By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
Investigating the mobsters' predecessors first bolstered Gadzhiyev's career and then wound up destroying it. By the mid-'80s, his overzealous pursuit of high-profile officials had transformed him from a promising young officer into an agency pariah. In 1987, after he had been forced to tender his resignation, Gadzhiyev's disillusionment with Soviet society was at its peak. Gorbachev's perestroika reforms were in full swing, and the Soviet Union was already on the verge of political and economic collapse. Soviet tanks patrolled the streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, Gadzhiyev's oil-rich and increasingly volatile homeland. The mostly Moslem republic, which four years later would become the first former Soviet satellite to gain independence, is a country whose people have little in common with the Russian bureaucrats who called the shots in the region during seven decades of Soviet domination. Their true enemies, though, have long been the people of neighboring Armenia, with whom they share an age-old, Balkan-style enmity. In 1987, with the two countries on the verge of a war that is barely contained today, mass demonstrations against the country's Armenian minority spilled through the capital, and mixed couples, like Gadzhiyev's Armenian mother and Azerbaijani father, became prime targets of Mobrage.
"I went to Moscow for the last time, to KGB headquarters," he recalls. "I tried to warn them about the coming bloodshed in Azerbaijan and the possible consequences for the entire Soviet Union. They wouldn't listen. They basically told me to get the fuck out. I stood there in front of KGB headquarters. Psychologically I was dead inside. It was very icy and cold, and I saw this old woman across the street. She looked like she was 90, and she asked me to help her cross the street. I asked her where she was going and offered to take her there. We were walking in silence, whipped by snow and wind, and I was crying. I didn't know whether it was from the cold or the stress. I looked at this woman, alone in the cold carrying her bread, and then and there realized I had to do it. I had to escape. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I had togo."
Having made the decision to defect, in the spring of 1987 Gadzhiyev submitted a fraudulent application for travel to then-communist Yugoslavia and joined a Soviet tour group en route to Belgrade. There, on a Sunday just before noon, he slipped away from the group, plodding nervously toward the American embassy. "I approached the Yugoslav guards outside the gate," he recalls. "I didn't speak English yet, so I introduced myself as an Italian. I told them I needed to speak to the embassy security officer, that it was urgent." Forty-five minutes later Gadzhiyev was still standing out front. Gnawed by paranoia, he felt certain that the Yugoslav guards soon would be onto him. "I couldn't stand there any longer," he says. "I told them, 'Look, I have some business in town, I'll be back in an hour. Can you please contact the security officer?'" Gadzhiyev eventually did find his way past the gates of the embassy, but the message he received inside was not at all what he expected. "They wanted to help me, but there were political ramifications to consider," he says. "They suggested I go through the United Nations mission in Belgrade." Which is exactly what hedid.
"The Yugoslavs grabbed me right in front of the mission," he recalls, explaining how Yugoslav counterintelligence officers tracked him down after a confidential informant connected to the UN mission gave them information about a possible defector. "They strip-searched me and threw me in a cell," he continues. "That night I lay there on the concrete floor wondering what would become of me. It was one of the worst nights of mylife."
Gadzhiyev wound up spending eight uncertain months in the Belgrade city jail, charged officially with traveling without documents. He shared a large two-room cell with a dozen indigenous inmates. "The first day they were looking me over, trying to figure out who I was," he recalls. "I decided that I would only speak Italian, and I told them my name was Gino. As it turned out, the toughest guy in the cell was an Italian, and he was thrilled to have someone to talk to in his native tongue. After that nobody ever botheredme."
During his months behind bars, Gadzhiyev says he received frequent visits from Soviet "diplomats," actually KGB officers who put pressure on him to return voluntarily to the Soviet Union. "They told me my father had called them and, strangely enough, that my wife was home crying for me," he says, explaining that he and his wife had split up long before he left Baku.
When they could hold him no longer, the Yugoslavs let Gadzhiyev go, and the U.S. government decided that, though he was not a prize intelligence catch, he might be of some value after all. They provided him with a one-way ticket to Vienna, in business class. "I drank everything I could get my hands on," he says. "By the time we landed, I'd drunken so much cognac I passed out." From Vienna it was a quick drive across the German border to Munich. Seven months later, after the CIA was done with him and the Immigration and Naturalization Service had approved his petition for political asylum, he caught a transatlantic flight to New York, followed by a connecting flight to paradise -- otherwise known as Southern California.