On Monday, March 11th, I went to the Engineering Societies Library to photocopy some American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) papers that Katkov had given me. The citations dealt with articles for spacecraft design. One in particular caught my attention. It came off the handwritten index card list. Someone had written in the word “em-dash” as part of the title. I thought nothing of it until I held the actual document in my hands. It contained a title and subtitle punctuated by what proofreaders call an em-dash (a long hyphen). Most computer printers circa 1985 could not print em-dashes or other special characters like Greek letters, subscripts in chemical compounds, and other scientific notation. Database vendors like DIALOG worked around this problem by printing out the name of the special character; i.e. in the case of this particular document, DIALOG printed the word “em-dash” in the title. Therefore, the citations on this list must have come from an online search. And whoever copied these citations off the printout did not know proofreading symbols. He or she simply copied the title word-for-word.

Fig 8-1 Top: handwritten list Katkov gave me. Middle: the “em-dash” on the actual document (see red underlines). Lower: title as it appears on a computer printout.

This minute detail, coupled with a book I’d just read, answered a question that had been nagging at me for a long time: Why were so many of Michael’s want lists handwritten? Now I had the answer.

These lists were handwritten because in the communications center at the Soviet Mission to the UN, the referentura, typewriters were not allowed. The Soviets feared that sounds made by striking keys might be monitored by the FBI.[1] And why did the GRU spend so much time on something as labor intensive as copying by hand citations from a computer-generated printout, then photocopying these handwritten lists and cutting them into long strips? Because of the Soviet Union’s warped sense of state secrecy no one should know that they had an interest in acquiring these documents. Thus the list Michael had given me in November was a classified Soviet document; and because I’d turned it over to the FBI I felt even more like a spy.

[1]           Shevenko, Arkady, Breaking With Moscow, Ballantine Books, c1985, p. 39-40.

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