Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, March 31, 2014

About Face

As a child I grew up on U.S. military bases.  The term “about face” was understood at a very young age.  I knew it was a drill command in which a soldier makes a 180° turn and heads in the opposite direction.  Keith, my older brother, used to march us all over the house when we were kids . . . left, right, left, right.  Halt.  About Face!

It wasn’t until several years later that I realized the phrase, about face, had an altogether different meaning.  It can also be used to refer to a complete change of one’s plans, ideas and actions . . . a change of attitude or point of view.  And that is exactly what happened to Sergei.

* * *

In Sergei Kourdakov’s book, The Persecutor, he describes the last raid he participated in.  Sergei was angered when a woman prayed for him.  He was stunned that she didn’t ask for help for herself when she saw his arm raised to strike her.

“I started to swing.  Then the strangest thing happened to me.  I can’t describe it.  Someone grabbed my wrist and jerked it back.  I was startled.  It was hurting.  It was not imaginary.  It was a real squeezing on my wrist until it actually pained.  I . . . turned around to hit him.  But there was no one there!

I looked back.  Nobody could have grabbed my arm.  And yet, somebody had grabbed me!  I still felt the pain.  I stood there in shock.  The blood rushed to my head.  I felt hot as fright swept over me.  This was beyond me.  It was confusing, unreal.  Then I forgot everything.  Dropping my club, I ran out . . . .”

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 19, pg. 226)

* * *

Sergei was used to always being in control, and he took great pride in his strength.  It was necessary for his survival.  But that night a greater strength held Sergei’s arm back.  What happened to Sergei the night of his last raid caused him to change his point of view about everything.  He had a sudden and complete change of plans.  He did an “about face.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Worth the Wait

I think one of the best perks today is the drive-thru window at Starbucks.  You can just sit in the car, order your caramel macchiato coffee drink, and then pull up to the window and pay.  Fast, fun, easy and you’re on your way.  Most of the time.  The other day my car was number eight in the drive-thru lane . . . too far back in line to even be considered fast.  Like everyone else, I don’t like waiting in long lines.  I decided it would be quicker to park and go inside and order.  The line inside was even longer, but by then I was committed.  So I placed my order and waited along with everyone else.  I silently observed everyone take out their cell phones to check their messages and e-mail.  Life is so different today.  Before cell phones everyone stood in line patiently.  For some reason I refrained from pulling out my cell phone.

My thoughts drifted back, years ago, to when I had another long wait.  I had agreed to pick up some passes for a White House tour for my boss.  Mr. Logie had assured me it would be a quick trip over the bridge into DC during the middle of the day.  A driver would drop me off and wait while I ran into the office near the White House to pick up the passes.

When I entered the Government building, I was greeted by several security guards.  I showed them my security badge and explained I was there to pick up White House passes.  One guard checked a roster, didn’t see my name, and walked me to an office.  I was given some forms to fill out and asked to show several ID cards.  A half-hour later I was still waiting.  I couldn’t imagine what was taking so long.  Mr. Logie had said this would be quick so I was surprised by all the security checks.  I wondered why they kept making phone calls, too.  Forty-five minutes later they were ready to take my photograph.  I couldn’t believe it.  “I don’t understand why I have to do all this just to pick up White House tour passes,” I respectfully commented.

It turned out that the Security Staff thought I needed a pass to work at the White House—and that’s why they were making so many phone calls and having me fill out my life story on the forms.  The situation was quickly resolved and I was escorted to the proper office.  Two minutes later, after picking up the White House tour passes, I was politely escorted out of the building.

I was relieved to see the staff car . . . the driver hadn’t abandoned me in spite of his long wait.  A few minutes later I was back at my office in Rosslyn, VA.  “I’m sorry that took so long,” Mr. Logie said when I handed him the passes.  “What in the world happened?”

I laughed as I explained the mix-up.  “I guess you could say I got to know the Security Staff quite well.  They even thought I should apply for a job at the White House.”

I seriously considered the suggestion for several weeks, but never followed up on the idea.  A few months later I met Sergei Kourdakov in my office in Rosslyn.  And meeting Sergei was worth the wait.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I sometimes wonder what Sergei was thinking the night he chose to leave his country.  When he looked at the surface of that cold, dark water he didn’t know the dangers hidden underneath the waves.  But he chose to make that leap anyway.

“Numb with cold, I sized up the situation the best my tortured mind would allow.  I decided I would rather die trying to find real life than continue to live as I had been living.  I would not—could not—return to the life I had known.  Even if I drowned I must not go back.”
-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 2, pg. 19)

We make choices each and every day.  Starting from a very young age we are encouraged to make decisions for ourselves—from the clothes we wear, who we choose to be our friends, to what we want to eat.  Compared to what Sergei faced, most of our choices are easy and somewhat inconsequential.  Sergei’s choices were for survival . . . I have no food, therefore I need to steal or beg for it.  I have no parents, therefore I must learn to take care of myself.

Sergei made a choice for a new beginning and a new life.  His leap of faith into the ocean was a difficult and life-changing moment.  Once he made that choice he looked forward, he didn’t look back.

He chose freedom.

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Called an Autograph

One Sunday afternoon Sergei stopped by for a quick visit before he had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles.  As he entered my apartment I noticed a small, black portfolio partially hidden from view under his arm.  When I asked him what was inside he pulled out several large, black and white photographs.  All the pictures were exactly the same—they were of Sergei standing in front of a large map, pointing to the coast of Canada.
Excerpt from A Rose for Sergei:

“Sergei, why do you have so many copies of the same picture?”

“You would not believe.  People ask me all the time for picture.  They want me to sign for them.  They want my auto…, how do you say that word?”

“Autograph.  It’s called an autograph when someone asks you to sign a picture for them.”

“Yes, they ask for au-to-graph.  When I tell my story about coming to the United States…a lot of people want to meet me.  I do not understand.”

He was smiling and laughing when he told me, and it was clear to me that he was amazed by all of the attention he received in this country….  I knew that he was not trying to impress me.

“Sergei, that is wonderful.  I’m very happy for you.”

He leaned over and kissed me gently.  “Here,” Sergei said.  “Let me sign picture for you.  I think you should have picture.”

“No, that’s all right, I don’t need a signed picture of you,” I teased him.  We were caught up in the moment, and we both started laughing and joking around.

“You do not want picture of me!  Why not?” he asked incredulously.

“Sergei, I don’t need a signed picture of you because I have you right here with me.  I have the real person.”

* * * 

I had unintentionally offended him so I quickly asked for a signed photograph.  Sergei took the picture into the kitchen to write something in private.  When he came back into the living room, he proudly handed me his photograph.  I was touched when I saw how he autographed it. 

“With all my Love, Sergei”

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Long-Forgotten Newsletter

In my blog last week I talked about finding a newsletter that was tucked inside a book for forty-one years.  I had recently ordered a copy of the book, Sergei, from a company in Great Britain.  I discovered the long-forgotten newsletter as I thumbed through the pages of his autobiography.  Over the years I have read several different articles about what happened the night of Sergei’s death.  My book, A Rose for Sergei, stays within the realm of what I was told hours after being informed of his death . . . that Sergei was alone in the motel room.

Below are two versions about that night.

* * *

From the Glendale News-Press
Date:  January 18, 1973
By Ray McHugh, Chief, Washington Bureau, Copley News Service

“Kourdakov, 21, was killed Jan. 1 in a Running Springs, Calif., motel when a revolver he was handling discharged.  San Bernardino County authorities have ruled accidental death.  Federal authorities agree in private statements.”

* * *

Sections from the three-page newsletter I found in Sergei’s book.
Date:  January 20, 1973
By L. J. Bass, President, Underground Evangelism International

“Underground Evangelism had encouraged Kourdakov to become established within a Christian home so as to share a family environment.  He moved into the home and care of this particular family with Underground Evangelism’s knowledge.

Although Kourdakov was specifically instructed by Underground Evangelism officials never to carry a weapon, he borrowed a 38 calibre revolver from the father of this family as Kourdakov considered his life to be threatened.  This was for self-protection during a proposed visit to a mountain resort area near Los Angeles, California.

During this visit Kourdakov was accompanied by the daughter of the family with their full knowledge and approval . . . .

While at the resort Kourdakov spent most of his time typing a biographical report for the U.S. Senate Immigration Committee.  A special Congressional Bill (similar to a special Act of Parliament) was necessary to permit Kourdakov permanent residence in the United States.  Such a Bill had been pending before the close of the 1972 congressional year.  Canadian and United States intelligence and security agencies confirmed the truth and accuracy of Sergei Kourdakov’s story in 1972 thus making the Bill possible.  The Bill had sponsors in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Shortly after the New Year hour Kourdakov died in circumstances which are extremely difficult to determine.  Although it appeared that the gun he was loaned was the cause of death, to this time the authorities have not verified this.  While at the resort Kourdakov was approached by unidentified men who spoke to him in an East European language.  Kourdakov appeared to be quite concerned about this encounter.

Although there were people in the adjacent room separated only by a thin wall, it appears that no one heard the normal sound of a gunshot.  Even the girl who was in the room at the time described the sound of the gunshot as a ‘muffled plop.’  Contrary to earlier reports the girl did not see the weapon go off.

All information cited in this release is substantiated by existing documents.”

* * * 

I was not the girl in the motel room, but I did call her family’s home on Christmas Day to speak with Sergei.  The reason Sergei and I were unable to spend the holiday together is covered in my book.  December 25, 1972 was the last time I heard Sergei’s voice.