How to Assassinate a CIA Operative and Get Away With It

 
The Sheraton place of the Piano Bar and former American Embassy location

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.

The Sniper Rifle that killed Freddie Woodruff

 

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.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    Oh you know who we need to weigh in on this post @bossmongo

    • #1
  2. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    Another little point. One of the injustices of the whole story that really gets me is this. I understand allowing Georgia to throw Anzor under the bus, I don’t approve but I get it, but why not at least get revenge? There was no indication the US ever went after Mongoose INC and killed everyone involved with it. That would have made more sense to me, but “we” the US really just let them skate. That really drives me nuts.

    • #2
  3. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    Ok my friends we need just one more like for the main page!

    • #3
  4. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Ok my friends we need just one more like for the main page!

    Done

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Easton for the save!

    In Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, it’s the pool and poolside bar at the Hyatt. Weird to look out at a scene of bored models and businessmen from twenty countries, keeping their voices down.

    • #5
  6. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    Another weird connection that u have with this story is that I have driven right by the assassination spot. Which is a bit creepy. But I did not know it at the time

    • #6
  7. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Sorry I’m late to the thread, Brian. I’m on the road and having laptop issues.

    Great telling of the story; I’m definitely in for reading the book.

    Coupla thoughts on the information as presented:

    If you’re hanging out at the bar where 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 then (in my humble opinion) you shouldn’t be going out to clandestine meets. You’re made. Set it up so that an un-known/blown minion goes out to the meet and retrieves the film. Or (better, in my opinion), send a couple of the D-boys out for the retrieval. 

    Chiefs of Station have myriad duties and responsibilities that they have to fulfill. Know what they’re not doing while they spend 12-16 hours a day fulfilling those duties and responsibilities? Tradecraft.

    Sure, the CoS might’ve cut his teeth in Vienna in the cold war or in Central America during the ’70’s and ’80s. But tradecraft–like shooting, like hand-to-hand, like clan communications–is a perishable skill. A CoS isn’t getting paid to make clandestine meet; he’s management and should be ensuring that the right person is tasked with the right job to generate the right outcome. Just my opinion. Plus, bringing the barmaid of the bar you frequent that’s chock full of criminals, spies and diplomats (the bar, not the barmaid. Well, maybe her, too, but you know what I’m saying)? Not a good way to maintain cover.

    Trust me, I hated it when I moved from operator to management (in my job, I became what is lovingly called a Former Action Guy; think of the acronym I had to live with), but it’s the right thing to do.

    Too, if a CoS gets a call that there’s tip-top intell out there, but only for him, no one else can make the pick-up, that should light up the alarms.

    Total paranoia = total awareness.

    • #7
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Sure, the CoS might’ve cut his teeth in Vienna in the cold war or in Central America during the ’70’s and ’80s. But tradecraft–like shooting, like hand-to-hand, like clan communications–is a perishable skill. A CoS isn’t getting paid to make clandestine meet; he’s management and should be ensuring that the right person is tasked with the right job to generate the right outcome. Just my opinion. Plus, bringing the barmaid of the bar you frequent that’s chock full of criminals, spies and diplomats (the bar, not the barmaid. Well, maybe her, too, but you know what I’m saying)? Not a good way to maintain cover.

    Trust me, I hated it when I moved from operator to management (in my job, I became what is lovingly called a Former Action Guy; think of the acronym I had to live with), but it’s the right thing to do.

    Easier said than done.

    But the CIA never seems to learn. c.f. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi.

    • #8
  9. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    If you’re hanging out at the bar where 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 then (in my humble opinion) you shouldn’t be going out to clandestine meets. You’re made. Set it up so that an un-known/blown minion goes out to the meet and retrieves the film. Or (better, in my opinion), send a couple of the D-boys out for the retrieval. 

    Yes! I was thinking this the whole time too. I don’t want to spoil the book but it seems that Freddie knew exactly who Gogoladze and Marina were but thought he had successfully balanced forces. In addition I think he was trying to develop his own private assets, assets that he ran, even after he was back at HQ. He must of thought SVR and GRU knew fully what he was doing and they were not bothered by his information gathering.

    What he seemed to fail to know was how badly Aldrich Ames thought their altercation went. Ames panicked and his handlers thought Woodruff needed to be killed. Freddie didn’t pick up on that and he ended with a bullet in the brain. It is sad but sometimes you just get caught out with deadly consequences. 

    Total paranoia would have helped him out I think. Being that he was in command of the Delta guys I can’t see why he would not have sent one of them but it seems he thought the meeting needed his personal touch.

    Not getting pay back for his death is what I do not quite get. I hope we hit back somewhere and somehow. The only silver lining was the Russians thought they had protected Ames but he was doomed any way and we got him. Ames should have run for the border when he was in Georgia.

    • #9
  10. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Oddly, I just re-read the last chapters of an old book that contains some references to your story, generally speaking. It’s called The Main Enemy by James Risen and Milt Bearden. I was reading it to get a feel for where things left off at the end of the “cold war” – since it seems it never went away, and has been re-ignited. Things were so simple back then in comparison!

    • #10
  11. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Not getting pay back for his death is what I do not quite get. I hope we hit back somewhere and somehow.

    @brianwolf, concur.

    I can’t help but think that there was some form of significant retribution; offing a Chief of Station is a big deal. To quote The Dude: This aggression shall not stand.

    • #11

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