My career as as Russian spy . . . NOT! – Part One

The unanticipated discovery of a Russian spy ring in the most extreme rightwing region of Georgia . . . for three years, both Russian nationals and local collaborators thought that they were manipulating me to “turn” . . . as they say in the spy trade.

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner *

*The author is a direct descendant of the famous Patriot, Archibald Bulloch, first President of the Georgia Committee of Safety during the American Revolution. The Committee of Safety functioned as the provisional government of the fledgling state. Bulloch was poisoned by a British spy in 1777.

The FX Channel TV program, “The Americans,” was first broadcast in 2013 and continued for six highly watched seasons. Considered one the best-crafted TV series of the 21st century in the United States, it follows the complex lives of two Russian KGB agents during the Reagan Administration, who had been earlier imbedded into the suburbs of Northern Virginia during the Nixon Administration, after years of training to become expert spies and killers in the guise of being native-born Americans. By the time the plot begins, the couple are raising two precocious teenagers, who have no clue, who their parents really are. Neither does the FBI Counter-intelligence agent, who lives across the street nor their employees in a travel agency.

The plot of the program was based on real people and real events. There WERE deeply covert Russian spies living as Americans in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Several were eventually caught. However, you will soon learn that there were faux American families in other regions of the USA. On the other hand, the Fx Series failed to tell you that one of the top agents in the FBI’s Counter-intelligence Division during the Reagan Administration was an KGB spy.

The Roswell Spy Cell

Roswell, GA – September 2004 – Roswell was founded in 1830 as the site of a massive new cotton textile mill, built by Roswell King. It also soon became a popular summer resort for coastal planters, who headed to the hill country each May to escape malaria and yellow fever epidemics. It contains many beautiful Ante-bellum homes, including Bulloch Hall, where Teddy Roosevelt’s Georgia Belle mother was married. This is the same Bulloch family that I am partially descended from.

When I was in high school, Roswell had about 5,000 residents and was considered one of the three “country hick” high schools that our football team played. That onerous image quickly changed in the 1970s.  At the official 2010 census, the city had a population of 88,346. The 2020 population was 94,884. It has become a very sophisticated city composed mostly of newcomers from around the nation and world. Like the affluent suburbs of Northern Virginia, Roswell is now a very easy place for an affluent spy to hide.

The new website

In the early days of the internet, websites were a novel idea. They generally were both designed and maintained by local entrepreneurs. When it came time for my ceramics studio to have a marketing website, I chose a gentleman in Roswell, GA. I had formerly lived in Roswell and he came highly recommended by friends I still had at Roswell United Methodist Church.

Sales on the website barely paid for the monthly maintenance fee, but the website brought my work to the attention of many Native American art festivals around the Southeast. During that era I could make over $1200 in one day at a top notch festival. Very frankly, my ceramics studio was producing more income for the amount of work involved than my architecture practice.

A small sample of the ceramics produced in 2004

My contacts with the web site manager soon turned into a email friendship. He even began buying my ceramics as gifts for his girlfriend. In spring of 2004, he happened to complain about his new neighbors. They were Russians. That in itself meant nothing to Rob, because Roswell had attracted new residents from many parts of the United States and other countries. However, they were unfriendly to the point of being paranoid. In one of my last email exchanges with Rob, he mentioned that the Russians had demanded that he sell his website business to them for a pittance of its value.

A few weeks later, my website began becoming increasingly dysfunctional to the point that it didn’t open up. Telephone calls and letters to Rob remained unanswered. Eventually, I received a letter from Rob’s sister, stating that he had committed suicide and that his business had been sold to another company. Soon thereafter, my website restarted, but I received very few orders or invitations to Native American arts festivals.

Then I got a call from an employee of the Ocmulgee National Monument Association, (who knew me personally) which sponsors the huge Southeastern American Indian Festival. They had received an application from Richard Thornton of Talamachusee Studio in Jasper, GA and another from Richard Thornton at the Talamachusee Studio in Livingston, NJ. The New Jersey studio listed the Cedar Hill Country Club as its mailing address! Both the lady in Macon and I were thoroughly Kornfuzed!

I always was taken to my Talamachusee website, when accessing it from my computer. I became even more Kornfuzed, when my long time secret lover, Susan Karlson, showed up for my August 4th birthday. * She tried to access my website from her fancy-dancy US government laptop computer. She could only reach the fake business at the Cedar Hill Country Club in New Jersey. Their website displayed cheap bakelite plastic imitations of Mesoamerican and Ancient Roman pottery . . . probably made in China.

Susan in early July 2000, when we faked being newlyweds in Mexico

*Yes, this is the same FBI Covert Agent Susan Karlson in the Shenandoah Chronicles, who in late June 1991, anointed me with olive oil from Israel in the middle of my Shenandoah Valley pasture! Susan was promoted in December 1991 and transferred to the Southeastern Region. For the next 14 1/2 years, I never knew specifically, where she lived or her job title.

At some point, she may have transferred to the CIA or NSA . . . maybe even the “Men-In-Black. I just don’t know. What I do know is that after December 1991, she would have been invisible to anyone in the federal government except those with the highest security clearance. Even then, her employee file probably would have only contained a number – not a real name nor a photo.

The CIA maintains this same procedure for covert intelligence officers or foreign citizens, spying for the United States. The Soviet KGB and Russian FSB followed the same policy.

This was an interstate-international commerce crime, so Susan used her government cellular phone to call the US District Attorney’s Office in Downtown Atlanta. She hoped that some Asst. US District Attorney would be more inclined to take my case. They weren’t. The FBI is not interested in helping small-fry businesses, when screwed by big businesses or organized crime. The attorney, who she talked with suggested that I retain a firm, approved for presenting cases in federal courts to take the case. That would only cost me $50,000 to $100,000 up front! Obviously, it would be cheaper for me to cease paying for the website and focus more on architecture again.

I happened to mention the Russians to Susan. That changed everything. She was so high up in federal law enforcement and national security concerns that she could take the case herself . . . minimal approval and oversight, required from her superiors, in the investigative phase. This was what Susan was able to find out:

The construction of the Bell Bomber Plant and Dobbins Air Force Base in 1942 was the initial attraction for Soviet spies to locate in the rural landscape near Roswell, GA. All of the original spies were probably US citizens. However, the explosive growth of the Roswell-Alpharetta Area in the late 20th century provided an ideal environment to plant spies, who were foreign nationals, disguised as loyal American citizens.

Rob the Website Host

(1) He was found hung to death with no suicide note. Both his girlfriend and relatives stated that he seemed happy and mentally healthy. (2) The Russians living next door to him dispersed across the nation and disappeared from the radar after changing their names.

Rob’s Russian neighbors

Susan told me that Livingston, NJ was considered the “capital” of the Russian Mafia. (Jared Kushner, son-in-law of Donald Trump, grew up in Livingston.) She felt that the bullying of my website host was consistent with organized crime behavior and had nothing to do with national security. She felt that I had zero chance of getting judicial relief from the people in New Jersey, who stole my website address, and so I should forget the situation and move on in another direction.

I don’t think that many people in the FBI or CIA realized in 2004 that the Russian Mafia WAS the government of Russia and that it was only a matter of time, until the Russian Mafia could become an extension overseas of Russian political agenda.

Soviet spies in NW Metro Atlanta

(1) The CIA and FBI were convinced that from the moment that construction began on the Bell Bomber Plant, west of Roswell, in 1942, there were Americans employed as Soviet spies on the site. The Bell Plant was closed at the end of World War II. It reopened as the Lockheed Aircraft Plant in 1951, and continues to be a major industrial facility. During the 1950s and 1960s, Lockheed also experimented with nuclear powered rocket engines at a 10,140 acre facility in the Georgia Mountains.

(2) After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Communist spies lost their jobs. With the normalization of relations American corporations invested heavily into reconstruction of Russia. Approximately (as of 2022) 1 million Russians have immigrated to the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently (2022) there are approximately 400,000 Russian-born Russian Americans in the United States. Susan stated in 2004 that since Russia was now being considered a “friend” of the United States, no special surveillance was applied to Russian emigre’s.

So, when I was having the problems with my website, most people assumed, including the National Security apparatus, that the Russian Federation was no longer a military threat to the United States or any other country in the world. Susan viewed my situation as a problem with organized crime, not national security. Thus, she ended her investigation.

(3) Such was not the situation with espionage at Lockheed Aircraft and other major aerospace industries in the United States. The FBI continued to see profound evidence that top secret details of our latest aircraft and missiles were quickly being forwarded to Soviet, later Russian aircraft designers, then being incorporated into their aircraft and missile designs. This is a major theme of the FX series, “The Americans.”

Susan strongly suspected that American citizens, spying for Russia, were still based in the Roswell Area. They were the third generation of spies watching Lockheed and deeply imbedded into the social network. They probably were quite wealthy, professed ultra-conservative “patriotic” political beliefs, and thus in the Southeastern United States, would have been awarded the “good Christian patriot” label . . . making them almost impossible to identify.

Post Script

Susan held dangerous job titles that would have enabled her to retire at age 40. She planned to do just that on July 6, 2006. We planned to drive around the United States throughout the summer. If we and our two children, which I had never seen, got along, we were going to buy a historic farm in the region around Winchester, VA or Frederick, MD . . . then live as a family. The last email I ever received from her was in the second week of June. I never knew what happened to her. I still have the Ford Explorer that I bought for our planned adventure.

Next article

In May 2018, I was shocked to see a woman, who had immigrated from Russia to North Georgia, shortly after Vladimir Putin came to power, take photos of only the African-American speakers at a community meeting in our county then send them via her Smart Phone to a number in the Roswell-Alpharetta, GA area. Then all the memories of 2004 came back.

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