When a dogged FBI agent pur­sued a sad sack spy

THREE MIN­UTES TO DOOMS­DAY: AN AGENT, A TRAITOR, AND THE WORST ES­PI­ONAGE BREACH IN U.S. HIS­TORY By Joe Navarro Scrib­ner, $26, 368 pages

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Paul Davis Paul Davis is a writer who cov­ers crime, es­pi­onage and ter­ror­ism

Clyde Lee Con­rad and Rod­ney Ramsey may not be as well-known as Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, John Walker or other in­fa­mous spies and traitors, but ac­cord­ing to Gen. Glenn K. Otis, the com­man­der in chief of the U.S. Army Euro­pean Com­mand from 1983 to 1988, their acts of es­pi­onage had left the West so vul­ner­a­ble and stripped of its own de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties that its de­feat would have been as­sured had the Sovi­ets acted on their in­tel­li­gence and launched an all-out war.

Con­rad, Ramsey and oth­ers in this spy ring gave the Sovi­ets Amer­i­can’s de­fen­sive war plans, nu­clear launch codes and other mil­i­tary se­crets. It was a dev­as­tat­ing breach of se­cu­rity.

As for­mer FBI Spe­cial Agent Joe Navarro re­counts in his book, “Three Min­utes to Dooms­day: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Es­pi­onage Breach in His­tory,” he be­came in­volved in this decade-long es­pi­onage in­ves­ti­ga­tion on

Aug. 23, 1988 when he was in­structed to lo­cate and in­ter­view Rod­er­ick James Ramsey.

The mes­sage stated that Ramsey was last known to be liv­ing in Tampa, Florida, and Agent Navarro was to in­ter­view him “re­gard­ing his knowl­edge of or as­so­ci­a­tion with Clyde Lee Con­rad, while sta­tioned at 8th ID, Bad Kreuz­nach, West Ger­many: ser­vice years

1983-85. INSCOM (Army In­tel­li­gence) will li­aise and as­sist: lo­cate, in­ter­view, re­port.”

Mr. Navarro, who in 1988 served as a mem­ber of the FBI’s SWAT team and flew night aerial sur­veil­lance as well as his coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence du­ties in the FBI’s Tampa, Florida of­fice, lo­cated Ramsey, who was liv­ing in his mother’s trailer. He then be­gan a long game of wits with the highly in­tel­li­gent, nar­cis­sis­tic and ma­nip­u­la­tive for­mer en­listed sol­dier.

Like Con­rad, who had been ar­rested in West Ger­many and charged with es­pi­onage, Ramsey had worked as the cus­to­dian of highly clas­si­fied war plans and doc­u­ments in the U.S. Army’s G-3 Plans sec­tion. He told Mr. Navarro in the first in­ter­view that he lost his job when he flunked a drug test that in­di­cated he had cannabis in his urine.

Mr. Navarro was an as­tute ob­server of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or as some of his col­leagues jok­ing called it, “Voodoo.” Ramsey, de­spite his high IQ, had no idea that the FBI agent was read­ing his body lan­guage, such as when asked about Con­rad, Ramsey’s hand hold­ing a cig­a­rette shook like a hard tremor.

“Is it mean­ing­ful? You bet,” Mr. Navarro writes. “Any­thing we do that po­ten­tially threat­ens us — burn­ing a fin­ger on the stove, say, or com­mit­ting a crim­i­nal act — gets stored in the brain, in the hip­pocam­pus, and any­thing that awak­ens that threat — a glowing heat­ing unit, men­tion of our part­ner in crime — puts us in­stantly on guard. That’s what hap­pened to Rod: For just a mo­ment he trem­bled and froze, the same way any of us would tem­po­rar­ily freeze if we rounded a bend and saw a snarling dog in front of us.”

Dur­ing a series of in­ter­views, Ramsey con­fessed to var­i­ous crimes, even­tu­ally lead­ing up to es­pi­onage, while dis­cussing es­o­teric top­ics with Mr. Navarro and his FBI part­ner, Spe­cial Agent Lynn Tre­maine. They met in a ho­tel room and Mr. Navarro plied his sus­pect with Cuban del­i­ca­cies and flat­tery. Ramsey was talk­ing, and yet for FBI bu­reau­cratic rea­sons, Mr. Navarro and his part­ner were or­dered off the case.

One year later, Mr. Navarro was or­dered to re­sume his in­ter­views, but the case, as Mr. Navarro notes, “had gone cold as a Rus­sian win­ter.”

When Mr. Navarro again saw Ramsey, he was shocked at his ap­pear­ance. His thin frame has got­ten even thin­ner and he was un­kempt. Ramsey told the FBI agent that he was driv­ing a cab, but not mak­ing much money.

As Mr. Navarro con­tin­ued his in­ter­views with Ramsey, the press, specif­i­cally, ABC News, got wind of the es­pi­onage case and be­gan to broad­cast the de­vel­op­ing story. John McWethy at ABC came on the air and re­ported that Con­rad was the only one ar­rested in West Ger­many, but a mas­sive FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way. He re­ported that the spy ring be­gan with Zolten Sz­abo, a Hun­gar­ian serv­ing in the U.S. Army, in 1967, and he brought in Con­rad in the mid1970s. A third gen­er­a­tion of spies were re­cruited by Con­rad and the es­pi­onage con­tin­ued in the mid-1980s.

Ramsey spoke to Mr. Navarro as he en­joyed spar­ring with the FBI agent. Ramsey pos­sessed a pho­to­graphic mem­ory and scored the sec­ond high­est IQ ever recorded by the US Army, so Mr. Navarro had to play a clever catand-mouse game with the sus­pected spy.

This is a talky book, mostly cov­er­ing the back and forth be­tween Rod­ney Ramsey and Mr. Navarro. “Three Min­utes to Dooms­day” is an in­ter­est­ing book about a ded­i­cated, dogged FBI agent and a bril­liant, yet sad sack spy.

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