It’s hawk versus drone in a lopsided battle that pits a winged force of nature against the high flying technology of the new surveillance state.
Written by Vince Font
It’s got to be the strangest thing in the world to have people you’ve never met write songs about you. In the case of Christopher Boyce, that happened in 1985 with the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman. Written and recorded by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, the album featured a track called “Chris” which is basically an instrumental version of the David Bowie-fueled hit single “This Is Not America.” But in my research, I’ve discovered a handful of other songs I never even knew existed until recently.
In 1995, ten years after Metheny and Mays did their amazing thing (in my opinion delivering a soundtrack that was actually better than the movie it was written for), a dream pop band called Luna released the album Penthouse. It featured a song titled “Moon Palace” which included the somewhat random lyric: “You’ve got no choice, feel like Christopher Boyce.”
The song “Christopher Boyce” by L.A. punk musician Johanna Went appeared on her 1982 album Hyena and actually predates The Falcon and the Snowman movie and soundtrack by three years. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first song ever written about Chris Boyce and probably the least widely known. Went’s distinctly Yoko Onoesque vocals (there are no lyrics, at least none that I can discern) are certainly an acquired taste.
On his 2003 album Rip the Jacker, Jamaican-American rapper Canibus recorded a song called “Levitibus” in which he makes this interesting reference: “Got a message from the Falcon and the Snowman in an unopened Coca-Cola can. Showed the whole planet in coded program, encrypted by a pro-scan modem with a low-band.”
Do you know of any other songs written about Christopher Boyce or inspired by The Falcon and the Snowman? If so, we’d love to hear them. Let us know what you find by leaving a reply below. In the meantime, enjoy this incredible live version of “This Is Not America” from 1995 by the Pat Metheny Group.
Vince Font is the co-author of the book “American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman” with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce. The book was released in 2013 and is available now in e-book and paperback.
Written by Cait Boyce
Convicted spy John Anthony Walker, Jr. died on August 28, 2014, while serving one of the longest sentences for espionage ever handed down under a plea agreement. He was the mastermind of what has been called the single-most damaging Soviet spy ring in history.
Prior to joining the U.S. Navy, Walker experienced an upbringing that can best be described as “no picnic.” His father, a violent alcoholic, drove the family into bankruptcy and then abandoned them. Walker became a troublemaker and a petty criminal, and at age 17 was caught by police for burglarizing a gas station and a men’s clothing store. His older brother, Arthur, had joined the U.S. Navy out of high school. To keep his brother from going to jail, Arthur intervened with the judge to suggest that he allow Walker to join the Navy.
Walker enlisted in the Navy in 1956 as a radioman and seemed to thrive. There were no discipline problems, and he made a very favorable impression on his superiors. He made rank quickly, achieving a rating of RM1 (E-6) in only six years, and his evaluation reports were almost perfect (4.0) ratings. He married, had his first child and then a second, and in June 1960 was accepted for submarine training. This was followed by an assignment to the USS Razorback (SS-394), a World War II-era diesel submarine based in San Diego, California.
My two questions post Boyce and Lee have always been “why?” and “how?” What prompts a young college student from a well-respected family such as Christopher Boyce’s to enter the world of espionage? What was the final push for Walker? Clayton Lonetree, Richard Miller, Jonathan Pollard, James Harper, Aldrich Ames. The list goes on and on and on. From 1975 to 2008, there have been in excess of 142 cases of espionage in this country and a security system that still can’t catch spies and appears to make it easy for the disenfranchised, the weak, and the greedy to commit a crime that is, by its very nature “one of the rarest crimes on the books.”
So what drives a man with a seemingly happy life to suddenly become a spy for the Soviet Union? Walker, a U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer at the time, spied for the Russians from 1968 to 1985 and most likely (based on the shoddy security of the U.S. Navy) would have continued spying had his wife not turned him in. Alcoholism, mounting debt, an acrimonious marital relationship, and ever-growing greed fueled Walker’s espionage.
Much has been said about John Walker prior to his death and will continue long after. I didn’t know the man. I stood on the outside watching, as did millions of other Americans. I was in high school in San Diego during the latter years of the Vietnam War when the USS Pueblo was seized. By the time of the Walker family’s arrest in 1985, I was deeply committed to freeing two other spies: Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee.
John Walker didn’t spy alone. He dragged his alcoholic wife, Barbara, kicking and screaming into the game by forcing her to be with him during “drops.” In 1969, he befriended and recruited Jerry Whitworth, a young student stationed in San Diego. Whitworth, who would become a Navy senior chief petty officer/senior chief radioman, agreed to assist Walker in accessing highly classified communications data in 1973. In 1984, Walker recruited his older brother, Arthur, a retired lieutenant commander working as a military contractor. He even recruited his own son, Michael, an active duty Navy seaman.
The litany of overt acts and startling revelations that came to light after the arrest of Walker simply boggle the mind, to this day. When I compare the Walker espionage with that of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, the egregious security issues that came to light in 1977 during the infamous Falcon and the Snowman trials had still not been corrected eight years later by the time of Walker’s arrest.
There was ample evidence available to authorities at the time to indicate that a serious breach of national and communications security had occurred:
1. In January of 1968, the Koreans captured the USS Pueblo, just one month after Walker had betrayed the information. While there remains much debate about the exact role Walker’s espionage played in the seizure of the Pueblo, former KGB head Oleg Kalugin claims that Walker’s case officer, Andrei Krasavin, was able to build a working replica of the KW-7 crypto machine based on information provided by Walker. Krasavin later received the Lenin Medal, the highest honor granted by the Soviet government.
2. After Walker’s arrest, Theodore Shackleton, the CIA station chief in Saigon, asserted that Walker’s espionage may have contributed to diminished B-52 bombing strikes, and that the forewarning gleaned from Walker’s espionage directly impacted U.S. effectiveness in Vietnam.
3. During his time as a Soviet spy, Walker helped the Soviets decipher more than one million encrypted naval messages for use against the United States.
4. Navy intelligence officers noticed a number of indicators, beginning in the early 1970s when Soviet Navy submarines suddenly got dramatically quieter and developed an ability to stay just outside the effective range of U.S. sonobuoys – exactly as if they knew the full details of how the U.S. was detecting them. They also started showing up outside U.S. submarine bases just before American submarines were scheduled to put to sea.
The Soviet Navy showed an uncanny ability to get intelligence collection ships at the right place and time to capture data from fleet exercises, “as if they had a copy of the OpPlans or something.” In fact, the Walker spy ring did have a copy of the OpPlans, and everything else of any importance to the U.S. Navy, for a period of almost 20 years.
Richard Haver, the deputy director of Naval Intelligence, said they had “wondered” if there was a communications security breach, but could find no proof. In retrospect, it is not clear how they could have gotten such proof because the setup of Fleet Broadcasting System (FBS) was such that, even if a Soviet spy had brought verbatim copies of FBS intercepts to the CIA, it would have been impossible to produce a comprehensive list of potential suspects – even a list that was tens of thousands of names long. This is an example of yet another failure on the part of the U.S. Navy to safeguard its operations.
5. In approximately November of 1984, fearing that Michael Walker would never be able to extricate himself from the web of deceit, John Walker’s daughter, Laura, convinced her mother to report him to the FBI. Barbara told the FBI field office in Boston that she had important information, and on November 29 a special agent from Hyannis interviewed her. The spy’s ex-wife told the agent of her husband’s dealings as far back as the 1960s, his admissions to her that he was spying, and the fact that she had been forced to accompany him to dead drops near Washington. She described in detail the deliveries of information from Walker to his Russian handlers that dovetailed with KGB techniques.
Instead of acting on the information, the FBI agent notated his report with the fact that Barbara appeared to have been drinking when he arrived to speak to her, and that she consumed a large glass of vodka during the interview. Later, he stated he felt she had been “evasive” when asked why she had waited so long to come forward. Without much more thought, the agent made the unilateral decision that Barbara Walker had a drinking problem and that the allegations against her husband were simply “sour grapes.” He graded the information she had provided as meriting no follow-up and sent the report to Boston, where it was filed away.
A month later, during a routine check on inactive files, an FBI supervisor read the Barbara Walker report. Noting that the espionage allegation was focused in Norfolk, the supervisor sent the file on to that office. Norfolk obtained headquarters’ approval to open an investigation, but it was not assigned to an agent until February of 1985.
Barbara Walker provided the FBI with explosive information that could have been used to rescue what was left of Naval Intelligence and put what has been described as the “single-most damaging Soviet spy ring in history” behind bars.
6. While Walker worked closely with hundreds or even thousands of sailors over a 20-year spying career, many of those sailors had firsthand knowledge of his unethical behavior and suspiciously large financial expenditures. So much so that Walker was actively probing a number of them to see if they were good candidates for recruitment into his spy ring. Yet not one of them ever considered that he might be spying.
Michael Walker was released in 2001 after serving 15 years in prison. John Walker died on August 28, 2014, in the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina. Walker’s older brother, Arthur, died on July 5 in the same facility. The remaining Walker conspirator, Jerry Whitworth, is serving a 365-year prison sentence with the possibility of parole after 60 years.
Some years ago, I spoke with Judge John P. Vukasin, who presided over the Whitworth trial in San Francisco. While I looked for the complex issues at sentencing to help my clients, Vukasin’s reasoning in sentencing Whitworth was actually quite simple: “Mr. Whitworth did not believe in what he did. He didn’t believe in anything at all. Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing.“
John A. Walker, Jr. leaves behind a legacy, for good or for bad, that has shaped the lives of his children – Laura Walker, Margaret Ann Walker, Cynthia Walker and Michael Walker – and will continue to shape military intelligence and national security in this country for many years to come.
Cait Boyce is a legal professional with over 35 years of experience representing non-violent criminal offenders. She is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, which documents her efforts to free convicted spies Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee.
If you’ve never heard the name Alexander Poe, commit it to memory. A New York City-based actor/writer/director with one indie feature and a bunch of award-winning short films under his belt, Poe first came to my attention after he posted one of his Columbia University film school exercises to YouTube – a compelling, two-and-a-half-minute long recreation of a scene from John Schlesinger’s 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman.
Filmed in 2008, the short starred actors Teddy Bergman and Ian Unterman as the titular characters. I stumbled across it one day while routinely scouring the interwebs for any mention of falcons or snowmen (like you do). I’ll admit I clicked “Play” with a cautious pessimism. You can’t blame me. These days, there’s no end to the terrible things you can find on YouTube. But by the time those 150 seconds had run their course, I was fairly blown away.
What struck me the most about Poe’s piece – aside from it being a contemporized take on the now-classic 80s flick that incorporated the use of a cell phone instead of a pay phone, for example – were the actors’ interpretations of the characters.
Back in 1985 when The Falcon and the Snowman was released, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were at the peak of their game, two of the greatest young actors in Hollywood. Penn’s over-the-top portrayal of Andrew Daulton Lee was a star making scene stealer, and Hutton’s depiction of Christopher Boyce was the epitome of smoldering inner turmoil. That a young, relatively inexperienced director like Poe would purposefully steer his cast of unknowns away from pulling off carbon copy imitations of these iconic screen characters struck me as a ballsy move. Yeah, I was impressed.
Immediately, I forwarded the link to Chris and Cait Boyce. I wanted to know if it was just me, or if this short scene really was as awesome as I thought it was. They watched it and were both instantly blown away by the fact that Poe and his film school skeleton crew had managed to capture the “real” Boyce and Lee more accurately than Hutton and Penn had some twenty-odd years earlier.
I did a little more digging on Poe and found out that he had recently written, directed, and starred in an independent feature called Ex-Girlfriends. The fact that the movie just so happened to co-star one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Carpenter (of Dexter and The Exorcism of Emily Rose fame), didn’t exactly diminish my impression of the guy. Nor did the mature artistry and subtle humor of Ex-Girlfriends when I sat down to watch it a few days later.
After connecting with Poe via Facebook and a volley of back-and-forth messages, I managed to get him on the phone to ask him a few questions. First and foremost, I was curious to know what made him choose a scene from The Falcon and the Snowman for a film school exercise. I mean, it’s not exactly a lousy movie. But considering the trillion or so other movies made throughout the long history of celluloid, why this one? Turns out, he’s just got good taste.
“It was one of those movies I always found fascinating,” Poe told me. “It touched on a number of compelling themes: friendship and rebellion, fathers and sons. What made it even more interesting were the real events it was based on. It was a movie I would watch frequently, and I always found something new and interesting about it.”
So, why that particular scene? Poe told me he chose it because it fit perfectly within the limitations of his zero-budget exercise.
“I was taking a directing class at Columbia,” he said. “One of my assignments was to take an existing script and shoot a scene from it. I chose that particular one because I wanted something I could shoot easily, with just two actors. But more than that, there’s also a very interesting power dynamic going on between Chris and Daulton. They’re two friends who hold a lot of power over one other, and the stakes are so incredibly high, that it makes it fascinating to watch. It’s a very cool drama.”
Next, the obvious question: how the hell did he manage to get such spot-on performances without having access to a crystal ball?
“As I recall,” Poe said, “neither Teddy (Bergman) or Ian (Unterman) had ever seen The Falcon and the Snowman. That helped them to not imitate the original performances. I certainly had notions about the characters, but I limited my direction in that area so that they could discover a bit of authenticity for themselves.”
Another unique aspect of the scene involves the setting. Anyone who’s ever watched (and re-watched) The Falcon and the Snowman will be familiar with the distinctly “SoCal” beach settings that crop up throughout. In Poe’s reimagining, Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee are transplanted to a location quite different from the one they inhabited in real life. Instead of taking place in and around Los Angeles, Poe’s scene takes place on the other side of the country in Manhattan, offering a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
“We shot down at the South Street Seaport,” Poe said. “It felt like a location where two guys living an espionage lifestyle would hang out. It also seemed to me like a place Daulton would choose for a secret meeting. It was a fun shoot. All we had was a camera, a boom, and two actors. We went down at dawn. Security pretty quickly realized we weren’t supposed to be there and cut the shoot short, but I think we got what we needed. We shot the whole thing in about an hour and a half.”
Turning the conversation to the present (after all, 2008 was six years ago!) I asked Poe about his most recent endeavors – namely, his first feature film Ex-Girlfriends, which he not only starred in but also wrote, directed, and co-produced.
“It was great fun to make a feature movie after a bunch of shorts,” Poe said. “Ex-Girlfriends went through the festival circuit, and then got released here in New York. It’s available on DVD now, as well as iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Right now, I’m just working on other scripts, shooting a bunch of commercials and other short films, and trying to work my way towards the next movie.”
Alexander Poe is one of those rare filmmakers whose abilities behind the camera far surpass his years. It’ll be interesting to see how his career develops. I know I’ll be watching closely.
Vince Font is the co-author of the book “American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman.” The book was co-written with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce and is available in e-book and paperback.
On May 24, Cait Boyce made her third appearance on John Aberle’s radio show “Life Unedited.” Click the video above to hear the full broadcast. In addition to exciting announcements about a possible movie version of American Sons in the works, Cait discusses issues of inequality in the criminal justice system and talks about how she successfully freed convicted spies Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee. Many thanks to our friend and supporter John Aberle. To listen to past episodes of John’s fine program, go here.