Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
It was a hot day in a dusty city, Tbilisi the Capital of Georgia, there was little power and anarchy ruled in the streets. An oasis of calm, like a castle of old, stood on a hill just inside the eastern edge of the city the Sheraton “Metechi Palace” Hotel. With generators and money to burn the Hotel always had power and the owners of the Hotel were connected. The most powerful criminal organization in the country the “Knights” or Mkhedrioni provided security to the grounds. The American Embassy rented out entire floors and had their own security, among them were Delta Force Operators, and Freddie Woodruff long-time Soviet Expert and CIA Station Chief in charge of the Delta Force mission and charged with monitoring the KGB led drug trade through Georgia.
The drug trade was the way the Soviet Intelligence services kept themselves funded after the fall of the Soviet Union and was the bedrock of their eventually take over of the Russian Federation. The KGB used their old contacts in Afghanistan to literally move tons of cocaine and opium paste through Russia and then the Georgian ports to all of Europe and beyond. It was a multi-billion dollar industry and the CIA was very interested in it.
That very trade and the information that Freddie had exposed about the trade is what led Freddie’s boss, Aldrich Ames, to come to Georgia to formalize the “public” measures of the investigations into the trade and get a briefing from Freddie on the “real” investigation. Ames, was under a lot of pressure financial and otherwise. In need of money, Ames had begun to look for extra work outside of his normal CIA duties and while that had eased a lot of his financial pressure he was sure that his part-time job affected his performance at the CIA and his career was now going nowhere and he still needed his money. On his trip to Georgia, he was worried by a lot more than the just information he was looking for the KGB drug trade.
The center of attention in Tbilisi was the Piano Bar at the Sheraton. Big business deals were done there, the Embassy personal was there, even most of Shevardnadze’s shaky Georgian Administration came in for a drink there and it was the base of operations for a lot of spies. The CIA, GRU, KGB, MI6, Mossad everyone had a presence there and several people were playing for more than one team. It was the kind of bar that James Bond would have quite at home in. One hot Georgian night, in July 1993, Ames is there drinking with Freddie and as he doing more and more often Ames drank too much.
There were a lot of witnesses to the altercation, but no ever claimed to hear what was said, but all agree that Freddie and Ames got into a bit of shouting match that nearly led to a fight. Ames stormed off to his room to sleep off his drink and Freddie stayed in the bar a while to cool down.
Ames, it seems made a phone a call the next morning and disappeared for a day, later Freddie and Ames finished up their business and Ames left Georgia, he was arrested in February of 1994 for espionage against the USA for the Soviet Union possibly the most damaging spy in American history. Aemes had been under investigation since 1992 but the final searches were being done on his home only while he was in Georgia in 1993.
On August 8th, 1993, Freddie went to meet some contacts in the Mkhedrioni in the mountains of northern Georgia along the old Russian Military Highway. With Freddie were Eldar Gogoladze Shevardnadze’s chief Body Guard and leader of the Delta trained Omega Group of Georgian Operators, loyal only to Shevardnadze. Elena Darchiashvili probably a professional girlfriend of Eldar’s brought as window dressing and Marina Kapanadze. Marina Kapanadze, was a barmaid in the Piano Bar at the Sheraton, probably was in a physical relationship with Freddie, and she was well connected to Mkhedrioni but was also an operative of the GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence. Freddie seems to have seen her as a way to connect and turn Mkhedrioni members into CIA assets.
Everything went well and Freddie got what he wanted but on the way back to Tbilisi Freddie was shot through the back of the head by Dragunov Sniper rifle that fired a 7.62×54 mm steel jacketed round. Freddie was riding in a Soviet-era Niva and he was shot in the back seat but the bullet left no hole in the Niva. Freddie’s sidearm was never recovered and the film he had with him was all exposed. He was dead when he was shot but his heart kept beating for a while but by time Eldar got him to a hospital with power he was dead.
Something known almost immediately by the American Intelligence services and the FBI.
A former Soviet Special Operations Sniper, out of group Alpha, working for a Company named Mongoose, left Georgia August 9th and bragged in Azerbaijan how Mongoose had just killed a CIA agent and could do the same for the Azeri Government.
The Georgian story of a drunk Georgian veteran shooting Freddie by mistake with an AK-74 through a rubber seam between the window and the metal frame on the Niva, the rubber re-sealed after the bullet passed through it, was impossible.
The Georgian Special Operations Unit called Alpha Group was shot through with Soviet agents and were loyal to the criminal Mkhedrioni organization almost certainly helped kill Freddie.
The American Government, however, accepted the story that the drunk veteran Anzor Sharmaidze had shot Freddie by accident with an AK-74 and allowed him to sent to prison for 15 and later 18 years.
Everything would have ended there but for one man, Michael Pullara, and the Woodruff family that decided to pursue what really happened to Freddie Woodruff and to free the man falsely accused of killing him. It took 20 years but Michael Pullara uncovered the facts of the case and figured out why Freddie was assassinated and who did it. Anzor Sharmaidze was released from prison a few years early but his life has never recovered and the men guilty of Freddie’s assassination were never brought to justice for his murder. No justice for the wrongly accused and no justice for the Assassins but a little justice for Freddie himself and his family.
He wrote about in a fantastic book called The Spy Who Was Left Behind: Russia, the United States, and the true story of the betrayal and Assassination of a CIA agent.
I have some personal connections to the story I saw Michael Pullara confront, Eldar Gogoladze on Georgian TV and I have been to the Sheraton’s Piano Bar before it was shut down and remodeled. It is an amazing story of real tradecraft and it really exposes the anatomy of a real-world assassination. The book also exposes a monstrous injustice and exposes the sometimes all too human costs of realpolitik.