Excerpt: Chapter 3
A Spy Story
United States of America v. William Kampiles
From the highest sky [Icarus] looked down terrified at the sea…The hapless father, now no longer a father, yelled out “Icarus!” and again “Icarus, where are you? Are you flying under the sky?”…And he saw the feathers on the waves.
—Ovid, Ara Amatoria, translated by Sasha Austin Schmidt
To reach the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana, you drive south along the lake and then east to the Chicago Skyway, making a graceful arch over the steel mills, climbing the pockmarked tarmac to the top. Far below is the mouth of the Calumet River, with its tiny barges, tugboats, bridges, and cranes, mountains of strange substances, one a beautiful robin’s egg blue. You come down again into a landscape of factories and foundries on the Indiana border, past smokestacks that disgorge clouds of rolling gray, past pipes that hold aloft torches of fire. On your right is man-made Wolf Lake, where Leopold and Loeb hid Bobby Frank’s body in a culvert, where Leopold lost the eyeglasses that would later incriminate them. Because Hugh Hill had me illustrate the story for one of his “mini-docs,” I knew the crime’s geography.
In the late ’70s this “rust belt” was ailing, much of the industry having moved south, and its abstract scenery had taken on the wistful quality of ruins. Sulfur and malt and gas mix together here to give the air an unpretty smell. A cameraman once told me it’s the smell of blood that seeped into the earth at the long gone stockyards; to me it can sometimes seem as nostalgic as the scent of lilacs on a hot spring night.
For a while in the Indian summer of 1978, Jim Gibbons and I drove every morning over the Skyway, past men fishing from the fingers of land sticking out into Wolf Lake, across railroad tracks, around vast fields of gas drums, to Hammond, Indiana. We had been assigned to cover the espionage trial of a young man named William Kampiles.
We set off after Gibby reported the weather on the early morning news—it was part of being the “environmental reporter.” He joked with the anchorpeople and then pointed at swirls and wiggles of high- and low-pressure areas, storms and cold fronts on a blue background. Because of how the equipment worked, he was really waving at a blank wall and had to look in an off-camera monitor to see what to do.
Gibby knew this edge of the world because, as the environmental reporter, he did stories on gas leaks and industrial accidents. Once he returned from covering a toxic chemical spill shaken and upset. If he ever got cancer, he said, it would be because of what he had been exposed to that day.
He also knew this area because he’d grown up on the South Side. He was born to Irish immigrants in the parish of Visitation Church, or Viz, as it was known. He’d shown me the tumbled-down neighborhood at 55th and Shields where he’d lived as a skinny boy nicknamed Sticks. In affectionately recollected stories, he told me about this neighborhood, the Irish bars, the factory workers, the drunks, and the juvenile delinquents. When he and his pals needed a car to take girls to a dance, they’d steal one off the street and abandon it when they were through. He was a romantic about his working-class background, but he saw all sides of people, and when he told of an old codger who played “I’ll Get By as Long as I Have You” on the tavern jukebox over and over, it didn’t sound sentimental.
Gibby had showed me other neighborhoods as well. Sometimes when we had time coming back from a story, we would duck into some corner of the city he knew, a place by the lake that sold shrimp to ironworkers, a store in Chinatown, the rocky beach at La Rabida Children’s Hospital pounded by gray surf. More than anyone, Gibby was my guide to Chicago; more than anyone else, he represented a part of Chicago at its best.
When a group of us were sent to Bridgeport to cover the first Mayor Daley’s funeral, Gibby wore his best navy blue pinstriped suit, even though his assignment was to report from a rooftop. “It’s the mayor,” he explained. “It’s his funeral.”
Later when we returned to the station (and he had a hole in the back of his jacket), he made sure I was invited up to the general manager’s office to watch the broadcast with the others. I had been the only uninvited member of the press to talk his or her way into the funeral, I’d made mental notes watched by a disagreeable mayoral crony, and I’d sketched from memory the casket surrounded by dignitaries. It had been a triumph for me, and Gibby made sure I got credit.
Unlike some media people, Jim Gibbons was careful and considerate, never in too much of a hurry to listen. Slightly stooped as though apologizing for being six feet five inches tall, he had a patient, polite demeanor. Everyone liked him and called him the Gentle Giant, or Gentleman Jim. “That guy is a real prince,” people said. For years the federal building court buffs distributed a hand-printed newspaper, and in it Roy, the editor, called me Andy Austin, “Jim Gibbons’s chic sidekick.” It was my favorite compliment ever.
Gibby cared about people and he knew how to listen: These were his great gifts as a reporter and as a friend.
From far away we could see the pale green tile and art deco designs of the building next to the federal courthouse. Parking was not a problem because the streets were empty except for a stumbling derelict or two. The building across the street from the courthouse advertised itself as “The World’s Largest Sunday School,” and in fact, it always felt like Sunday morning on the streets of Hammond. To me this was the Midwest without Chicago.
William Kampiles was the 23-year-old son of a Greek cleaning lady. Like Jim Gibbons, he had grown up in a South Side working-class Chicago neighborhood. While attending Indiana University on scholarship, he was recruited by the CIA. Even though he was only a clerk, his diligence and charm helped him obtain access to the manual of the Spy Satellite KH-11. He left the CIA in November 1977, and when he went on vacation in Athens the following March, he took one or more copies of the manual with him. In Athens he handed over a copy to a Russian named Michael Zavali, whom he presumed to be an agent for the KGB. Zavali gave Kampiles $3,000 in exchange.
Kampiles was tall, dark, at home in his body and his clothes as if he understood how good looking he was. He dressed in East Coast preppy-style gray flannel suits, Oxford cloth shirts, and conservative neckties. In a time before the “dress for success” doctrine, you could tell bankers from bagmen by the width of their ties and lapels. These were the days of roaring bad taste—electric pinstripes, checks, and flared trousers—when politicians wore enormous pinky rings and cufflinks, mobsters wore black silk shirts under white ties, and a well-known Irish-American defense lawyer sported a bright Kelly green suit.
As usual, the prosecution sat at a table near the jury box, and the defense at another one opposite it. But at this trial there was a third table, a smaller one near the wall, where two stern-faced U.S. deputy marshals guarded a padlocked box. In the box was the top-secret KH-11 Spy Satellite manual itself.
It seemed appropriate that it have its own table, that it be kept guarded and apart like a holy icon or perhaps a lump of radioactive matter. In fact, the marshals had a special lead locker built for it in the basement of the Hammond courthouse.
As always happens, witnesses told pieces of the story, each offering his part toward a complete narrative. Then this narrative branched out toward two possible endings between which the jury picked.
The testimony told of how William Kampiles was recruited by the CIA when in college. While he was in Virginia being trained, he began attending Washington dinner parties. On the witness stand, a glamorous brunette woman almost twice his age, wearing enormous white-framed glasses, told about his success as a young man-about-town.
The prosecution claimed he sold the spy manual for the money, which seemed a little hard to believe because $3,000 isn’t much for a soul.
Perhaps he really did feel that this was an intelligent step he had taken on the way to becoming a double agent. That was his defense: that he was only trying to get the Russians’ confidence and then he planned to counterspy for us. In any case, on this vacation to Athens in March 1978, he carried a copy of the manual for the Spy Satellite KH-11.
Kampiles, standing alone in the dusk, heard music coming from a party at the Russian embassy.
My husband, daughter, and I had been in Athens in the summer of 1977. Numb with grief, we stumbled about the ancient ruins, hoping we could learn to live without John, hoping our family of three would survive. It was so hot that hundreds died in the streets all over the Mediterranean, and after lunch we would lie motionless on our beds in the dark room on Kolanaki Square, waiting for the worst to pass.
The military attaché from the Russian embassy who had accepted the spy manual had lived in Kolanaki Square, and I liked to fantasize that we had been in the same house at the same time.
Our elderly landlady was forced to take carefully recommended boarders into her lovely un-air-conditioned house. Being an aristocrat, she was not really Greek but that mixture of German, English, and Danish from which the kingdoms of Europe have often drawn their rulers. She sat all day in the front hall in a negligee of cascading lace, always ready to terrify and bewitch me. I listened in awe to her haughty reminiscences and pronouncements on matters of taste, hoping I would not have to speak myself. At night she reappeared in a smart silk print dress, pearls, white shoes, and matching purse, reminiscent, though much more elegant, of my grandmother’s friends in Maine.
During the day the house was silent and dark, the shutters closed against the sun. But at night when I couldn’t sleep, it came alive with strange mutterings and cries; footsteps fell and toilets flushed. In the next room someone seemed to be dying of consumption.
No meals were offered besides the café au lait the maid brought in the morning, so if the Russian Michael Zavali had been there, we would not have known.
Our days in Athens allowed me to place scenes mentioned in the testimony into remembered settings. I could imagine the early spring night, perhaps warm and fragrant, when Kampiles, standing alone in the dusk, heard the seductive Russian music.
Somehow he got past the guards and joined the crowd on the embassy terrace; somehow he got himself introduced to Zavali. He claimed later that he only wanted to tease the Russians with the offer of a later delivery of the manual, that they paid him the money only to show “good faith,” that he then planned to go back to the CIA and offer his services as a double agent.
But the information from the manual turned up in Russian hands, and the effectiveness of the satellite was destroyed. Until that time the Russians had not even been aware that the device had reconnaissance capability.
For one evening and the following morning the jurors deliberated. Jim Gibbons and I and the other reporters, artists, and crews waited in the sleepy courthouse and ate in a lively steakhouse. It was afternoon when the jurors announced they had reached their decision. They had reached a guilty verdict.
When he heard it, William Kampiles put his head down on his folded arms and began to sob silently. Michael Monico, his lawyer, his own face full of grief, embraced his client’s shoulders. Then from the back of the courtroom, a woman began to scream. It was Kampiles’s mother. Another woman answered her cries, whether in sympathy or opposition, we couldn’t tell. Other women joined in and soon the air was full of their shrieking. The marshals hustled the crowd out into the hall except for the artists who stayed to finish their sketches.
Though she had been taken away to another room, we could hear Mrs. Kampiles through the walls, screaming and wailing in agony, over and over as though she could never stop. I wanted to put my shaking hands over my ears, but I had to keep drawing the open mouth of the inconsolable mother.