Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christopher Boyce & Andrew Daulton Lee

"Asesinato!"

Since the 1960s, the CIA had used military satellites to communicate with its agents.  However, the technology was dated.  Agents could only use the system if they were within range of the satellites and the intelligence agencies of other nations could eavesdrop.

Sketch of proposed Pyramider Sattelite
Sketch of proposed Pyramider Sattelite

In the 1970s, the CIA proposed to develop a satellite that would facilitate worldwide communication between its agents.  Several top aerospace companies were sent a letter outlining the CIA's plan and asking the companies to outline how they would approach the project.  The CIA designated the project top secret and called the proposed satellite a "Pyramider."

TRW won the  Pyramider design contract in 1973.  The design that TRW researchers eventually unveiled was a huge satellite that resembled a flying umbrella.

Sketch of proposed Pyramider Sattelite
Sketch of proposed Pyramider Sattelite

By the time Boyce began photographing the Pyramider documents, he had already tendered his resignation to TRW.  There was no acrimony between Boyce and the company.  He was leaving to attend college full-time.

But he was still working and still engaged in espionage. In fact, Boyce had thoughts of working for the Soviets again. He would earn degrees in history and political science, become fluent in Russian, and with that background, land a sensitive government position.  Boyce would send secrets to the Soviets once again.

Hutton and Penn as Boyce and Lee
Hutton and Penn as Boyce and Lee

In the meantime, Lee could take the extremely valuable Pyramider photographs to Mexico City and collect from his generous Soviet handlers.

Lee sauntered by the Russian embassy and threw a message inside the gates.  Suddenly he found himself surrounded by Mexican police officers.  They wanted to know what he had tossed.

A startled Lee tried to shrug it off.  "It was just a pack of cigarettes and a book jacket from an old dictionary," he explained.

That explanation did not wash.  The police were  concerned because a member of an anti-government terrorist group, the Twenty-third of September Communist League, had been arrested after throwing a message to an embassy in a similar fashion.

As Lee and the cops were having an agitated conversation, they were spotted by Eileen Heaphy, a Foreign Service officer posted at the U.S. embassy.

When Lee learned her identity, he hoped that the State Department official — a representative from the country he betrayed — would come to his rescue.  The police told Heaphy that they wanted to question Lee. Heaphy phoned the American embassy to report the contretemps.  The Mexicans told her that representatives from the U.S. embassy could go to the police station to ensure that Lee's rights were protected. A vice consul and a CIA agent went to the station.

Sean Penn as Lee arrested in Mexico in the movie The Falcon and The Snowman
Sean Penn as Lee arrested in Mexico in the movie The Falcon and The Snowman

At police headquarters, Lee met a dark-haired, middle-aged inspector with grape-like bags under his eyes. The inspector told him to empty  his pockets and place everything on a desk.  Lee complied. A postcard intrigued the official; a fake one the Russians had given Lee to show  a designated meeting site.

The inspector also opened an envelope Lee was carrying.  Inside was photographic film. The inspector held the film up to the light and squinted to see. Lee explained that he was a photographer and those were negatives for a commercial for an advertising agency.  The U.S. vice consul also examined the film.  He too noted the designation, "Top Secret."

The inspector said that he would have the film  developed and that the American officials should return in about an hour.

When the officers told Lee what he was accused of, "aesisinato," the Spanish word for "murder," he felt as if an electrical cord had been whipped down his spine. Shocked,  flustered, and panicked, Lee sputtered denials.

Lee was interrogated the next day and the day after that.  He continued to insist that he was just a tourist and knew nothing of any murder. "We're not stupid Mexicans!" a questioner shouted.

At one point, Lee changed his story.  He was not just a photographer and tourist.  Rather, he and his friend, Christopher Boyce, were working for the CIA.  They had been feeding misinformation to the Soviets to confuse America's enemy.  The police again ordered Lee to tell them why he had killed the policeman and again he denied  it.

Apparently the Mexicans were convinced that Lee murdered a cop because the simulated postcard was a photograph of an intersection where a police officer had been slain.

At one point in the questioning, Lee was ordered to strip naked and an officer threatened to cut off his genitals.  At another, his head was held over a toilet.  The bowl did not contain waste,  but nor had it been cleaned recently.  His head was dunked three times. Lying blindfolded and handcuffed between bouts of questioning and threats, Lee was overpowered by thirst.  His guards brought him some water but Lee told them he had to have bottled water or he would fall ill.  The guard laughed and, crazed by thirst, Lee drank tap water.  Later, he had an attack of diarrhea. The guard would not take him to the bathroom and he soiled his clothing.

Eventually, FBI agents were allowed to talk to the prisoner.  Lee told them the story he had most recently told the Mexicans: that he was working for the CIA and giving the Russians false data.

The FBI contacted the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House.  It soon became clear that the only thing genuine about Lee was his treason. They  wanted Lee back in the U.S. to stand trial.

The Mexicans, however, gave Lee a choice: he could be deported to either the Soviet Union or the U.S. He chose the United States.

Christopher Boyce was arrested in January 1977. He held off for a few days, then agreed to confess.  He revealed everything about his spying and his selling of secrets to the Soviets.  He adamantly denied that he had ever led Lee to believe that they were working for the CIA.  He described his pal as a "hoodlum" and himself as an "adventurer."

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