Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spies in Northern Virginia

Robert Hanssen

Excerpted from: The Hidden History of Northern Virginia

Not surprisingly, the Washington D.C. area was a hotbed of spy vs. spy activity during the Cold War. Two of the most notorious traitors emerging from the Cold War era were native born Americans living in Northern Virignia. Aldridge Ames, a CIA employee became the best paid traitor in American history by selling secrets to the Soviets for some five million dollars in the late 1980s. This information resulted in the deaths of ten counter-intelligence agents working for the United States. Colleagues became suspicious when Ames began living a lavish lifestyle far beyond his apparent means, at one point paying cash for an expensive home in Arlington. Ames was arrested in 1994, and is serving a life sentence without parole. Even more notorious was Robert Philip Hanssen, an FBI agent who spied for the Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for over twenty-two years. Hanssen’s activities have been characterized as, “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history”. Hanssen was arrested February 18, 2001 at Foxstone Park (a favorite secret drop off point for the spy) near his home in Vienna, Virginia. Hanssen is serving a life sentence without parole.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Virginia's Civil War Generals

Civil War historian Don Hakenson gives insights into Virginia's greatest Civil War generals.

Time Travel 21 - Your portal to the Past, Present, and Future

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Treasures of Jose Gaspar (Gasparilla)

The Pirate Jose Gaspar

Perhaps the greatest of Florida's pirates was Jose Gaspar. The memory of Jose Gaspar, or "Gasparilla", has been honored every year since 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a society of Tampa business and professional men, who sail into Tampa Bay every February to capture the city, have a huge parade and stage a Pirate's Ball. Many people have lost sight of the historic Jose Gaspar amidst all the carnival revelry. The real Gasparilla was born near Seville, Spain in 1756 to parents belonging to the minor aristocracy. As a boy Gasparilla was high spirited. At the age of twelve he kidnapped a neighbor's daughter holding her for ransom. As a result of this escapade he was given the choice of prison or the Spanish navy. He chose the navy and spent six years learning the ways of ships, pistols and swords. Having risen honorably in the Spanish navy, Gaspar might have led a respectable life, but once again a woman proved his undoing. Spurning the affection of a noble lady, Gaspar became the object this powerful woman's wrath. Escaping her murderous desire for revenge Gasparilla went a-pirating; declaring war against Spain.

Gasparilla operated at a period favoring piracy; Spanish strength was at a low point, the new Latin American republics had no navies, and England and the United States were recovering from the Revolutionary War. By 1795 Gasparilla had captured and burned some thirty six Spanish ships. He was to continue making war on Spain for another quarter of a century.

Although Gasparilla was a man of polished manners, who liked fashionable clothing, and had a streak of nostalgic romance in his character, he was as cruel as the worst product of the London slums. As soon as a ship was captured the male prisoners were knifed in the back and tossed overboard. Many of the female prisoners fared no better. The old, ugly, and infirm were tossed to the sharks, as were any children. Those women that Gasparilla spared were divided among the officers and the crew.

After years of successful pirating Gasparilla felt the need for a stronghold where he could house his prisoners and warehouse his riches. Above all, he needed a place where he could live as a gentleman between voyages. He selected an island at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor on the wild, west coast of Florida.

After the War of 1812 the tide turned against the pirates of the Gulf. The United States began to send strong naval forces to patrol these waters. Merchant ships became better armed and manned. Many pirates started looking for easy pickings in Central and South America. By 1821 Gasparilla was the only major pirate still operating in the Gulf or Caribbean, and even he could see the handwriting on the wall. At age 65 he began dismantling his stronghold, intending to move to South America. But before he could make good his escape he fell into a cleverly laid trap.

On the very morning Gasparilla planned to leave Florida forever, a large ship was sighted from the watch tower. The ship was apparently a rich British merchantman. The prospect of taking this rich prize was too much for Gasparilla to resist. The pirates, in a vessel already heavily laden with treasure, bore down on the unfortunate merchantman. When they came in firing range, however, the false sides of the merchantman fell away revealing scores of U.S. Naval guns. The American flag was run up, and the ENTERPRISE raked the pirates with shot and chain.

Outsmarted and outgunned Gasparilla realized his mistake too late. As the pirate ship began to sink, Gasparilla wrapped the anchor chain around his waist and threw himself into the sea.

Gasparilla is said to have buried a treasure on Christmas Island near the mouth of Tampa Bay. Gasparilla's main base was on Upper Captiva Island, off Ft. Myers. In 1953 a treasure hunter dug up a chest containing $17,000 in silver and gold coins in this area. Gasparilla supposedly buried other such treasures on Gasparilla Island off Charlotte Harbor, north of Ft. Myers, and on Anastasia Island, near St. Augustine.

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