Friday, September 18, 2015

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: D.B. Cooper Arrested

November 24th, 1971--

FBI agents acting on an anonymous tip arrested would-be hijacker D.B. Cooper just minutes before Cooper was scheduled to board a Northwest Airlines flight to Seattle. According to the tipster. Cooper had been talking to someone named 'Raoul' from an airport payphone while waiting for his flight to begin boarding; Cooper's plan had been to take the plane over in midflight, then parachute to safety once he had extorted $200,000 from local authorities. Subsequent investigation revealed that 'Raoul' was a pseudonym for a high-level station chief with Cuba's DGI counterintelligence service and Cooper was actually one Dmitri Kaprinsky, a KGB agent who had operating in the United States since the late 1950s and only a week before his arrest had made up his mind to leave the country after becoming convinced his cover was about to be blown. The apparent hijacking plot, it turned out, was actually just a highly elaborate cover for Kaprinsky's escape back to the Soviet Union-- once he parachuted from the Northwest jet, he planned to make his way to the Oregon coast and rendezvous with a Soviet submarine to complete his journey home. ('Raoul' would commit suicide shortly after his role in Kaprinsky's escape plan was exposed.)

Kaprinsky was subsequently indicted in a San Francisco federal court on espionage charges; desperate to keep him from divulging sensitive information about Soviet espionage activity in the U.S. the KGB sent a “black ops” hit squad to assassinate him only to have the hit squad's mission go badly awry when they were intercepted in Los Angeles by U.S. federal agents and L.A.P.D. SWAT personnel. In the ensuing gun battle, most of the hit squad personnel including the team leader were killed. In early 1972 Kaprinsky was convicted of espionage, conspiracy to commit hijacking, and attempted assault with a lethal weapon(he'd tried to stab one of the FBI agents who arrested him) and given a prison sentence of 30 years to life; he would serve thirteen years of that sentence before dying from cardiac arrest on April 9th, 1985. Shortly after his death, his body was flown back to the Soviet Union and laid to rest in his old hometown in the Ukraine. At the time of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 most of the FBI personnel who had been involved in probing the D.B. Cooper/Dmitri Kaprinsky case were either retired or on the verge of retiring, although some of them would return to the bureau after 9/11 to serve as consultants on anti-terrorist operations.

The Cooper/Kaprinsky saga had one rather fascinating pop culture postscript: in April of 1990, five years after Kaprinsky's death, ABC-TV premiered the drama Twin Peaks, a crime series whose protagonist was suspected to have been inspired by the late KGB agent-- a suspicion the series' creator, David Lynch, would confirm two decades later in an audio commentary for the Twin Peaks DVD set. Lynch explained that his choice of a name for the main character, Dale Prince, had been a play on both Kaprinsky's true identity and the alias Kaprinsky used in his thwarted hijacking plot.


In reality D.B. Cooper's real name and ultimate fate are still a mystery, although the FBI has at one time or another investigated at least nine possible suspects in the 1972 hijacking. In 1981 the movie The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper was released to less-than-enthusiastic reviews by film critics and a largely indifferent reception from audiences, but in spite of the movie's box office failure Cooper remains an object of pop culture fascination to this day. No evidence has been uncovered as yet to suggest the KGB was even aware of D.B. Cooper's existence, much less had him on their payroll as an agent.


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