Thursday, March 01, 2018

Five Best: Jason Matthews

on secret agents of the Cold War

By Jason Matthews
February 23, 2018

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The Spy Who Saved the World
By Jerrold L. Schecter & Peter S. Deriabin (1992)
1. OleG Penkovsky is widely considered the most consequential spy of the Cold War. He was a colonel in Soviet military intelligence who, in 1960, volunteered himself to Western intelligence and was jointly handled by MI6 and the CIA. Penkovsky had become disillusioned by Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and fearful of war between the superpowers. Described in this fascinating book as a driven idealist, he resolved to act. He produced 5,000 photographs of classified military documents, along with information about Soviet missile systems and, most famously, about the Russian deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba, including detailed plans and descriptions of launch sites. Penkovsky’s intelligence reporting during the Cuban Missile Crisis enabled President Kennedy to stare Khrushchev down and avert war. Despite signs that the KGB was watching him, Penkovsky continued passing secrets to the West. He was arrested in 1962 and, reportedly, executed in 1963 by being rolled alive into a crematorium oven as a warning to would-be spies.
A Secret Life
By Benjamin Weiser (2004)
2. Ryszard Kuklinski was a colonel in the Polish army who in the 1970s worked in the strategic command planning division coordinating Warsaw Pact war plans. Increasingly incensed at Moscow’s pervasive meddling in his country, Kuklinski volunteered, in 1972, to work with the CIA. Over the next nine years he passed 35,000 pages of classified documents on Soviet nuclear-weapons-use doctrine; the locations of Red Army command-and-control bunkers; Soviet techniques for hiding military assets from surveillance satellites; and Moscow’s plans to crush Poland’s burgeoning Solidarity movement. This gripping spy tale ends in 1981 when Polish counterintelligence agents began a mole hunt. Kuklinski’s handlers managed to get him safely to the U.S., where he died peacefully in 2004. He lies buried today in the row of honor in the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.
By Sergei Kostin & Eric Raynaud (2009)
3. Vladimir Vetrov was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB’s shadowy Line X, the division whose sole mission was to steal technology from the West, which it did on a massive scale in the 1980s. An engineer by training and morose by nature, Vetrov was a Francophile. Passed over for promotion and stuck in Moscow, a vengeful Vetrov volunteered—improbably—to the DST, the French internal security service, a law-enforcement agency utterly unschooled in handling spies in the counterintelligence cauldron of Moscow. This wry history, drawn from the files of the DST and the KGB, careers between the insouciance of the French handlers (in two years they never were caught) and their mercurial agent Vetrov. Vetrov gave the French the names of 250 Line X officers posted abroad, the names of 100 Line X sources, and 4,000 pages of documents that exposed the entire Soviet technology-transfer infrastructure. This information inspired the CIA to begin a covert action in which the Soviets were enticed into stealing technology designed to fail. Vetrov’s adventures came to a bizarre close. Having stabbed his mistress, he was sent to prison in 1982, where he bragged to a cellmate about his spying. The KGB having thus discovered his past, he was executed in 1985.
Circle of Treason
By Sandra Grimes & Jeanne Vertefeuille (2012)
4. Written by two members of the small team of CIA officers who eventually uncovered CIA traitor Aldrich Ames, this book includes the tragic story of the Russian who was reckoned to be the best source ever recruited by any intelligence service and who was reverently called “the crown jewel.” He was Dmitri Polyakov, a major general in Soviet military intelligence who, in 1961, volunteered to spy for the U.S., not for money or ego but “for his country.” Disgusted with Soviet corruption, he also nursed a grudge. During an early assignment to the United Nations, Polyakov had been denied permission by Moscow to take his sick son to a New York hospital. The child later died. Throughout his military career, Polyakov provided a stream of intelligence on Soviet strategic doctrine, the names of Americans and Britons spying for Moscow, and details of the Sino-Soviet split. Six years after his 1980 retirement, he was invited to GRU headquarters, ostensibly for a medal ceremony. He was arrested, tried and executed in 1988. Aldrich Ames had passed his name to Moscow.
The Billion Dollar Spy
By David E. Hoffman (2015)
5. Taken from the case files of the CIA, this story reads like a high-tech thriller. Adolf Tolkachev, an electronics engineer who worked at a Soviet radar-design bureau, tried for two years to volunteer to the CIA in Moscow. He finally made contact and in 1979 began providing hundreds of rolls of film of technical documents describing top-line Soviet fighter electronics and radar systems. Analysts characterized his reporting as of “incalculable” value, and the U.S. Air Force radically revised a number of projects based on the intelligence, claiming that he saved the country $1 billion. Aldrich Ames passed his name to the KGB, probably in 1985, and Tolkachev was stopped on a rural road and arrested. He was executed in 1986.

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