BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The Hallow Nickel

This is one of the more intriguing cases of espionage in the history of the United States. Not necessarily because of the methodology used by the government that was doing the espionage but because the final solution to the puzzle that had been presented.

The newsboy delivered the papers every day of the week and then once a month was obligated to collect on the bill. This was that day and the newspaper boy’s name was Jimmy and his client didn’t have exact change and gave him a dollar. Jimmy couldn’t change the dollar and knocked on the door across from that of his client and asked the woman that answered if she could change a dollar. She was polite, went to her purse and soon returned with the exact change. Jimmy gave his client the correct change and kept the residual amount to pay the bill.

Jimmy was playing with the change in his pocket when he noticed that one of the coins was relatively very light. He pulled it out of his pocket, it was a nickel he accidentally dropped it to the floor. Amazingly, the nickel burst into two section and inside he saw a miniature photograph and a picture of a column of numbers. Jimmy realized immediately that there was something very wrong with the nickel and what was in it and turned it over to a friendly neighborhood cop who was the father of a girl he went to school with. The cop in turn gave it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who immediately realized that the coin had something to do with espionage and began an investigation.

It was late June of 1953 and among the revelations made by the FBI were the fact that the numbers had been printed by a foreign typewriter whose origins were unfamiliar. The coin itself was a composite of two nickels, one was the “war nickel”, rich in silver which was produced during World War II on the reverse and in front was a nickel dated 1948 with a small hole drilled through the “R” in the world “Trust”. Cryptologists were brought in to no avail, the women that gave the change could not recall where they got it, magic shops in the entire city were canvassed to see if it was the work of any local magicians. All were dead ends. During the next four-years, the coin had a top priority from the FBI but all of its efforts resulted in dead ends.

The mystery started to unravel when a Lieutenant colonel of the Soviet State Security Service, who had been stationed in the United States under a false identity to spy on this country, determined that he was not interested in going back to the mother Russia and could he stay in the States. The FBI didn’t have to wait too long to give him the thumbs up and started the debriefing process. Reino Hayhanen had turned and we were the only ones that knew it. Hayhanen explained to the FBI that the hallowed out coins were latterly de rigueur relative to Russian intelligence operatives. The FBI broke the code that had been used and although the information in the original nickel was anti-climatic four years later, it was a major intelligence coup.

However, Hayhanen[180] was extremely cooperative with the American Government relative to helping them get to the hierarchy of the Russian espionage ring in this country and eventually led them to an ever widening network of higher ranking Russian spies. Eventually, the trail led all the way to the top when on May 28, 1957, they ran across a purported Russian agent by the name of Emil R. Goldgus[181], or Martin Collins as he was known as. However, he was also known as Andrew Kayhotis but when agents got down to the serious questioning they found out that he was really Rudolf Ivanovich Abel[182] or the infamous Colonel Abel the top ranking Russian Spy in the United States. He was given a prison sentence of 30-years in jail. At that time, he was the highest ranking Soviet espionage agent ever captured and was in charge of all undercover activities in the United States that were not diplomatically protected. Abel was also in charge of espionage activities in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

You may remember the rest of the story. The Russians asked what we wanted in exchange for this prime morsel and we told them to shove it. Of course that was only until one of our U-2 pilots; Francis Gary Powers was shot out of the sky over Moscow and with great fanfare, dragged feet first into a Russian jail. The Russians once again went to the bargaining table, but this time they had very substantial negotiating material. A deal was struck, Abel[183] for Powers, the highest ranking exchange of prisoners probably in the history of the United States. The newspaper boy would have been proud to know that this was a result of his diligence.

 

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