The 1960s

Oleg Penkovsky

Soviet GRU Col. Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky served as an agent-in-place for U.S. and British intelligence from late 1960 until his arrest in October 1962. He has been described by former Deputy Director for Intelligence Ray Cline as "the most successful CIA secret agent of the late Dulles-early McCone era." [The CIA Under Reagan, Bush, and Casey (1981), p. 222.] Christopher Andrew credits Penkovsky's intelligence with playing a role in President Kennedy's handling of both the Berlin and Cuban Missile crises. [For the President's Eyes Only (1995), pp. 269-271, 273, 285, 290.]

A television show on the Penkovsky case was shown as "Fatal Encounter," BBC 1, 8 May 1991. [Schecter and Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World, fn. 17, p. 472.]

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."

Blackstock, Paul W. "The CIA and the Penkovskiy Affair: 'A New Dis-Service for all Concerned.'" Worldview 9 (Feb. 1966): 11-15. [Petersen]

Dobryukha, Nikolai. "Conversations With a Former KGB Chief." Moscow Times, 16 Mar. 2001, VI. [http://www.themoscowtimes.com]

This article is an excerpt from the memoirs of Vladimir Semichastny who headed the KGB from 1961 to 1967. Semichastny discusses the Penkovsky case, essentially downplaying its significance to the Soviet state or to world affairs.

Duns, Jeremy. Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War's Most Dangerous Operation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

To Peake, Studies 57.4 (Dec. 2013), the author's "speculation has only fortune-cookie plausibility and fails to illuminate this dark corner of counterintelligence history." Try Schecter and Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World (1992) instead.

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."

Kross, Peter. "Oleg Penkovsky Provided Some of the Most Vital Intelligence of the Cold War --Until the Soviets Found Out." Military History 20, no. 5 (Dec. 2003): 10-13.

Kross supplies a brief look at Penkovsky and his contribution to Western security.

Penkovsky, Oleg. The Penkovsky Papers. Intro. & commentary, Frank Gibney. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. New York: Avon, 1966. [pb] New York: Ballantine, 1982. [pb]

Given the controversy that surrounded the publication of this book, it is noteworthy that the baseline validity of The Penkovsky Papers (as well as the importance of Penkovsky's information) has been firmly established by the Church Committee and, more recently, by Schecter and Deriabin's The Spy Who Saved the World (1992).

Schecter, Jerrold L., and Peter S. Deriabin. The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War. New York: Scribner's, 1992. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1995. [pb]

Clark comment: Ignore the title, but read the book. It is unlikely that Penkovsky's story will be better told any time in the near future. Despite the numerous quotations from Penkovsky's interviews with his U.S. and British case officers (he met with them 42 times), the authors present their text in a readable fashion. No, the question of how the Soviets originally got onto Penkovsky is not resolved; but most other aspects of Penkovsky the spy are given clear exposition, and the reader gets a closer feel for Penkovsky the man.

Peake, FILS 11.6, calls this "the best study of the Penkovsky case that ... is likely to appear." The authors "combine expertise and skillful writing and analysis with well documented case details." The Spy Who Saved the World "will become a classic." This view is similarly expressed by Allen, DIJ 1.2: "[T]his highly readable book appears to be the best on the subject to date."

According to Scott, I&NS 8.4, this "fascinating book about a fascinating subject ... [is] based on documentary evidence," but the authors "do not substantiate their very bold assertion that it was Penkovsky's intelligence that was decisive in the Kennedy administration's policy-making.... [O]ne area where the material ... is most illuminating is on Penkovsky's motives and his character."

Evans, IJI&C 7.2, recommends this "comprehensive account ... for history students, intelligence buffs, and people who earn their keep coping ... with espionage agents." The reviewer has two reservations: "the title misleads, and the contents slight the worth of a parallel operation.... The parallel operation consisted of American overhead reconnaissance flights photographing Soviet missile installations."

To Bates, NIPQ 9.2, the book is "well worth your time." Cram calls it "one of the great yarns of modern intelligence literature"; Penkovsky's "heroic story could not be better told." Similarly, Powers, NYRB (13 May 1993) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 295-320, sees the book as "a virtually unique study of an agent and his handling, but the title is hyperbole all the same.... The Spy Who Saved the World is one of best intelligence books in recent years, filled with surprises."

Richard Helms, with William Hood, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency (New York: Random House, 2003), 219/fn., says that "[t]his excellent book gives an informed, inside view of the entire Penkovsky operation."

Scott, Len. "Espionage and the Cold War: Oleg Penkovsky and the Cuban Missile Crisis." Intelligence and National Security 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1999): 23-47.

"The significance of Penkovsky's intelligence in the Cuban missile crisis ... has been sensationalised and distorted.... This conclusion is not to 'debunk' Penkovsky or to denigrate his espionage. It is to emphasise that the Cuban missile crisis is not a useful way of adjudicating on the importance of Penkovsky's espionage and that Penkovsky's espionage is not a fruitful way of examining the Cuban missile crisis."

USSR. Trial in the Criminal Case of the Agent of the British and American Intelligence Services, Citizen of the USSR, O.V. Penkovsky, and the Spy Go-Between, G.M. Wynne, 7-11 May 1963. Moscow: Political Literature Publishing House, 1963.

Wynne, Greville.

1. The Man from Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky. London: Hutchinson, 1967. Contact on Gorky Street. New York: Atheneum, 1968.

Clark comment: Wynne's account should be crosschecked with Schecter and Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World. To Pforzheimer, this book is a "British agent's first-hand, though somewhat colored, account of his missions" to contact Penkovskiy. Constantinides says "the principal value of Wynne's account is ... that it is the only first-hand one on this important espionage case. It contains examples of good tradecraft required for the secure handling of a sensitive agent in a hostile environment. Concurrently, he alleges instances of questionable security and tradecraft."

2. The Man from Odessa. London: Hale, 1981.

Rocca and Dziak: "An autobiographical introduction to Wynne's role in the Penkovskiy case. It also includes new material" that is "difficult to cross-check." (Clark comment: Wynne's account should be crosschecked with Schecter and Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World.)

Zorza, Victor.

1. "Soviet Expert Thinks 'Penkovsky Papers' Are a Forgery." Washington Post, 15 Nov 1965.

2. "Soviet Expert Doubts Validity of Controversial 'Papers'; Usage in 'Penkovsky' Said to Prove Forgery." Washington Post, 16 Nov 1965.

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