Before Bradley Manning, there was Christopher Boyce

I’ve been spotting the movie The Falcon and the Snowman on cable TV a lot these days. At first, I thought it was just a case of me noticing it more. It’s a natural thing to happen – you tune your brain to a particular wavelength and you’re bound to start picking up signals you didn’t know were there. The fact that for the last year I’ve been working on a sequel to the book The Falcon and the Snowman with Christopher Boyce and his wife, Cait, should certainly be enough cause for any mention of falcons or snowmen to send my radar into overdrive. But to be perfectly honest, I’m convinced it’s a lot more than that.

A conspiracy? No. Aliens? Go ask Giorgio Tsoukalos. For a while, I ascribed it to the 80s revival, or maybe a sign that the phenomenon was finally gasping its last breath. This would come as welcome news to many of us who actually experienced the 80s firsthand. Personally, I don’t remember them all that fondly. I don’t recall them as being all neon clothes and cool music. The 80s had plenty of both, yes, plus way too much hairspray and far too many skinny ties. But they also had a dark side. The 80s gave us AIDS and an out-of-control nuclear arms race, which – even when contemplated separately – was enough to scare the shit out of anyone.

Searching for another reason for the resurgence in interest in The Falcon and the Snowman, I next asked myself: Could it be that some smartass cable TV programming director decided to put into heavy rotation an 80s movie that takes place in the 70s as a way of offering up a refreshing counterbalance to those supremely annoying John Hughes flicks? Maybe. But I think it goes even deeper than that. It’s not nostalgia or passive-aggressive programming – it’s simply that The Falcon and the Snowman still resonates. It may even be more relevant today than it ever has been.

Case in point: Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier who’s set to go on trial this summer for uploading a bunch of classified diplomatic and defense documents to WikiLeaks. You can draw a lot of parallels between Manning and Christopher Boyce, a couple of idealistic twentysomethings from different generations who took a peek into the proverbial abyss and were drastically changed by what they saw. For Manning, what he saw would come to be called “collateral murder.” For Boyce, it was the discovery that his government wasn’t as squeaky clean and noble as he’d always been led to believe.

Both young men also had accomplices in their crimes. Boyce was helped by his childhood friend, Andrew Daulton Lee. Manning found an unlikely partner in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s currently hanging out at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London avoiding extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges. For the record, Lee was never accused of sexually assaulting anyone. But the eerie parallels still exist, especially when you consider that one of Lee’s most frequented sanctuaries throughout his two-year spying escapade was the Soviet Embassy in Mexico.

All surface similarities aside, what really ties the stories of Christopher Boyce and Bradley Manning together are their similar acts: the betrayal of country for allegedly idealistic purposes. That, and the promise of some serious jail time. While Boyce received a 40-year prison sentence, Manning may end up behind bars for a lot longer. Already, he’s pleaded guilty to misusing classified material and is staring down the barrel of a 20-year sentence. But the additional charges that will probably be piled on at his trial this summer could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

Sometimes, I wonder how things might have worked out for Christopher Boyce if he’d been born 30 years later; if he’d had access to the things that Bradley Manning did, like the internet and WikiLeaks, or even the blogosphere. In a pivotal scene from the movie The Falcon and the Snowman, a pencil-mustachioed Daulton Lee (Sean Penn) tries to convince Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton) to “go public” by talking to the New York Times about the U.S. government’s rumored involvement in the ousting of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. In real life, this conversation never took place – but Boyce did consider it, eventually determining that for all its influence the media didn’t have the power to affect any real change. Instead, he took a different path and wound up losing a quarter-century of his life to the gray and lifeless confines of federal prison for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.

There are lessons to be learned in the parallel stories of Christopher Boyce and Bradley Manning. What are those lessons? I’m not the guy to ask. I can only guess. Maybe a warning for government agencies to exercise tighter controls on sensitive information, or to perform better background checks on the people given access to it. Maybe a cautionary tale for every person who’s ever felt betrayed by their government and who is seriously considering taking steps that could cost them their freedom.

In 1985, eight years after he was convicted for espionage, Christopher Boyce testified in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Investigations in an effort to help authorities understand why people become spies. In his impassioned statement, Boyce said: “I only wish that before more Americans take that irreversible step, they could know what I now know – that they are bringing down upon themselves heartache more heavy than a mountain.”

Apparently, even the most eloquently stated admonitions in the world aren’t enough to prevent some people from making those same mistakes. Maybe if The Falcon and the Snowman had been in heavy cable TV rotation back in 2010, Bradley Manning might have seen it and heeded that warning, saving himself from what will likely be a lifetime of confined despair.

The book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman was written by Christopher Boyce, Cait Boyce, and Vince Font. The 2017 expanded hardcover edition is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online bookstores.

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Everything you always wanted to know about the Falcon and the Snowman… and then some

You learn something new every day. And every other day, you take something for granted. In co-writing the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman with Christopher Boyce and his wife Cait, I seem to have done a little bit of both.

The first thing I did was take for granted the educational influence of Hollywood movies. I assumed that since there had been a popular movie made about the subject, most people would be familiar with the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee. But in the course of spreading the word about the new book, I’ve learned that not everyone is.

Although the natural thing would be to tell someone to “Google it!” I have a hard time doing that in this case. Mainly because there are so many inaccuracies, false assumptions, and outright mistruths already written about the subject. So instead, I’ve written my own short, sweet, accurate history of The Falcon and the Snowman. Hopefully, reading it will jostle the memories of those who may have forgotten… or spark the interest of those to whom the story is brand new.

The Crime

In 1974, 21-year-old Christopher Boyce took a job with TRW, an aerospace company located in Redondo Beach, California. In a short matter of time, Boyce was promoted to a secure area nicknamed the Black Vault, where he was given unprecedented access to highly sensitive defense information, including top secret codes for CIA spy satellites.

It was during his time in the Black Vault that Boyce discovered, through mistakenly directed telex messages, that the CIA was involved in a covert campaign to overthrow Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. These misrouted messages also revealed CIA infiltration in Australian labor unions, deepening Boyce’s growing distrust of the United States government – a distrust fueled by the war in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, and the subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon. Disillusioned by what he saw as evidence that the United States was deceiving an ally nation, Boyce made a decision that would change the course of his life forever.

Recruiting the help of childhood friend Andrew Daulton Lee, Boyce embarked upon a personal crusade to “strike back” at the powers that be by selling top secret documents to the Soviet Union. Lee, a drug dealer with a checkered past and numerous brushes with the law, acted as courier. Traveling to Mexico City, Lee made contact with representatives of the KGB through the Soviet Embassy there. For the next two years, between 1975 and 1977, Boyce and Lee would pass thousands of top secret documents to the Soviet Union.

Arrest and Conviction

In 1977, Lee was arrested by Mexican police outside the Soviet Embassy. Under torture, he confessed to being a spy for the Soviet Union and was deported to the United States. Upon his arrival, Lee was immediately taken into custody by the FBI. Boyce was arrested soon after Lee implicated him, and both were tried and convicted of espionage. Boyce was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Lee received a life sentence. Their story was told in the 1979 Robert Lindsey book The Falcon and the Snowman and later turned into a critically acclaimed motion picture scripted by Steve Zaillian and directed by John Schlesinger. The movie starred Timothy Hutton as Christopher Boyce and Sean Penn as Andrew Daulton Lee.

Prison, Escape and Recapture

Boyce and Lee were both incarcerated at Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. In January of 1980, Boyce staged a daring escape. Evading authorities for 19 months and leading the U.S. Marshals, the FBI and Interpol on a worldwide manhunt, Boyce was recaptured in August of 1981 in Port Angeles, Washington. After his recapture, it was revealed that Boyce had robbed a number of banks throughout the Pacific Northwest. He pled guilty to bank robbery and was given an additional sentence of 28 years on top of his original 40-year sentence for espionage.

Life in Prison and Release

In 1980, the case of Andrew Daulton Lee came to the attention of a young paralegal named Cait Mills. An advocate for the parole of nonviolent offenders, Mills began legal efforts on Lee’s behalf, starting a friendship that would last over 20 years. As a result of Mills’ continuous work petitioning the U.S. Parole Commission, Lee was released from prison in 1998.

Mills then turned her efforts to helping Christopher Boyce. Despite being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and enduring radiation and chemotherapy, Mills was successful in her efforts and Boyce was granted parole in 2002, after having served 25 years in prison. Mills and Boyce were married soon after his release. After numerous recurrences of cancer and a 15-year ordeal, Cait Boyce announced in 2012 that her cancer was in full remission.

Cait and Christopher Boyce Today: The New Book

American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman tells the true story of how Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee survived decades in prison. The book also documents the efforts of Cait Boyce to free both men through the course of two decades, and tells of her own 15-year battle against cancer. The 40th anniversary expanded edition of the book is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online booksellers.

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How a touch of denial helped me kick cancer’s ass

It was October of 1996 when I was diagnosed with Stage III(b) lobular carcinoma of the left breast. Strangely enough, the first thought to run through my head was “How convenient. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month!” My second thought was “Is this how it ends?”

For those who don’t know and who hopefully won’t ever have to learn, lobular carcinoma isn’t like “ordinary” breast carcinoma. The lobular type is a lot harder to detect. It spreads rapidly. And it kills randomly. Really, really kills.

It’s so hard to detect that the hospital I went to in San Francisco didn’t even bother to try. That dark shadow on the mammogram? Nope, nothing to worry about. Until a lump developed, and then suddenly it was worth the hospital worrying enough to pursue further. I wasn’t as pissed as I was glad that finally, someone else was just as concerned and freaked out as I’d been all along.

The day that I was given my diagnosis, I asked my brother Tim to come to the hospital with me. I needed an extra set of ears. I simply couldn’t trust my own to not shut down in the middle of it all. They’d already done so halfway through the phone call from my doctor, just sort of toggled over into “in one ear and out the other” mode, and I knew that if I wanted to stand any chance at all of fighting this thing I was going to have to pay close attention. I also just needed his support. And so he came. He’s my brother, after all.

I was glad to have him there. The minute the doctor told me to “get my affairs in order” and that I had a one-in-10 chance of survival, my mind went numb. But even harder than accepting this reality was the fact that I’d gotten Chris’s hopes up for landing a successful parole based on how well the outcome had been for Daulton, who was set to be released in just a few months’ time. I wanted to be there on that day for Daulton, just as I wanted to be there to see Chris experience his own freedom. But now, honestly, I didn’t know if there was going to be any future at all.

I waited to tell Chris about my diagnosis. I talked to him twice, never mentioning it to him, until eventually I was unable to avoid it. My surgery was scheduled, and there was no way around telling him everything. While I was doing my best to maintain a positive attitude, Chris wasn’t having such an easy time of it.

Several weeks later, surgery revealed two tumors – both of which were so large that it necessitated a radical mastectomy along with removal of part of the muscle wall. I experienced a loss of sensation in my left arm, along with massive swelling and pain. But more than that, I also felt a sudden loss of precious time. Time that I could otherwise be spending preparing a parole brief for Chris. The agony of guilt became far more than the physical pain.

A month after surgery, I had recovered enough that I was able to write Chris’s parole brief. Racked with sickness from the cancer drugs, I was informed that United States Parole Commission had said no to Chris’s release. Now what? I had 30 days to file an appeal on his behalf, but in order have the strength to do so, I’d have to make the difficult decision to postpone further treatments.

“We can do this appeal another time,” Chris told me. “I have another hearing in two years. It can wait until then. You need to do what the doctor wants you to do.” We were two selfless people at odds – each one trying to convince the other that our own immediate needs should be put on hold for the benefit of the other.

Finally, I made a list. I weighed the pros and cons of my necessary cancer treatment against what I had committed to do for Chris. If I was successful with his appeal, he would find freedom after more than 20 years in prison.

My decision to put my treatment on hold against the protestations of Chris and my oncologist was two-fold. For one, my ego simply wouldn’t allow me to shuck my duties. I also knew that if I gave in to my predicament, I would die. Plain and simple. I knew this just as surely as I knew I could succeed at helping Chris regain his freedom. And so my decision was made. I would allow ego and distraction to save my life.

I wrote the appeal and submitted it. My duty finished, I then submitted to chemotherapy and radiation. Days passed. Then months. Finally, we heard back from the parole commission: we had won. Chris’s parole date was set for September of 2002.

On October 19, 2002, I celebrated six years of living with cancer and I married Christopher Boyce in the midst of the redwood trees in Occidental, California. He had been there every step of the way, through treatments, sickness, surgery, bone marrow transplant, and drugs. He had filled my mailbox with cards and letters until finally, he came home. Through it all, Chris had been my biggest cheerleader, even during times when I’d stopped cheering for myself.

In front of friends and family and with a new last name, I felt like I’d been given a fresh lease on life. Nothing would ever stand in my way. And while I would like to say that we lived happily ever after, that “ever after” was not without grief.

May of 2004 brought a recurrence of the same cancer, and it was back with a vengeance. With Chris’s support, I fought hard and well. In October 2006, another lump and cancer again. Injections and radiation every morning. Sickness and pain. I dyed my hair blue and filled my pockets with Tootsie Rolls to pass out to children going through the same radiation treatment.

Finally, in May of 2012, I heard my doctor speak a word that absolutely floored me: “Remission.” Complete remission. No more drugs. No more treatments. Sixteen years and 21 surgeries later, I had finally made it to the top of that mountain.

Looking back on it all, I believe that having the opportunity to focus on something other than my cancer was what truly saved me. Putting Chris’s needs ahead of my own and refusing to wallow in self-pity turned out to be the medicine that I needed. Turns out, a touch of denial – when combined with following doctor’s orders – can do a body good. I’m living proof. Emphasis on the word living.

Cait Boyce is married to Christopher Boyce, known to many as “The Falcon” from the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman. Their book, American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, tells of Chris’s experiences in prison and his 25-year journey to freedom. The book also details Cait’s successful two-decade quest to seek parole for Chris and his childhood friend, Andrew Daulton Lee. The 2017 expanded edition of American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online booksellers.

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How I got involved in the writing of “American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Sno

It’s strange to think that my decision to not go to college is what ultimately resulted in my getting involved with Christopher Boyce and the writing of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Yeah, there were plenty of other factors that played into it. My being a freelance writer probably helped out a bit—it certainly ensured that my writing chops were up to snuff. But if I had to boil it all down to any single choice I made throughout the course of my life, I believe it was my aversion to higher education that did it.

In 2004 I was 35 years old, neck-deep in debt, and working in a call center—not exactly the final refuge for the desperate and the under-educated, but certainly one of them. Too broke to afford the new album by my favorite band, Marillion, I turned to the internet and came across an online radio station that had it on regular rotation. With a few clicks of the mouse, I was able to hear with my own ears what progressive rock fans everywhere were raving about.

More importantly, through my discovery of the website’s online message board and chat room, I befriended a community of like-minded individuals who embraced me like a long lost friend. Within the span of just a few months, I graduated from casual listener to active participant by joining the ranks of online DJs. Together with my wonderful wife as my co-host, we shared in the realization of a lifelong adolescent dream: having our very own “radio show.” No pay, no contracts, and no target audience to please. Just a couple of music snobs imposing our taste on anyone willing to listen. We called the show Progopolis. It was awesome.

Okay, you’re probably wondering what the hell all of this has to do with Christopher Boyce, Andrew Daulton Lee, or the book. Hold on, it’s coming.

Before long, our fledgling little internet radio show had developed something of a respectable following. In 2010, I decided it would be fun to celebrate the 25th anniversary of what I still consider to be one of the best movie soundtracks ever: guitar virtuoso Pat Metheny’s score for the 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman. We played the album for our listeners in its entirety, most likely to the chagrin of those who’d tuned in to hear another batch of obscure Pink Floyd songs. But like I said, we weren’t obligated to please anyone but ourselves, and so the show went on.

I remember making the on-air comment that this was one of the rare cases of a soundtrack actually eclipsing the quality of the movie for which it was composed. I also recall rambling on about my adoration of a particular track titled “Daulton Lee,” named after one of the real-life characters in the movie. And of course there was the hit single, the unforgettable “This Is Not America” performed by David Bowie.

Not just a fan of the music, I’d also seen the movie quite a few times over the years. One of my fondest memories, in fact, has always been the day my big sister drove me 35 miles to see The Falcon and the Snowman just after its release in early 1985. I walked out of the theater that day absolutely intrigued. The movie was good. Not great, but solid. Hey, even Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs up (for whatever that’s worth). I thought the performances by Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were top-notch and the soundtrack was phenomenal. But it was the real-life story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee that really drew me in.

There was no internet back then, and so I went about my follow-up research in the old fashioned way. I found Robert Lindsey’s book The Falcon and the Snowman and blew through it. I read a bunch of magazine and newspaper articles through my high school library. Then I discovered that Lindsey had published a sequel titled Flight of the Falcon which told all about the manhunt for Christopher Boyce after he escaped from federal prison. Thrilled by the prospect of a perfect mash-up of James Bond and Escape From Alcatraz, I dove headlong into it.

I emerged even more fascinated than before, and for years I waited for Hollywood to produce a sequel to the original movie. After all, all of the necessary elements for a big hit were in place: a proven box office record, and a storyline that included a daring prison break, a worldwide manhunt, and a string of bank robberies. Who knows why it was never made? Maybe the idea languished in development hell for far too long. Maybe Timothy Hutton had no interest in reprising the role. Or maybe America wasn’t quite ready to root for an escaped spy. It was the 80s, after all.

As time passed, my interest in the story began to wane. I think the knowledge that a character as sympathetic as Christopher Boyce was going to spend the rest of his life in prison for making an epic mistake, while other more dangerous criminals moved in and out through a revolving door in the intervening time, didn’t sit well with me. It disturbed my sense of justice to picture a guy like him mingling with violent offenders. If ever a country club prison was an appropriate environment for anyone, I believed Christopher Boyce fit that bill. The only problem was, the authorities didn’t see it that way. As a result, he was sent to do time in some seriously hardcore places.

Andrew Daulton Lee was another story. After reading all about his endeavors to forge a career as a drug kingpin and his numerous brushes with the law, it was easy to see that this was a guy already headed for prison. This doesn’t mean I thought he deserved to be locked up for life. But the bottom line is that in many ways, I just didn’t feel the same compassion for the guy. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone.

Eventually, I let the both of them drift away from my consciousness. Sort of in the same manner that our ambitions and our dreams leave us. Bit by bit, ripple by ripple, the distance grows until one day you look back and can only marvel at the size of the gulf that’s grown between. At some point, my fondness for all things Falcon and all things Snowman melted into my appreciation of the old Pat Metheny record, and that was that.

Jump to 2010, and that fateful internet radio broadcast. A week later, I got an email from someone by the name of Cait Boyce who’d found out about the show and decided to let me know. I think she probably just wanted to thank me for not having used the platform as an opportunity to tread on the Boyce and Lee names as so many people often do, whether in support or admonition, whether inadvertently or on purpose. The truth is, I don’t remember much about that initial email message. What I do remember, however, was the sudden rush of information that followed it. When I emailed back with the obvious question “Are you related to Christopher Boyce?” and the answer came back saying “I’m his wife” it occurred to me that I had a lot of catching up to do.

Thanks primarily to an L.A. Times interview and article written by Richard A. Serrano (cleverly titled “The Falcon and the Fallout”) I learned that Christopher Boyce was released from prison in 2002. I also read that Andrew Daulton Lee had beat him to the punch by four years, becoming a free man in 1998. And it was all due to the efforts of one woman, Cait Mills, who had become Christopher Boyce’s wife after his release.

I was dumbfounded that either man had been paroled at all. I remember years earlier, cracking the lame joke, “If Christopher Boyce had only murdered a bunch of people instead of selling secrets to the Soviets, he’d have been free by now.” Could it be that the judicial system, which had always seemed to me to lean more in favor of imposing harsh sentences for intelligence and money crimes over violent acts like rape and murder, had come to its senses and extended mercy to a couple of guys whose greatest crime had been stupidity?

I was also a bit disappointed in myself to just now be finding out, so many years after the fact. Had it really been that long since I’d last Googled the names Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee? Apparently it had. But as I came to learn, that secrecy had been carefully orchestrated. Both men exited prison with only one desire: to lead quiet lives and to stay out of the spotlight. In the case of Daulton Lee’s release, there wasn’t so much as a single news story printed. And with the exception of the Serrano L.A. Times article, both Cait and Chris Boyce had successfully retreated to their quiet life together. I finally forgave myself for arriving so late to the party.

Gradually, Cait and I became friends. Our back and forth email correspondences and Facebook interactions revealed someone with whom I shared a lot in common, including a scathing sense of humor. I never asked her questions about Chris, and the extent to which we talked about The Falcon and the Snowman at all was limited to an occasional mention each time I saw the movie playing on cable TV. At some point, I bought the DVD and watched the movie again for the first time in ages. I even picked up reprint copies of both of Lindsey’s books and re-read them. My interest in the story, and in the men who had lived it and who had come out of the nightmare after decades in prison, was officially rekindled.

Then in 2012, Cait told me that she had been thinking of writing a book about her experiences. It would be a first-person account of how she became involved with Andrew Daulton Lee and Christopher Boyce, the legal efforts she undertook to win their parole while undergoing treatment for numerous bouts of cancer, and her marriage to “The Falcon.” She asked me if I thought a book would be a good idea. I said yes. She asked me if I thought anyone would be interested in reading the story. I told her that I’d be the first in line to get a copy and if that didn’t answer her question, nothing would. Then she did something totally unexpected. She asked me if I’d be interested in co-writing the book with her.

Needless to say, I answered in the affirmative. And so we set about the long odyssey of compiling 30 years’ worth of documents and anecdotes and memories and committing them to computer hard drive. Early in the process, the project took on an added dimension when Chris became involved. Pretty soon, the scope of the book grew and it was decided that we would not only focus on Cait’s experiences and her relationship with both men, but also on Chris’s experiences in prison and how he managed to survive that dark and horrible purgatory for so long. There were also a lot of unanswered questions and outright inaccuracies in the first two books that demanded to be corrected. And so the three of us began our collaboration.

Being involved in the writing of American Sons has been one of the most surreal and rewarding experiences of my life. And it’s all because I never went to college; it’s all because I was too poor to afford an album by my favorite band. Cait will probably tell you it’s because she really liked my writing or something, but think about it. Our paths would never have crossed if it wasn’t for the college thing. Strange how sometimes, bad decisions and lousy circumstances can bring forth truly positive things.

Vince Font is the co-author and publisher of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. He is also the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, an independent publisher with a growing list of titles.

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