The time a young legislative aide from Maine uncovered a Soviet Cold War spy circle

Bath native Marc Zimmerman was a legislative aide for then-U.S. Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in 1983 — still about eight years before the end of the Cold War — when he received a seemingly innocent request from a Soviet fertilizer researcher and tour guide.

Connected through a mutual friend, Zimmerman agreed to meet with Alexander Nikolavevich Mikheyev for what he thought was a simple “Welcome-to-D.C.” lunch, but became suspicious of the Soviet tourist after he began pushing for information on a classified file.

In a story retold in some detail in a 2008 interview and reported in multiple news accounts of the time, Zimmerman expressed his concerns to the FBI.

Mikheyev seemed particularly interested in a file known as NSDD-75, President Ronald Reagan’s classified national security directive, which reportedly described how the U.S. would apply social and economic pressures to destabilize the Soviet Union and undermine Moscow’s authority over the country’s citizens.

The FBI decided to recruit Zimmerman for a sting of sorts.

“The aim was that the FBI would construct a fake, legalese-infested document that, without hours of study, would appear to be the real McCoy,” Zimmerman said in an interview years later with Grove City College’s Center for Vision & Values. “I was going to hand it over just before he descended the escalator at the Metro station. The FBI planned to grab him with the document at the base of the stairs before he could get on the subway.

“Somehow, Mikheyev got wind that something was up and unexpectedly headed for JFK to catch a plane back to Moscow,” he continued. “The FBI grabbed him at the airport in New York, brought him before [U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and she kicked him out of the country.”

According to press coverage at the time, Zimmerman helped the FBI use listening devices to record conversations with Mikheyev and ultimately round up two additional Soviet spies as well.