Chapter 34 – My Big Break - on a Soviet Military Base
Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
Chapter 34 – My Big Break - on a Soviet Missile Base
What with work, getting married, part-time studies at the College of Foreign Trade (I'd forgotten to mention that earlier) and sorting the house out, truth be told I had barely been thinking about work for the Americans. However, I did try to keep my eyes and ears open for things that might prove interesting to them, even if, for a long time, I failed to follow up on my first and only report thus far.
I guess it was after about a year working at Elektroimpex, probably September 1974, when one day I happened upon some documentation for a consignment involving 'steel structures' destined for a Soviet military base in Hungary. Naturally, this piqued my interest.
The importer was a company called Instransmas, a Bulgarian foreign trading company which had offices – still standing today – on the corner of Alkotás utca and Márvány utca.
These structures were supposedly manufactured in Bulgaria, but I had doubts: my suspicion was that they originated in the Soviet Union, and were routed via Bulgaria merely to avoid attention.
Of course, this was just one of scores of on-going deals, and not one that I was assigned to work on, so finding out more information without drawing attention to myself was not easy.
It was then that I had a stroke of luck.
My immediate superior in this department was a woman called Éva. In her 30s, she was considered very trustworthy from the Party point of view, because her husband was an officer in the Munkásőrség, the Workers' Militia – a part-time volunteer force, a kind of 'Home Guard', communist style.
Probably because of her high standing vis-a-vis the Party, when this consignment came into Hungary, she was entrusted to officially hand it over at the Soviet base.
Except, not having done anything like this before, she was reluctant to do this alone, and asked me to accompany her on the job.
So it was that a few days later we took off in a company car plus driver to an obscure area in, I think the Bükk mountains, east of Budapest, and a village called Bükkszentakarattya. (It's possible, after all these years, my memory has got it wrong, and it was in the Bakony mountains, south-west of Budapest, and above Balaton.)
I could hardly believe my luck – nor, when we got to the base - my eyes. First, there was the consignment: great steel structures, secured on the long, flat trailers of three trucks owned by Hungarocamion - the then ubiquitous state haulier.
But more importantly, inside the base I could see a Red Army trailer that, according to the training books I'd studied in Khartoum and Athens, matched the size built to carry an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It had 28 wheels (14 axles), and the driver's cabin was surprisingly low, with a dent in the middle. It was the colour of dirty clay.
I know people have questioned my report on this, that there were no ICBMs in Hungary, but if so, why did they need a trailer like this? It was as long as my house, 20 metres or more. It wasn't there to carry, I don't know, sacks of potatoes.
In addition, I saw at least one storage bunker going into the side of a hill, with the radiation hazard warning on its doors.
Our visit to the base was done and dusted inside 30 minutes. Éva had to break all the seals on the trucks, and sign some papers, while I just followed her, trying to observe whatever was around while looking as matter-of-fact as possible.
And with that, job done, we handed in our passes at the gate, and headed back to Budapest. I spent the day being as helpful as I could to Éva, because obviously it was to my advantage that she gave a good report on me. And, in truth, it wasn't very difficult. Joking and chatting, we got on very well: at least, it seemed that way to me at the time.
Inside, of course, I was thrilled at my first hard-core 'success'. I'd read in the Hungarian press that the Warsaw Pact had nuclear weapons based in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, but never in Hungary.
To this day, I can't fathom what the steel structures were really for, but the missile trailers and radiation warnings gave a clear message: despite official denials, the Soviets had nuclear weapons here - and intercontinental missiles to carry them deep into NATO territory.
I was sure this had to be something of a spying scoop!
So it was my second report, four-five pages on everything I could recollect about the base, from the colour of the insignia on the officers' uniforms to the dull-clay camouflage missile carrier. This was surely a triumph - and a far cry from the humiliation of my first, with its admission to having lost the camera before I'd even reached Hungary.
Back home, after appropriate liaison with my control, I left my espionage bombshell at the agreed drop site a week or so later. This was it! This was what I'd signed up for! By a twist of fate, instead of waiting a decade or more, I was delivering after a mere year 'on the job'.
I could barely wait for the Americans' response.