Apr 13, 2015

Tradecraft: Clooney Acquires Cold War Spy Story Three Minutes to Doomsday

Variety reports that George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smokehouse Pictures has acquired the film rights to a forthcoming non-fiction book by Joe Navarro and Howard Means called Three Minutes to Doomsday. According to the trade, "the book follows the FBI’s leading body language expert Navarro, who was sent to track down Rod Ramsey to report on his knowledge or association with Clyde Lee Conrad, an U.S. Army officer who sold top-secret classified information to the People’s Republic of Hungary. It documents Navarro and Ramsey’s relationship and interviews against the backdrop of the Cold War." I find that description a little frustrating because it neither tells who Ramsey was nor when during the Cold War all this went down. So for some more background, according to SpyMuseum.com (a very cool online resource on espionage history), Conrad was an NCO stationed in West Germany and "tasked with maintaining and protecting top secret documents related to the military plans in case of a war with the Soviet bloc." In 1975 he was recruited by Zoltan Szabo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Hungary and Sergeant in the U.S. Army who was really a Colonel in the Hungarian Military intelligence, to pass along the documents he was charged with protecting. Over a ten year period, he passed along more than 30,000 documents, among them NATO strategies, troop positions and nuclear weapon sites. In 1983, he recruited his then assistant, Sgt. Roderick Ramsey, to assist him in his treason as well as his army work. A CIA asset tipped off the Americans that they had a leak, and Conrad was finally arrested in 1988 and convicted in 1990. So presumably Navarro's investigation happened during the mid-Eighties.

According to Navarro's website, he was recruited by the FBI at the tender age of 23 as one of their youngest agents ever (this would be 1976 or '77), and "spent the next 25 years at the FBI, working both as an agent and supervisor in the areas of counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Through his work he was able to study, refine and apply the science of non-verbal communications. His acumen in this field, and his success as a spy-catcher, led Joe to begin training FBI agents and the intelligence community." He retired in 2003.

Means previously collaborated with former CIA agent Robert Baer on the books See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil, which served as the basis for the Clooney movie Syriana. Scribner recently acquired U.S. publication rights for Three Minutes to Doomsday.

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