WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- A former CIA employee who defected to the Soviet Union as he was about to be arrested by the FBI died over the weekend, according to former senior CIA officials.
CIA spokesman Paul Nowack, when asked for the exact date of Howard's death, said, "I have nothing for you on that," and said he would have to check with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Edward L. Howard was discharged in 1983 amid growing suspicions that he may have betrayed his country.
One former CIA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of Howard, "He was known to be an erratic guy. I think it actually helped him get his job."
In 1980, at the age of 28, Howard applied to work at the CIA and appeared to be bright, trustworthy, and forthright. Former CIA officials told United Press International that Howard was also described as being fundamentally amoral, a quality that CIA recruiters were looking for at the time.
"There is a school of thought in the CIA that they needed people like that --swashbucklers, adventurers, high rollers -- in order to do the spying work," former CIA Director Stansfield Turner has said.
Howard was fluent in German and Spanish and was the son of a father who had been a career U.S. military officer. He was also a cum laude college graduate, a former Peace Corps volunteer, and a political conservative.
But according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Howard also used drugs, had problems with alcohol, and was a petty thief. He admitted to once having pilfered a woman's purse on an airline flight.
The drug problem emerged in his initial polygraph test. The theft and other defects emerged from latter ones, according to former CIA officials.
Howard was hired and served in the agency's directorate of operations, which runs the organization's clandestine services. His wife, Mary, worked for the same office.
According to former agency sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Mary Howard was being trained as a support worker who would back up her husband and other CIA case officers in Moscow, servicing dead-drops or acting in a counter-surveillance capacity. One of Howard's trainers was Martha Petersen, who served in Moscow with the cover job of vice consul in the U.S. Embassy until arrested by the KGB while servicing a dead drop in 1977.
In the U.S. Embassy, Howard's cover job was to be that of embassy budget analyst. He was taught a great deal about KGB operations in Moscow, including the name of one KGB operative spying in place for the United States.
Howard was also trained by the FBI how to spot and outwit hostile surveillance, former CIA officials said.
But given further polygraph tests, Howard was found by his trainers to be deceptive. He lied about womanizing, about having trouble in his marriage and about his drug use.
He was fired from the agency in 1983.
With some help from the CIA, Howard then got a job in the New Mexico state legislature's Legislative Finance Committee, sources said.
In September 1984, still stung over being discharged, Howard told CIA employees he was considering treachery. But Howard, his wife and his newborn son moved to a Santa Fe suburb, where he lived a quiet life until he got involved in a drunken brawl in which he fired a .357 magnum. He was put on probation for five years.
A few months later while on a trip to Europe, Howard met with KGB agents.
According to former CIA officials, Howard was either paid for information he had learned at the agency about Moscow operations or he had gathered additional data to sell from the highly sensitive Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was not far from where he worked, and which was involved in developing "Star Wars" space missile shield technology.
In 1985, Howard made two trips to Europe and met KGB officials both times, according to sources.
Howard was "blown" in August 1985 when high-ranking KGB officer, Vitaly Yurchenko, talking to agency debriefers in a safe house in southern Virginia, revealed his activities.
The FBI put surveillance on Howard and taps on his phone, but on the night of Sept. 21, Howard left his house by the back door, and was then picked up by his wife in a car and escaped as he lay flat on the back floor. He changed clothes at his office, wrote a letter of resignation so his wife could collect his pension, and went to Moscow by way of Texas, Mexico and Vienna.
Because of Howard's activity, several U.S. operatives in Moscow were arrested and executed.
In August 1986, Howard resurfaced in Moscow when the Soviet Union announced that it had given him asylum for "humane considerations."
But former CIA director Turner quotes the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an independent group that reports directly to the president, as telling the president, "Howard devastated the CIA's human intelligence operations in the Soviet Union."
"Don't kid yourself. We're not exactly going to grieve," a former CIA operative said.