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Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers

A MILITARY HELICOPTER was on the ground when Russell Guy arrived at the helipad near Tallinn, Estonia, with a briefcase filled with $250,000 in cash. The place made him uncomfortable. It didn’t look like a military base, not exactly, but there were men who looked like soldiers standing around. With guns.

The year was 1989. The Soviet Union was falling apart, and some of its military officers were busy selling off the pieces. By the time Guy arrived at the helipad, most of the goods had already been off-loaded from the chopper and spirited away. The crates he’d come for were all that was left. As he pried the lid off one to inspect the goods, he got a powerful whiff of pine. It was a box inside a box, and the space in between was packed with juniper needles. Guy figured the guys who packed it were used to handling cargo that had to get past drug-sniffing dogs, but it wasn’t drugs he was there for.

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