.L. to Washington so I could introduce him to the CIA.
Next evening, I introduced J.L. to a CIA team — all new faces — who hosted us at Café Milano in Georgetown.
Bottom line: The CIA met J.L. and offered to train him.
As we walked away from the CIA’s contingent at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, J.L. turned to me and, seemingly bewildered by what had just taken place, asked a very pertinent question: “Do you think they can really teach me anything?”
As for training dates: LIPS in Paris had told us he was waiting for headquarters to decide. Headquarters now told us they were waiting for LIPS to decide. Some things never changed.
On June 16 , the fifth anniversary of my hiring by Prince Albert to be his spymaster, I had the pleasure of LIPS’s company for lunch in the open air at Quai des Artistes on Monaco’s port. He told me his ambassador had expressed concern about the prince’s plan to vacation come summer with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. “He’s concerned that it could open Pandora’s box.”
“It’s already open,” I said. “You haven’t been paying attention.”
LIPS gulped — an “ohmigod” moment. This was not how he wanted his tenure as the CIA Paris station chief, with responsibility for Monaco — and a secret relationship with the prince — to end. “Doesn’t he want to keep doing what he asked you to do?”
“He thinks he should,” I replied.
“Thinks he should?”
“That’s an important distinction.”
“I’m glad you caught it.”
“What are you going to do about it?” he asked.
“Under the circumstances,” I said, “I’d like to see somebody senior at your headquarters to redefine our relationship — next month, if possible.”
“That’s very doable,” said LIPS, for whom everything was very doable — until you needed to actually do it. “We have a new European division chief taking over shortly.” (The fourth in as many years.)
LIPS told me he was headed to “the seventh floor” for an executive job in senior management. If true, heaven help the CIA — and our country.
Before departing from what would be our final meeting, LIPS ran through, as always, his motivational list of concepts to keep our relationship structured. “Does that make sense?” he concluded with his catchphrase.
No, our relationship with you folks has been rather senseless, but thanks for lunch.
Two weeks later, as I prepared to visit Washington, I checked in with CIA Paris on the doable-ness of meeting senior management.
“Bad news,” said LIPS’s assistant. “Nobody is around.”
“The new European division chief isn’t in place yet, same with the new deputy chief. They’re playing musical chairs.”
It hit me almost immediately that LIPS did not want me to meet anyone senior from headquarters, lest I say something about what was truly going on in Monaco that might hurt his seventh-floor job prospects.
I flew to Washington anyway. My first meeting was with Clair George, who was aghast when I told him no one at the CIA was around to see me.
“In my day,” he growled, “you’d be seen, even if we had to hire an actor to sit with you.”
“It’s one of two things,” I said. “CIA is as messed up as everyone says — or LIPS did not convey my request, then lied to me when I pushed the issue.”
Next evening, over pre-dinner cocktails, I bounced the same story off my retired MI6 friend.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “You’re the chief of a service. They should accommodate you. There are people in jobs, and they’re in town this week. I’m having dinner with them tonight. Shall I let them know you’re here?”
I told him to feel free. We’d flush out the truth.
“I’ll tell them,” he said, “that Monaco’s intelligence chief is in town feeling very neglected.”
He phoned me later that evening with news: There had been no request from LIPS or his staff in Paris to meet with me. Nor had LIPS mentioned to anyone that I would be in Washington.
Clair George was flabbergasted when I told him. “In my day, that was a fire-able offense!” he thundered. “I’d fire his ass!”
The deputy European division chief was in place — and in town — and intended to phone LIPS the next day to ask why my request for a meeting had not been relayed.
Later, I discovered not only had LIPS not conveyed my request to meet with senior management but, in his final debrief upon returning to Washington, had not conveyed intelligence about the Russian surge into Monaco — in fear, perhaps, that it would tarnish his reputation. This also explained, as I had thought, why he’d obstructed my request for a meeting with senior management. He assumed (correctly) I would provide crucial intelligence that he had withheld.
THE BAD GUYS WIN
In early September 2007, I went to see U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, at his office in the Russell Senate Building.
“How are things?” he asked.
“Not so well, Senator,” I replied. “I’m planning to dissolve our intelligence service.”
“Can’t you leave it in the hands of someone else?” he asked.
“I tried, Senator. I wanted his blood relative to succeed me. But the prince was talked out of it. The bad guys do not want the prince to have an intelligence service, for obvious reasons.”
I pointed out that the CIA had behaved ineptly and had been of little help as a liaison partner.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“Senator, I haven’t come here to ask you to do anything. I’m here as a courtesy to update you on the situation because you were kind enough to support us with congressional oversight.”
The next day, I lunched with Tom T., one of the new faces from the CIA headquarters, at Paolo’s in Georgetown. (He was actually an old face who had returned from retirement because so many officers from the operations directorate had bailed.)
Tom was shocked to hear of the Russian surge into Monaco. He was also astonished that LIPS had reported no such thing at his final debrief weeks earlier. “It’s all news to me,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought we were zipping right along.”
I told Tom I would dissolve the Monaco Intelligence Service in the autumn and that the CIA’s relationship with the prince would, effectively, cease to exist.
Tom wanted to put it back on track, operate against the Russians and recruit the prince’s key Russian contacts for Albert’s own good.
I admired his gumption. But I’d seen this gung-ho song-and-dance before, and I was wary of any further dealings with the agency. Moreover, it had become clear that Albert had lost interest in cracking down on corruption and money laundering — and was welcoming Russian oligarchs with open arms.
Tom phoned me a month later, having confirmed as true everything I’d told him. “We cannot just walk away from this,” said Tom. “We have a mandate to protect the prince and this relationship.” The new Paris station chief was visiting D.C., he said, and wanted me to fly over from California nine days later to meet her for lunch.
I said I’d consider it. The next day, I phoned him back. “I’ve been signaled by a friendly European service that your new station chief intends to revert to dealing with Monaco the old way, through the French. I don’t need to spend my time and money getting my brain picked.”
Said Tom, “We wouldn’t call you all the way here to be fired.”
“You can’t fire me,” I chuckled. “I don’t work for you.”
I’d planned an October sweep through London, Paris, Monaco, and Luxembourg, where I wanted to meet with European liaison partners and gently close the doors they had so kindly opened.
However, my friends in Luxembourg became nervous after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new DST (internal security) chief, Bernard Squarcini, announced to them that “Eringer is the CIA’s station chief in Monaco.” Surprise, surprise. This was how the French finally chose to discredit me. Not very original but calculated to ensure our liaison partners would become dubious of further contact with me.
Consequently, I gave Europe a miss and instead conducted a review of all that had transpired since the first day I began my mission in the prince’s service.
It was clear, upon review, that Prince Albert had squandered a great resource. He could have been briefed on any topic of his choice by one or more of 20 intelligence services with which I had created liaison relationships.
But he chose listening to his corrupt cronies instead.
I harbor no regrets. Despite the prince not appreciating all that had been accomplished for him, it was, for me, an excellent learning experience during which I made many new friends and acquired a vast amount of knowledge.
And I had remained true to my ideals. Many bribes were offered — from large amounts of cash for introductions to the prince to secret stakes in business enterprises. I declined every one of them.
I earned little money in service to the prince because we invested most of our budget into building a quite stellar service, to provide the prince with the finest intelligence he would need for introducing a new ethic to his principality. We believed he meant what he said about putting — what he called at his investiture — “morality, honesty and ethics at the forefront of my government and cabinet.”
Sadly, it was a sham.
We ensured that the prince was very well informed about the shady characters whose presence he continues to tolerate even while announcing to the world he is sorry Somerset Maugham ever penned his haunting words about Monaco being “a sunny place for shady people.”
The bad guys won.
And, sorry to say, by proxy and default, Albert had become a bad guy himself.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.