Chapter 18 - Murad, the Master Professional, and Rice Paper Messages
Updated: Jul 22
Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
I have to tell you about the actual messaging system then employed, that is, how I was to communicate with my control.
To do this, I had to learn about photography and developing films – and up to then, all I knew about a camera was how to press the button.
But I needed to understand how to develop micro-films, because that was how we would send messages back and forth. And to do that, I needed to know about photography and making black and white photographs in general, otherwise it would look strange. I mean, why would I need all this darkroom equipment if I wasn't into photography?
To send me messages, they used a special sort of paper, rice paper, which, when dry, feels like any other paper, but when you put it under the tap, it just melts away in the water.
I would be getting letters, written on such paper, letters in Hungarian, mailed in Budapest, by some contact that I had never seen or met. But he – or she - knew who I was, and where I should get my mail.
After a few weeks, Carol went away on holiday, and Murad arrived. He was to be my main contact and trainer.
He was about 50, and seemed very much like an elderly gentleman. He told me he had been born in Bulgaria. I think he may have been an ethnic Turk. We met once or twice a week, either in Carol's flat, or on the street.
He taught me a lot, for example how our contact would work through micro-films.
These would be tiny, pill-like objects, hidden in the rice-paper letters, if I remember correctly, they were in the first letter 'o' of the third line, and in the first 'o' off the fifth or seventh line. In fact, the second micro-film 'pill' was just a back-up measure, just in case I ruined the first when extracting it from the paper.
I had to dig them out of the paper and then develop them. They told me the type of developer I had to use, and, of course, I had to get a camera and learn how to take normal photographs. They gave me an Ashai Pentax Spotmatic, which, at the time, was a high quality, if a wee bulky, Japanese camera. Ha! I'll tell you about what happened to that camera later.
Then we tried to read the developed micro-films. They had a small instrument for that, about the size of two boxes of cigarettes. I have to say, it was really amazing how a tiny little bit of film could be enlarged to reveal a message.
We worked with this at first, but then Murad decided it was too large to smuggle into Hungary. Instead, he gave me a micro-film reader, which was just about the size of a cigarette filter, but shorter.
I had to learn to read the micro-films through this lens. It was actually a pair of lenses between which you had to place the micro-film. It was so tiny, about half a millimetre by half a millimetre, really very difficult to notice.
It had to be, since it was hidden in a little pocket of the stationery. This rice paper stationery that they sent me was cut by some very sharp blade, and they made a pocket in it, so you could open the top like a flap, and then hide the micro-film in that pocket.
And then you stuck back the flap over the micr-film.
It was such that when the paper was held against the light, it looked as though there were some dirt or inclusion in the paper. And, if you didn't know exactly where to look for it, you couldn't find it, especially since the stationery had text on it.
Murad was also keen to check on practical things, even driving. When Carol was on holiday, we took his car into the desert several times.
He knew I didn't have a licence, even though I'd been driving my father's car since I was 13 or 14. In Khartoum you didn't have to have a licence to drive, because no Sudanese policeman would ever stop a white boy. They just didn't do that, at least then.
But Murad wanted to see if I could really drive a car. He told me to get a clean driver's licence as soon as possible when in Hungary. You never knew when it might be useful, even a life-saver, he said.
Murad had an awful lot of experience. He'd worked in Cuba, the Caribbean, and Nicaragua, then learned Arabic and transferred to Beirut. He told me a lot of anecdotes about his agents and what operations they had taken part in, the results – and the casualties.
He was also very good at advising how, when on active duty, to check whether I was being followed or not.
For example, when going to mailboxes or drop sites, I always made a round of various places where it was obvious whether you were being watched or not. I would always try to use public transport as a means of losing whoever might be tailing me. I would use the metro and unexpectedly change direction.
I would also just walk into a big shopping centre or a book shop, some place where a lot of customers congregate, and ask for a product or book. Then leave it and watch carefully if anyone then asked to see the same product.
Murad was full of such very useful tips, as I would discover for myself in the not-too-distant future.
And he was certainly a good servant to the United States and the free world.