The Unwilling Accomplice
Thomas Calabrese — Palisades Park was located next to Christine McAuliffe Elementary School. It was north of Vista Way and south of Oceanside Boulevard and East of Rancho Del Oro in Oceanside, California. From early morning to late evening, groups of dog owners could often be found at the gathering place for animal lovers.
Marine Corps Captain Taylor Corbett had returned from an overseas deployment three months earlier and was currently renting a four bedroom home with his wife, Samantha and another military couple in the Vista Del Rio area of Oceanside. Samantha Corbett was employed by a medical supply company in the Ocean Ranch business park as an assistant accounts and payroll manager. Captain Corbett was an Air Intelligence Officer assigned to Helicopter Squadron, HMLA 369 on Camp Pendleton
Before Taylor left for his last deployment to the Middle East, the Corbetts’ went to the Camp Pendleton animal shelter to adopt a dog and decided on a two year old mixed breed, that they named Mickey. During his absence, Mickey became Samantha’s loyal and faithful companion. When one of her co-workers mentioned the park where she took her dog, Samantha was apprehensive as first to take Mikey there, not knowing exactly how he would react. After the first three days where he was a little timid and hesitant to join in, Mickey quickly acclimated and was roughhousing and running with the other animals as if he had been there all his life. After Mikey exhausted himself, he would be content to go home, have his evening meal and fall asleep on his bed. .
Samantha brought her husband up to speed on the dog park upon his return from overseas and when their schedules coincided, they went to Palisades Park together and when they didn’t, one of them would go alone. The Corbetts knew just about every owner and dog and as soon they entered the parking lot, Mickey would already have his head stuck out the window and bark in anticipation at seeing one of his canine playmates.
Most the people liked to stand in the grassy area and alternated between talking and playing with their animals while a few individuals preferred to walk on the sidewalk that encircled the field. One man had a Newfoundland named Buddy and he would greet the other animal owners with a simple, ‘hello or ‘good evening’ and then continue on his way. Buddy would socialize for a few minutes then follow his master as they walked several laps around the park. Over a period of several months, the man became known as Comrade X since no one knew his name and when they arrived, someone would call out, “Here comes Comrade X and Buddy.”
It was 0430 and Taylor had just returned from a run with Mikey as Samantha was getting up, “What’s your schedule look like today?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary, why?” Taylor responded.
“It’s yearly audit time so we’re really busy,” Samantha said.
“Anything I can do?” Taylor said.
“Call me by three o’clock to let know if you can take Mikey to the dog park. If you can’t, then I’ll take a couple hours off, walk and feed him then go back to work.”
“I don’t want you to go through all that, but I will definitely let you know by 1500 hours,” Taylor promised.
It was a routine day at the squadron for Taylor so when he called his wife that afternoon he told her not to worry that he had everything covered. When he got back to the house, the first thing he did was call out, “Mikey! Walk! Walk!”
Mikey could hardly contain himself as he rushed to greet his master. Taylor checked the blue gym bag to make sure that there were doggie bags, a full water bottle and a Tupperware container filled with treats, “Everything checks out, let’s ride.”
Comrade X’s real name was Alexander Ulanovsky, but he used the alias Alex Weber while working aboard Camp Pendleton as an IT specialist. His fabricated background was that his father was a State Department employee and his mother was a German national so he spent most of his youth and high school days in Europe. When his father retired, he moved back to America and attended the University of California, San Diego and majored in computer engineering. After working for several internet companies in the Bay Area, Alex moved to Oceanside to stay with his ill grandmother. When she passed away, he decided to stay in the area. This was an elaborate ruse and the Russians didn’t know if it would pass extreme vetting, but were pleasantly surprised when Alex was hired by Camp Pendleton Human Resources. The fact that Alex contacted the FBI and agreed to work with them was the deciding factor in obtaining federal employment aboard base.
While submitting false and misleading information to Russia, Ulanovsky told his handlers that he had been apprehended by the Americans and they were forcing him to help them. He then went back to the Americans and told them the Russians had found out about his deal with them and he had to promise to continue spying for Russia or he would be killed. Ulanovsky then told the Russians that he was playing the Americans and then bounced back to Russians and he told them the original deal was still in effect and not to worry because everything was under control.
Sound confusing? It was, you’ve heard of the double cross, maybe even the triple cross like the one Eddie Chapman perpetrated on the Nazis during World War II. They believed he was their top spy in Great Britain, although he was actually an MI5 double agent working for the Allies, known as ‘Zigzag’. Well this was the infamous quadruple cross. Ulanovsky’s assignment was to hack into into secure channels of communications for the purpose of finding out about upcoming deployments and security protocols aboard the Marine Corps base.
Espionage is a strange business; in one scenario it’s just a matter of giving the enemy accurate, but not particularly useful information. Another time it could be highly sensitive, but slightly inaccurate Intel that poses no danger to national security. In rare cases much like the Steele Dossier, the Intel is so ridiculous and absurd that its sole purpose is to cause dissension and upheaval. Ulanovsky was skilled enough to know that no matter what Intel that he was relaying back and forth between the two countries, it would either be disbelieved or it would be accepted as truth and he didn’t care which one they chose. Ulanovsky found the cliché,’ ‘too ignorant to know and too arrogant to admit it.’ to be an appropriate description of his Russian and American handlers. They really never knew exactly what he was doing and he played them like puppets on a string. He thought he was the best at the art of subterfuge and enjoyed proving it.
To add to this quagmire of deceit, the FBI was hesitant to share the information that Ulanovsky was working with them with the other 16 agencies that make up America’s intelligence community. As time passed, Ulanovsky grew bored with his current arrangement and began playing games with his handlers by falsifying information to both sides. On one occasion, he told the Russians that a large contingent of Marines was preparing to deploy to Africa to fight the growing threat of extremism in the area. He then went to the Americans and told them that the Russians and Chinese had entered into a partnership to help elect more socialists in the American political system by creating bogus websites for the purpose of putting out ‘fake news’.
While Ulanovsky was at the large furnished house that he was renting at $5,000 per month one evening, he walked over to the well-stocked liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of Hennessy Black Cognac and looked down at his dog, Buddy, “You know if they ever really want to know who I’m working for, you know what I’m going to tell them?” Buddy barked several times as Ulanovsky looked in the mirror, laughed and toasted himself. He walked over to a cedar chest, unlocked and opened it; it was filled with cash.
It was a day in early January and it had rained two days earlier and the air was fresh and the sky was clear when Ulanovsky and Buddy got ready for their afternoon walk. He knew that he was under constant surveillance so he was not surprised to see a van with the writing, Bentley Plumbing parked down the street. When he arrived at Palisades Park, Ulanovsky looked in his rear view mirror and noticed the same van was now driving through an adjacent neighborhood. “Somebody ought to tell these guys how to follow someone without being noticed.”
As he walked down the path, he looked up and saw a drone flying overhead then looked over to the left and saw another one approaching from another direction. There were now two vans parked on parallel streets, in one of them was an FBI surveillance team and in the other one were FSB operatives. (The KGB’s main successors are the FSB, Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation).
The drones circled above Ulanovsky and transmitted video images of him back to the vans. Captain Taylor Corbett was 50 yards from the park’s entrance, playing ball with Mikey when he looked back and saw the man that he only knew as Comrade X and Buddy enter. The blue bag that Taylor always brought with him was setting on the grass about 25 yards away, between him and the park’s entrance.
Instead of staying on the concrete path like he had always done, Ulanovsky deterred onto the grass, hesitated and looked up before dropping something inside the blue bag. When Taylor looked back and saw Comrade X standing near his bag, he thought it was out of the ordinary, but barely gave it a second thought.
Later that evening the Americans and Russians were reviewing the video footage. The FBI watched it in slow motion until one agent said, “Hold it! Play it back in slow motion,” A technician complied as the other agents watched intently, “Now zoom in,” The man ordered. “See that? He dropped something in that blue bag. We need to find out what he put in there and whose bag that belongs to.”
A similar scenario was playing out with the FSB operatives as they reviewed their video footage and they came to the same conclusion. When Taylor got home, a thought flashed across his mind so he took the blue bag out of his vehicle when he parked in the garage.
Samantha called to him as entered the house, “Anything new at the park?”
“Usual people, usual dogs, usual conversations.”
“You make it sound so exciting, sorry I had to work late,” Samantha quipped.
“It wasn’t the same without you,” Taylor replied.
“Will you be ready for dinner in thirty minutes?”
“Affirmative, I need to take care of something, I’ll be in the den,” Taylor shut the door behind him then heard scratching and let Mikey in. He began taking inventory of the items in the bag to see if anything was missing. There wasn’t anything was worth stealing; maybe he was just being paranoid. Too many years looking at the enemy’s movements can do that to an intelligence officer. Just as he was ready to put everything back in, he noticed something; it was a USB flash drive. Taylor turned on the desktop computer and inserted the data storage device; his eyes opened wide when he saw what was on it. He didn’t even realize that he had been reading for thirty minutes when Samantha called out, “Dinner is ready.”
“Coming,” Taylor replied then hid the flashdrive in a bottom drawer.
The FBI agent addressed his co-workers with certainty, “The owner of that blue bag is Ulanovsky’s accomplice.” Once again, the Russians had come to the same conclusion, “We must find out what he put in that bag and who has it,” FSB agent ordered.
Back at the Ulanovsky’s residence, the spy was taking the cash from the cedar chest and packing it into two large suitcases.
When the next afternoon came, Taylor and Samantha prepared to take Mikey to the park, “Where’s the blue bag?” Samantha asked.
“I forgot to tell you that one of the dogs got sick on it yesterday so I switched everything to one of my military packs,” Taylor responded, “Do you think we can take two cars today? I’d like to go directly to Costco after the park to pick up some dog treats and paper towels.”
“No problem, want me to go with you?” Samantha asked.
“No thanks, I’m just going to rush in and rush out.”
When they arrived at the park, Taylor immediately noticed several men walking around the park and some vehicles in the parking lot that he didn’t recognize. While they tried to look inconspicuous, the Marine officer was too observant for their presence to go unnoticed. He set the camouflaged pack on the grass and started playing fetch with Mikey.
Samantha saw Comrade X and Buddy arrive and commented, “Look who’s here?”
Ulanovsky knew he was under surveillance so he looked for the blue gym bag as soon as he came through the gate so he could drop another item in it, but it wasn’t here. When he saw several men at various locations around the park, he knew that his trick had worked and they were also looking for the blue bag and its owner.
Ulanovsky did his usual three laps then headed to the exit. When Taylor saw him walking away, he turned to Samantha, “I might as well get going, I’ll see you at home,” then carefully followed the spy to his house. He noticed the two vans along the way and it aroused his suspicions just enough so that Taylor decided to drive around the corner and park out of sight. When he got out of his car, he put on a baseball cap, pulled it low over his forehead and called his wife, “My unit just contacted me, I need to go in to take care of a problem.”
“Anything serious?” Samantha asked.
“Just a minor glitch,” Taylor reassured, “I shouldn’t be long.”
When Ulanovsky finished his shower, he put on his robe and called for his dog, “Buddy, where are you?” When he walked into his living room, Buddy was sitting next to Taylor on the couch, “He was keeping me company, you don’t mind, do you?”
“Not at all,” Ulanovsky sat down in the recliner across from Taylor, “You must be the owner of the blue bag?”
“Affirmative,” Taylor responded, “and you must be the owner of this,” and set the flashdrive on the coffee table.
“You’re a Marine, aren’t you?”
“What gave me away?” Taylor answered.
Ulanovsky noticed the Glock 19 in Taylor’s waistband, “You won’t need that, I’m a spy, not an assassin.”
“I’ll keep it within reach if you don’t mind,” Taylor answered.
“As you wish, I suppose, you’re looking for answers?” Ulanovsky asked
“That’s one reason why I’m here.”
“I was just getting ready to order from Maan’s Mediterranean Grill on Oceanside Boulevard, can I get you something?” Ulanovsky offered.
“This is going to take a while and I’d prefer not to eat alone,” Ulanovsky said.
“Then get me whatever you’re having,” Taylor shrugged.
After Doordash delivered the wide selection of Greek food, the men sat down at the dining room table to enjoy a meal that included; Shawarma Steak, Tekeh Chicken, Falafel, Dolmas and Shrimp Kabobs. Ulanovsky spoke candidly about his career in the intelligence field and how he was manipulating both countries and when he was finished, he warned Taylor, “You could turn me in for dropping that flashdrive in your bag, but there’s nothing on it of any value. It will only put you in danger if you brought it to the authorities.”
“I came to that conclusion pretty quickly.”
“I’m not easily impressed, but I am impressed by you. What did you say your name was?” Ulanovsky asked.
“I didn’t, you can just call me Marine. I didn’t get your name either?”
“Alex Weber, but that will probably change by next week,” Ulanovsky smiled.
Ulanovsky packed up the remaining food and placed it in the bags, “You might as well take the leftovers.”
When Taylor saw Buddy at the dog park several days later, a woman was walking him. He approached her, “Where’s Alex?”
“He moved, I’m watching Buddy until he gets situated.”
In Washington DC, Alex Weber met with a group of men and women. The young woman at the head of the table stood up and smiled, “I liked to be the first to welcome Charles Newsome as the new Director of Communications for the Center of Progressive Socialism.”
Everybody in the room applauded.
“When can you begin work?” The woman asked.
“Give me a week, I’m just getting situated in my new residence and once my dog arrives, I’ll hit the ground running, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. I’m fully committed to helping you change this country and the world for the better,” Ulanovsky said with a sly grin and toasted his reflection in the mirror on the wall.
Two weeks later, Federal Express delivered a large box to Taylor Corbett. There was a note inside it with the following words; ‘You didn’t really think that I couldn’t find out your name and address, did you? A small token of appreciation to show how much I enjoyed meeting someone that knew what the hell he was doing! When I said I was impressed, I meant it. You’re one of the best. Semper Fi, Marine. Taylor removed the brown wrapping paper to expose a box filled with cash.
Taylor saw no reason to burden anyone with details about the Incident At Palisades Park.