Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel on a 1990 USSR commemorative stamp
William August Fisher
July 11, 1903
|Died||November 15, 1971 68) (aged|
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
|Burial place||Moscow, Soviet Union|
|Spouse(s)||Elena Stepanovna Fisher|
|Parent(s)||Heinrich Matthaus Fisher |
Lyubov Vasilievna Fisher
|Codename||Andrew Yurgesovich Kayotis|
|Emil Robert Goldfus|
|Operations|| World War II |
Soviet Cold War spy
Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (Russian : Рудольф Иванович Абель), real name William August Fisher (Вильям Август Фишер), (July 11, 1903 – November 15, 1971) was a Soviet intelligence officer. He adopted his alias when arrested on charges of conspiracy by FBI agents in 1957.
Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.
The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.
Fisher was born in the United Kingdom to Russian émigré parents. He moved to Russia in the 1920s, and served in the Soviet military before undertaking foreign service as a radio operator in Soviet intelligence in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He later served in an instructional role before taking part in intelligence operations against the Germans during World War II. After the war, he began working for the KGB, which sent him to the United States where he worked as part of a spy ring based in New York City.
An émigré is a person who has emigrated, often with a connotation of political or social self-exile. The word is the past participle of the French émigrer, "to emigrate".
The KGB, translated in English as Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991. As a direct successor of preceding agencies such as the Cheka, NKGB, NKVD and MGB, the committee was attached to the Council of Ministers. It was the chief government agency of "union-republican jurisdiction", acting as internal security, intelligence and secret police. Similar agencies were constituted in each of the republics of the Soviet Union aside from Russia, and consisted of many ministries, state committees and state commissions.
The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.
In 1957, the U.S. Federal Court in New York convicted Fisher on three counts of conspiracy as a Soviet spy for his involvement in what became known as the Hollow Nickel Case and sentenced him to 30 years' imprisonment at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Georgia.He served just over four years of his sentence before he was exchanged for captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. Back in the Soviet Union, he lectured on his experiences. He died in 1971 at the age of 68.
The Hollow Nickel Case was the FBI investigation that grew out of the discovery of a container disguised as a U.S. coin and containing a coded message, eventually found to concern espionage activities of Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher on behalf of the Soviet Union.
The United States Penitentiary, Atlanta is a medium-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Atlanta, Georgia. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has a detention center for pretrial and holdover inmates, and a satellite prison camp for minimum-security male inmates.
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Georgia is the 24th largest and 8th-most populous of the 50 United States. Georgia is bordered to the north by Tennessee and North Carolina, to the northeast by South Carolina, to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by Florida, and to the west by Alabama. The state's nicknames include the Peach State and the Empire State of the South. Atlanta, a "beta(+)" global city, is both the state's capital and largest city. The Atlanta metropolitan area, with an estimated population of 5,949,951 in 2018, is the 9th most populous metropolitan area in the United States and contains about 60% of the entire state population.
Fisher was born William August Fisheron July 11, 1903, in the Benwell area of Newcastle upon Tyne, the second son of Heinrich and Lyubov Fisher. Revolutionaries of the Tsarist era, his father was of German origins and his mother was of Russian descent. Fisher's father, a revolutionary activist, taught and agitated with Vladimir Lenin at Saint Petersburg Technological Institute. In 1896 he was arrested for sedition and sentenced to three years internal exile. As Heinrich Fisher had served a sentence for offenses against the Russian state, he was forced to flee to the United Kingdom in 1901, the alternative being deportation to Germany or imprisonment in Russia for avoidance of military service. While living in the United Kingdom, Fisher's father, a keen Bolshevik, took part in gunrunning, shipping arms from the North East coast to the Baltic states.
Benwell is an area in the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Newcastle upon Tyne, commonly known as Newcastle, is a city in Tyne and Wear, North East England, 103 miles (166 km) south of Edinburgh and 277 miles (446 km) north of London on the northern bank of the River Tyne, 8.5 mi (13.7 km) from the North Sea. Newcastle is the most populous city in the North East, and forms the core of the Tyneside conurbation, the eighth most populous urban area in the United Kingdom. Newcastle is a member of the UK Core Cities Group and is a member of the Eurocities network of European cities.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his alias Lenin, was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1922 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism known as Leninism; his ideas were posthumously codified as Marxism–Leninism.
Fisher and his brother, Henry,won scholarships to Whitley Bay High School and Monkseaton High School. Though Fisher was not as hard working as Henry, he showed aptitude for science, mathematics, languages, art and music, inherited in part from his father's abilities. Encouraging their son's love of music, Fisher's parents gave him piano lessons; he also learned to play the guitar. It was during this period that Fisher developed an interest in amateur radio, constructing rudimentary spark transmitters and receivers.
Whitley Bay High School is a mixed upper school and sixth form located in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, England.
Monkseaton High School is a mixed, comprehensive school situated in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, England for 13- to 18-year-olds. There are 480 students on roll, 175 of whom are in the sixth form. The school has initiated or led a number of local and national initiatives aimed at raising standards.
Fisher became an apprentice draughtsman at Swan Hunter, Wallsend, and attended evening classes at Rutherford College before being accepted into London University in 1920.Though Fisher qualified for university, the costs prohibited him from attending. In 1921, following the Russian Revolution, the Fisher family left Newcastle upon Tyne to return to Moscow.
Swan Hunter, formerly known as Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, is a shipbuilding design, engineering, and management company, based in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, England.
Wallsend, historically Wallsend on Tyne, is a town in the metropolitan borough of North Tyneside, North East of England, in the traditional county of Northumberland. Wallsend derives its name as the location of the end of Hadrian's Wall. It has a population of 42,842 and lies 3.5 miles east of Newcastle City Centre. The population of the Wallsend ward of the North Tyneside Borough was at the 2011 census 10,304.
Northumbria University, is a university located in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, gaining university status in 1992.
Fluent in English, Russian, German, Polish and Yiddish,Fisher worked for the Comintern as a translator following his family's return to the Soviet Union. Trained as a radio operator, he served in a Red Army radio battalion in 1925 and 1926. He then worked briefly in the radio research institute before being recruited by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB, in May 1927. That year he married Elena Lebedeva, a harp student at Moscow Conservatoire. They had one child together, a daughter named Evelyn who was born on October 8, 1929. During his interview with the OGPU, it was determined he should adopt a Russian-sounding name and William August Fisher became Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher. Following his recruitment, he worked for the OGPU as a radio operator in Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and France. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1936, as head of a school that trained radio operators destined for duty in illegal residences. One of the students was the British-born Russian spy Kitty Harris, who was later more widely known as "The Spy with Seventeen Names".
Despite his foreign birth and the accusation that his brother-in-law was a Trotskyist, Fisher narrowly escaped the Great Purge. Операция Березино, Operatsiya Berenzino) in August 1944. Sudoplatov later described this operation as "the most successful radio deception game of the war". Fisher's role in this operation was rewarded with what his superiors regarded as one of the most prestigious postings in Russian foreign intelligence, the United States.He was, however, in 1938, dismissed from the NKVD, which in 1934, replaced the OGPU. During World War II, he again trained radio operators for clandestine work behind German lines. Having been adopted as a protégé by Pavel Sudoplatov, he took part in Operation Scherhorn (
After rejoining the KGB in 1946, Fisher was trained as a spy for entry into the United States. In October 1948, using a Soviet passport, he travelled from Leningradsky Station to Warsaw. In Warsaw, he discarded his Soviet passport and using a U.S. passport travelled via Czechoslovakia and Switzerland to Paris. Scythia from Le Havre, France, to North America, disembarking at Quebec. Still using Kayotis' passport, he went to Montreal and crossed into the United States on November 17.His new passport bore the name Andrew Kayotis, the first of Fisher's fake identities. The real Andrew Kayotis was Lithuanian born and had become an American citizen after migrating to the United States. Kayotis had applied for and received a visa to visit the Soviet Union. However, the Soviets retained his passport, which Fisher eventually used. Kayotis had been in poor health and died while visiting relatives in Vilnius, Lithuania. Fisher, as Kayotis, then travelled aboard the RMS
On November 26, Fisher met with Soviet "illegal" Josef Romvoldovich Grigulevich (codenamed "MAKS" or "ARTUR").Grigulevich gave Fisher a genuine birth certificate, a forged draft card and a forged tax certificate, all under the name of Emil Robert Goldfus, along with one thousand dollars. After handing back Kayotis's passport and documents, Fisher assumed the name Goldfus. His codename was "MARK". The real Goldfus had died at only 14 months, having been born on August 2, 1902, in New York. Goldfus's birth certificate was obtained by the NKVD at the end of the Spanish Civil War, when the Centre would collect identity documents from International Brigades members for use in espionage operations.
In July 1949, Fisher met with a "legal" KGB resident from the Soviet consulate general, who provided him with money. Shortly afterwards Fisher was ordered to reactivate the "Volunteer" network to smuggle atomic secrets to Russia.Members of the network had stopped cooperating after postwar security was tightened at Los Alamos. Lona Cohen (codenamed "LESLE") and her husband Morris Cohen (codenamed "LUIS" and "VOLUNTEER") had run the Volunteer network and were seasoned couriers. Theodore "Ted" Hall (codenamed "MLAD"), a physicist, was the most important agent in the network in 1945, passing atomic secrets from Los Alamos. The Volunteer network grew to include "Aden" and "Serb", nuclear physicists contacted by Hall, and "Silver". Fisher spent most of his first year organizing his network. While it is not known for certain where Fisher went or what he did, it is believed he travelled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the collection point for stolen diagrams from the Manhattan Project. Kitty Harris, a former pupil of Fisher's, had spent a year in Santa Fe during the war, where she passed secrets from physicists to couriers. During this period, Fisher received the Order of the Red Banner, an important Soviet medal normally reserved for military personnel.
In 1950, Fisher's illegal residency was endangered by the arrest of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for whom Lona Cohen had been a courier. The Cohens were quickly spirited to Mexico before moving on to Moscow. They were to resurface in the United Kingdom using the identities of Peter and Helen Kroger.Fisher was relieved the Rosenbergs did not disclose any information about him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but the arrests heralded a bleak outlook for his new spy network. However, on October 21, 1952, as instructed by Moscow, Reino Häyhänen left a thumbtack on a signpost in New York's Central Park. The thumbtack signaled to Fisher that Häyhänen, his new assistant, had arrived. Codenamed "VIK", Häyhänen arrived in New York on the RMS Queen Mary, under the alias Eugene Nikolai Maki. The real Maki had been born in the United States to a Finnish-American father and a New York mother in 1919. In 1927, the family migrated to Estonia. In 1948, the KGB called Häyhänen to Moscow where they issued him a new assignment. In 1949, Häyhänen freely obtained Maki's birth certificate. He was then to spend three years in Finland taking over Maki's identity.
After arriving in New York, Häyhänen spent the next two years establishing his identity.During that time he received money from his superiors left in dead-letter boxes in the Bronx and Manhattan. It is known he occasionally drew attention to himself by indulging in heavy drinking sessions and heated arguments with his Finnish wife Hannah. For six months Häyhänen checked the thumbtack and no one had made contact. He also checked a dead-drop location he had memorized. There he found a hollowed-out nickel. However, prior to opening the coin Häyhänen had misplaced it, either buying a newspaper with it or using it as a subway token. For the next seven months the hollow nickel travelled around the New York City economy, unopened. The trail of the hollow nickel ended when a thirteen-year-old newsboy was collecting for his weekly deliveries. The newsboy accidentally dropped the nickel and it broke in half, revealing a microphotograph containing a series of numbers. The newsboy handed the nickel to a New York detective, who in turn forwarded it to the FBI. From 1953 to 1957, though every effort was made to decipher the microphotograph, the FBI was unable to solve the mystery.
Late in 1953, Fisher moved to Brooklyn and rented a room in a boarding house on Hicks Street. He also rented a fifth-floor studio at the Ovington Studios Building on Fulton Street. Since he was posing as an artist and photographer, nobody questioned his irregular working hours and frequent disappearances.Over time his artistic technique improved and he became a competent painter, though he disliked abstract painting, preferring more conventional styles. He mingled with New York artists, who were surprised by his admiration for the Russian painter Isaak Levitan, although Fisher was careful not to discuss Stalinist "socialist realism". The only visitors to Fisher's studio were artist friends with whom he felt safe from suspicion. In particular, he became a friend of Burton Silverman. Fisher sometimes related made-up stories of previous lives, as a Boston accountant and a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1954, Häyhänen began working as Fisher's assistant. He was to deliver a report from a Soviet agent at the United Nations secretariat, to a dead-letter box for collection. However the report never arrived. equivalent to $46,764in 2018), destined for the wife of the Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who in 1951 was sentenced to thirty years in jail.Fisher was disturbed by Häyhänen's lack of work ethics and his obsession with alcohol. In the spring of 1955, Fisher and Häyhänen visited Bear Mountain Park, and buried five thousand dollars, (
In 1955, Fisher, exhausted by the constant pressure, returned to Moscow for six months of rest and recuperation, leaving Häyhänen in charge. While in Moscow, Fisher informed his superiors of his dissatisfaction with Häyhänen. Upon his return to New York in 1956, he found that his carefully constructed network had been left to disintegrate in his absence.Fisher checked his drop points only to find messages several months old, while Häyhänen's radio transmissions had routinely been sent from the same location using incorrect radio frequencies. The money Häyhänen received from the KGB to support the network was instead spent on alcohol and prostitutes.
By early 1957, Fisher had lost patience with Häyhänen and demanded that Moscow recall his deputy.In January 1957, Häyhänen received a message from Moscow promoting him to Lieutenant Colonel and granting him leave in the Soviet Union. Upon hearing he was due to return to Moscow, Häyhänen was fearful that he would be severely disciplined or even executed. Häyhänen fabricated stories to justify his delay, claiming to Fisher that the FBI had taken him off the RMS Queen Mary. Fisher, unsuspecting, advised Häyhänen to leave the U.S. immediately to avoid FBI surveillance and handed him two hundred dollars for travel expenses. Prior to his departure, Häyhänen returned to Bear Mountain Park and retrieved the buried five thousand dollars for his own use. Häyhänen arrived in Paris on May Day, having sailed from the U.S. aboard La Liberté. Making contact with the KGB residency he received another two hundred dollars for his journey to Moscow. Four days later, instead of continuing his journey to the Soviet Union he entered the American embassy in Paris, announcing that he was a KGB officer and asking for asylum.
When Häyhänen announced himself at the embassy on 4 May, he appeared drunk. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials at the Paris embassy did not find Häyhänen's story credible. They were not convinced he might actually be a Russian spy until he produced a hollow Finnish 5-mark coin. Upon opening the coin a square of microfilm was revealed.On May 11, the CIA returned him to the United States and handed him over to the FBI. As a member of a Soviet spy ring operating on American soil, Häyhänen came under the FBI's jurisdiction and they began verifying his story.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Häyhänen was interrogated by the FBI and proved very cooperative. He admitted his first Soviet contact in New York had been "MIKHAIL" and upon being shown a series of photographs of Soviet officials identified "MIKHAIL" as Mikhail Svirin. Svirin, however, had returned to Moscow two years previously. The FBI then turned its attention to Svirin's replacement. Häyhänen was able only to provide Fisher's codename, "MARK", and a description. He was, however, able to tell the FBI about Fisher's studio and its location.Häyhänen was also able to solve the mystery of the "hollow nickel," which the FBI had been unable to decipher for four years.
The KGB did not discover Häyhänen's defection until August, although it is more than likely they notified Fisher earlier when Häyhänen failed to arrive in Moscow. As a precaution, Fisher was ordered to leave the United States.Escape was complicated because, if "MARK" had been compromised by Häyhänen, Fisher's other identities could have been compromised as well. Fisher could not leave the country as Martin Collins, Emil Goldfus, or even the long-forgotten Andrew Kayotis. The KGB Center, with the help of KGB's Ottawa resident, set about procuring two new passports for Fisher in the names of Robert Callan and Vasili Dzogol, but this process would take time. The Canadian Communist Party succeeded in obtaining a new passport for Fisher in the name of Robert Callan. Fisher, however, was arrested before he could adopt his new identity and leave the United States.
In April 1957, Fisher told his artist friends he was going south on a seven-week vacation. Less than three weeks later, acting on Häyhänen's information, surveillance was established near Fisher's photo studio. On May 28, 1957, in a small park opposite Fulton Street, FBI agents spotted a man acting nervously. From time to time the man got up, walked around, and eventually left. FBI agents were convinced he fit the description of "MARK". The surveillance continued on "MARK" and, on the night of June 13, a light was seen to go on in Fisher's studio at 10:00 pm.
On June 15, 1957, Häyhänen was shown a photograph of Fisher taken by the FBI with a hidden camera. Häyhänen confirmed that it was "MARK" in the photograph.Once the FBI had a positive identification, they stepped up surveillance, following Fisher from his studio to the Hotel Latham. Fisher was aware of the "tail" but, as he had no passport to leave the country, he devised a plan to be used upon his capture. Fisher decided that he would not turn traitor as Häyhänen had done because he still trusted the KGB and he knew that if he cooperated with the FBI, he would not see his wife and daughter again.
At 7:00 am on June 21, 1957, Fisher answered a knock on the door to his room, Room 839.Upon opening the door, he was confronted by FBI agents who addressed him as "colonel" and stated that they had "information concerning [his] involvement in espionage." Fisher knew that the FBI's use of his rank could have only come from Häyhänen. Fisher said nothing to the FBI and, after spending twenty-three minutes staring at Fisher, the FBI agents called in the waiting Immigration and Naturalization Service officers who arrested Fisher and detained him under section 242 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Fisher was then flown to the Federal Alien Detention Facility in McAllen, Texas, and held there for six weeks.During this period Fisher stated that his "real" name was Rudolf Ivanovich Abel and that he was a Soviet citizen, although he refused to discuss his intelligence activities. The name "Rudolf Ivanovich Abel" was that of a deceased friend and a KGB colonel; Fisher knew as soon as The Centre saw the name Abel on the front pages of American newspapers they would realize he had been captured.
During Fisher's detainment the FBI had been searching his hotel room and photo studio, where they discovered espionage equipment including shortwave radios, cipher pads, cameras and film for producing microdots, a hollow shaving brush, and numerous "trick" containers including hollowed-out bolts.In Fisher's New York hotel room the FBI found four thousand dollars, a hollow ebony block containing a 250-page Russian codebook, a hollow pencil containing encrypted messages on microfilm and a key to a safe-deposit box containing another fifteen thousand dollars in cash. Also discovered were photographs of the Cohens and recognition phrases to establish contact between agents who had never met before.
As Fisher was no longer considered an alleged illegal alien, but rather an alleged spy, he was flown from Texas to New York on August 7, 1957, to answer the indictment. Fisher was subsequently indicted to stand trial as a Russian spy.The Brooklyn Bar Association approached several prominent trial lawyers with political ambitions, all of whom declined the case. They then contacted James B. Donovan. Because he had served as a wartime counsel in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and had years of courtroom experience, the Bar Association believed Donovan was uniquely qualified to act as Fisher's defense lawyer. At Donovan's initial meeting with Fisher, the latter accepted Donovan as his defense counsel. Donovan subsequently brought in attorney Thomas M. Debevoise to assist him; Fisher was tried in Federal Court at New York City during October 1957, on three counts:
Häyhänen, Fisher's former assistant, testified against him at the trial.The prosecution failed to find any other alleged members of Fisher's spy network, if there were any. The jury retired for three and a half hours and returned on the afternoon of October 25, 1957, finding Fisher guilty on all three counts. On November 15, 1957, Judge Mortimer W. Byers imposed on Fisher a total sentence of thirty years and fines of three thousand dollars. The United States Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a vote of 5-4.
Fisher, or "Rudolf Ivanovich Abel", was to serve his sentence (as prisoner 80016–A)at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Georgia. He occupied himself with painting, learning silk-screening, playing chess, and writing logarithmic tables for the sheer enjoyment of it. He became friends with two other convicted Soviet spies. One of these was Morton Sobell, whose wife had failed to receive the five thousand dollars embezzled by Häyhänen. The other prisoner was Kurt Ponger, an Austrian who had been sentenced for conspiracy to commit espionage.
Fisher served just over four years of his sentence. On February 10, 1962, he was exchanged for the shot-down American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. The exchange took place on the Glienicke Bridge that linked West Berlin with Potsdam, which became famous during the Cold War as the "Bridge of Spies".At precisely the same time, at Checkpoint Charlie, Frederic Pryor was released by the East German Stasi into the waiting arms of his father. A few days later Fisher, reunited with his wife Elena and daughter Evelyn, flew home. For the sake of its own reputation it suited the KGB to portray "Abel's" nine years of being an undetected agent in the United States as a triumph by a dedicated NKVD member. The myth of the master spy Rudolf Abel replaced the reality of Fisher's illegal residency. Yet the party hierarchy was well aware that Fisher had achieved nothing of real significance. During his eight years as an illegal resident he appears not to have recruited, or even identified, a single potential agent.
After his return to Moscow, Fisher was employed by the Illegals Directorate of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, giving speeches and lecturing school children on intelligence work, but became increasingly disillusioned.He made a notable appearance in the foreword to the Soviet spy film Dead Season and also worked as a consultant on the film. Fisher, who was a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer on November 15, 1971. His ashes were interred at the Donskoy Cemetery under his real name, and a few Western correspondents were invited there to view for themselves the true identity of the spy who never "broke".
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