CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

The 1950s

Pyotr Popov

Pyotr Semyonovich Popov was a major with Soviet military intelligence (GRU) when he contacted American intelligence in Vienna in 1953 and offered his services as a spy for the United States. Popov was arrested by the Soviets in 1958. During the period when he was working for the United States, he was "the CIA's most important agent." Andrew, For the President's Eyes Only, pp. 213-214.

References to Popov, although not by name, appear in Rositzke's The CIA's Secret Operations (1977) and DeSilva's Sub-Rosa (1978) and, by name, in Epstein's Legend (1978). Ashley's CIA SpyMaster (2004) is a biography of Popov's case officer, George Kisevalter.

Ashley, Clarence. CIA SpyMaster. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2004.

Clark comment: This is a biography of CIA case officer George Kisevalter. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kisevalter's language skills and personality placed him at the center of some of the CIA's most significant spy cases. His resume including working with Pyotr Popov, Oleg Penkovsky, and Yuri Nosenko. Ashley's presentation is both more and less than a biography. Because of the author's use of taped conversations with Kisevalter, the book has some of the flavor of an autobiography. This comes complete with possible hyberbole on the part of the speaker, who enjoyed telling his stories. On the other hand, Ashley has clearly sought to fill some of the gaps and to validate the details by additional research and interviews with some of the people who had worked with or near Kisevalter. However, this is not the standard academic biography, with substantial accompanying documentation (nor does the author claim it to be such). Some level of fact checking and/or comparison with other accounts is needed. Nevertheless, since he was so close to the Popov and Penkovsky cases, just hearing Kisevalter's take on two of this country's most significant spies is worth the price of admission.

According to Peake, Studies 49.1 (2005), this "is a sympathetic biography of a unique CIA intelligence officer who served his adopted country with honor and dedication." Goulden, Intelligencer 14.2 (Winter-Spring 2005), comments that "the book provides keen insight into what a CIA case officer actually does in the field." Although the author's "prose takes the reader down some rabbit trails that would have best been left unexplored[,]... 'hearing' Kisevalter's story in his own voice is a remarkable memento of a remarkable man."

For Bath, NIPQ 21.2 (Jun. 2005), this work "is more than the record of a skilled intelligence officer, it also offers a rare picture of the case officer's day-to-day activities and challenges." Schecter, I&NS 20.4 (Dec. 2005), notes that Ashley based this work "on a month long series of interviews" with Kisevalter, "his business friend." Kisevalter's "insights in Popov's character, why he defected and stayed on as an agent in place until exposed and executed go far beyond any previous public accounts of the case." His memories of the Penkovsky case add "important details on the tradecraft used and his own role."

Hart, John Limond. The CIA's Russians. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2003.

In the "Foreword" (ix), William E. Colby noted that the author brought the approach of a "professional intelligence operator who also is a scholar" to this work. "[H]is depiction comes from many years of involvement in the recruitment, management, and sometimes even psychological counseling of real spies."

Peake, I&NS 19.2, finds that "[d]espite the relatively small sample of cases, Hart combines his experience and access to the case files to reach some first-order conclusions. They are important though not surprising." Seamon, Proceedings 129.8 (Aug. 2003), adds that the author spices his stories "with illuminating insights commendably free from any taint of professional jargon." Jonkers, AFIO WIN 20-03 (27 May 2003), calls this an "[o]utstanding book. Get a feel for what these spies were really like as human beings. Good, useful reading."

Focusing on Hart's handling of Yuri Nosenko and James J. Angleton, Evans, IJI&C 17.3 finds little to please in the book. Evans believes that an "unstated but blatant purpose of the book is to defend Nosenko.... A second, yet by no means secondary underlying purpose ... is to denigrate" Angleton. "Instead of helping the intelligence historian or the current case officer, Hart has transformed the CIA's Cold War operations into mere polemics."

Hart, John Limond. "Pyotr Semyonovich Popov: The Tribulations of Faith." Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 4 (Oct. 1997): 44-74.

Although he argues that Popov "made an important contribution" to U.S. intelligence, Hart's article focuses on the GRU officer's personality and motivation. The author concludes that Popov's career as a U.S. agent "was the product of complex and often subtle motivation," but the reasons for his actions were "in no way ideological." It is interesting that, as Hart tells it, Popov was not a very good GRU officer, but became quite capable at getting his CIA handlers the information they wanted and at anticipating what they might want.

Hart, a retired senior CIA officer, criticizes the Agency for not making a major effort to dissuade Popov from complying with the order to return to the Soviet Union. Instead, the CIA officers seem to have gone along with Popov who was in one of his "irrationally optimistic phases."

Hood, William. Mole. New York: Norton, 1982. New York: Ballantine, 1983. [pb] Mole: The True Story of the First Russian Intelligence Officer Recruited by the CIA. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1993. [pb]

Clark comment: Hood served with OSS in England, France, and Switzerland. He later was a CIA Station Chief and retired in 1975. See his review of Mailer's Harlot's Ghost in IJI&C 6.1. Halpern, IJI&C 1.1, suggests that Mole is a better way to learn about counterintelligence than Stansfield Turner's Secrecy and Democracy. To Pforzheimer, this is "an excellent contribution to operational intelligence training. It is replete with tradecraft." Petersen sees Mole as "an excellent account of U.S. penetration of Soviet military intelligence." Noting Brassey's 1993 reprint, Surveillant 4.4/5 terms the book an "intelligence and tradecraft classic."

Powers, Thomas. "The Bloodless War." New York Review of Books, 23 Oct. 1997. Chapter 8 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 141-158. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

The author looks at the Cold War through Murphy, Kondrashev, and Bailey's Battleground Berlin (1997), Whitney's Spy Trader (1993), and Wolf's Man Without a Face (1997). "Anyone interested in just how complex a counterintelligence case can become should read the fourteen pages in which Battleground Berlin lays out the intricate web of what was known to whom, through which channels," as the KGB closed in on Col. Pyotr Popov.

Smith, Richard Harris. "The First Moscow Station: An Espionage Footnote to Cold War History." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 3, no. 3 (1989): 333-346.

The author notes that scholars impose a two-pronged test on discussions of HUMINT sources -- significance and documentation -- and implies that Popov may meet both those requirements. The article tells the story (unconfirmed) of Edward Ellis Smith as first CIA officer in Moscow, highlighting differences with Peer DeSilva's account and relationship to Popov.

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