Edward Lee Howard, the former CIA agent who defected to the Soviet Union after allegedly passing vital U.S. secrets, has been permanently expelled from Hungary as a result of the pro-democracy upheaval there and is now in another East Bloc country, U.S. sources disclosed Wednesday.
The expulsion has prompted U.S. officials to redouble efforts to apprehend Howard, but it is not clear whether those prospects are good.
Hungary revoked Howard’s asylum at least a month ago at the urging of U.S. officials and over the protests of the Soviet KGB, government sources said. It was not known where in the East Bloc he is now living, or whether he is still under Moscow’s protection.
Howard allegedly told the Soviets key information about CIA operations in Moscow, including names of agents and technical equipment being used. He evaded an FBI surveillance team in New Mexico in 1985 and then turned up in Moscow. It was not clear when he began spending time in Hungary.
“The idea (for encouraging his expulsion) goes back some months,” said a U.S. official aware of the effort, “but they (the Hungarians) have acted only in the last month or so. Our argument was: ‘Here’s this guy who cast his lot with the Soviet Union but tried to avoid the hardships of Gulag socialism.’
“Our purpose was not to have him turned over to us,” the official said. “We never thought they would do that.”
Disclosure of Howard’s expulsion came after CIA Director William H. Webster made a guarded reference to the case, without mentioning Howard’s name, in a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Webster was asked how recent political changes in Eastern Europe have affected cooperation between intelligence services of those countries and the KGB.
“I can think of one instance, and I’ll not mention a name because it may be classified, in which a prominent defector from the United States was finally permanently expelled from a bloc country which had provided him comfort and sanctuary in the past,” Webster said. “And that would have been contrary to the wishes of the KGB. So, we are seeing some indications of independence.”
Other government sources confirmed that Webster was referring to Howard.
Howard had an important patron in Moscow, Vladimir Kryuchkov, who now heads the KGB, and was said to enjoy a comfortable living situation there because of Kryuchkov’s influence.
But David Wise, a Washington writer and author of “The Spy Who Got Away,” an account of the defection of Howard, conducted his 1987 interviews of Howard in Budapest. Howard is the only CIA agent ever to flee to the Soviet Union.
“He liked Hungary more than Moscow,” Wise recalled in an interview Wednesday night. “It was a lot more Western--the closest he could get to the West.”
Wise said that when he interviewed Howard in Budapest in June, 1987, the defector planned to spend his summer there. “He has been back there several times, including August of 1988, and his wife has visited him there for as long as three months,” Wise said.
Howard’s wife, Mary, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., with their daughter, could not be reached Wednesday. Wise said he last spoke with Howard by telephone more than a year ago but added that he had heard reports of an American encountering Howard in Budapest and describing him as “drunk and unhappy.” Howard was widely reported to be plagued with a drinking problem when he was with the CIA.
“If it’s true that he is drinking heavily again, that might be a peg for them (Hungarian officials) to want him out,” Wise said.
“Hungary was the closest he could get to the West in atmosphere, but he was nervous when he was there,” he said. He recalled Howard’s saying that all it would take would be “a hypodermic needle by the CIA and then over the Austrian border.”
At the time of his interviews with Howard, Wise said, the defector was protected by both the KGB and local security.
Howard’s alleged spying was discovered through the 1985 defection to the United States of Vitaly A. Yurchenko, a high-ranking KGB officer who was in charge of all operations in the United States and Canada. Yurchenko, who subsequently redefected to the Soviet Union, disclosed the existence of a former CIA mole.
Although Yurchenko did not know the man’s name, he related enough details, including that the mole had been sent on an assignment to Moscow that was called off by the CIA, to lead counterintelligence officers to Howard.
However, the FBI, which is responsible for counterintelligence in the United States, was not immediately informed of Yurchenko’s revelations. Howard, using techniques taught him by the FBI when he underwent CIA training for his aborted Moscow assignment, then managed to escape an FBI surveillance team and flee to Moscow.
Times staff writer Don Shannon contributed to this story.