Kovacevic on Geopolitics

Whether or not there was in fact any Russian “hacking” of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it is not possible to deny the ineptness and incompetence of the CIA in dealing with this issue. The public statements of its leading figures as well as the declassified reports released to the public so far have only further discredited the CIA leadership in the eyes of objective observers and impartial intelligence specialists. Any student in the top 25 percent of my classes could have written a segment on the RT TV channel included in the recent report. And I am sure that he or she would have used more recent sources than the fall of 2012.[1]

It is mind-boggling to think that the U.S. taxpayers have been subsidizing this kind of shoddy work with tens of billions of dollars every year. How many hospitals and schools could have been built and how many people could have obtained decent health care and received university scholarships on this money! There is no doubt in my mind that all those responsible for this tragic waste of money and other resources must be fired and replaced by conscientious individuals whose expertise will rise above political opportunism.

This is not the first time that the CIA has proven to be woefully inadequate to protect the key national security interests of the U.S. In fact, it appears that its biggest and most damaging failure took place in the 1950s when the formidable Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, penetrated it by recruiting an insider who was never discovered. It all went downhill from then on.

The Golitsyn-Nosenko Affair

The issue of an undiscovered KGB spy in the top echelons of the CIA represented the crux of the infamous Golitsyn-Nosenko affair which pitted different departments within the CIA against one another in the 1960s and severely impacted the work of the agency for years. On one side, there was the long-time CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton and the CIA Soviet section officers Tennent (Pete) Bagley and David Murphy. On the other, there was the CIA chief William Colby and the CIA officers Bruce Solie and John Hart.

The context as well as both the prologue and the epilogue to the affair are described in detail in Pete Bagley’s 2007 book Spy Wars.[2] It essentially came down to the question of which KGB defector was to be trusted: Anatoly Golitsyn or Yuri Nosenko.

Golitsyn was the first of the two to defect to the West, already in December 1961. His key message was that the KGB penetrated the leadership of all Western intelligence agencies. Not only the CIA, but also the MI-5 & 6 and the French DGSE. Though this claim may sound incredible, the subsequent escape to Russia of Kim Philby, who was one step removed from being the head of MI-6 and was the key liaison between the MI-6 and the CIA in the late 1940s, and the resignation of the MI-5 chief Roger Hollis in the mid-1960s demonstrated that Bagley and Angleton were far from being paranoid (as they were slandered by their opponents) in taking the side of Golitsyn.

However, that was not all Golitsyn claimed. He also insisted that all the defectors coming after him would be KGB plants sent to confuse and disorient the CIA and distract it from searching for a mole in its midst. This mole had been passing the KGB the valuable information with the potential to expose and damage most CIA operations in Europe and elsewhere, including the recruitment efforts within the Soviet Union.

The first KGB defector who came after Golitsyn was Nosenko. He first contacted the CIA in May 1962 in Geneva (where he was handled by Bagley), but decided to return to the Soviet Union. Then, in January 1964, Nosenko re-appeared in Geneva and turned himself over to the CIA.

The basic difference between Golitsyn’s and Nosenko’s claims was that while Golitsyn claimed that the Western intelligence agencies were penetrated, Nosenko claimed that they were not, that everything was fine, and that there was no reason to worry. That was precisely what Golitsyn claimed that any subsequent defector, a KGB plant, would do.

Golitsyn’s claim was the reason why Angleton had Nosenko confined for years in a special CIA prison and subjected to constant interrogations. However, Nosenko never admitted that he was a KGB plant, though his stories, according to Bagley, were absurdly inconsistent and incoherent. In Bagley’s opinion, Nosenko might have been a perfect Manchurian candidate. Peter Deriabin, another KGB officer who defected in the 1950s, concurred with Bagley’s judgment and his statement is included in Bagley’s book as an appendix.

Yet, with the new CIA leadership taking charge, Nosenko was rehabilitated, received a CIA pension, and began working as a CIA consultant. In 2008, a month before he died at age 81, he was presented with a letter of then-CIA director Michael Hayden which praised his service for the U.S. and implied that he was a bona fide defector.[3] On the other hand, Bagley, greatly disappointed, left the CIA in 1973, and Angleton was discredited (in another scandal) and forced to resign in 1975.

Bagley died in 2014 at age 88 soon after publishing a book entitled Spymaster based on the recollections of Sergey Kondrashev, a former high-level KGB official, who was familiar with the massive KGB Cold War deception operations against the West.[4] The Russian intelligence refused to allow Kondrashev to publish the book, but since he died in 2007, Bagley published it in the U.S. with the permission of Kondrashev’s family. Obviously, there are things in the book that today’s Russian intelligence apparatus would rather keep from becoming public knowledge. As with every intelligence agency in the world, this is always the issue of sources and methods.

And so, the mystery of what the KGB was really up to with Golitsyn and Nosenko continues to this day. However, in my opinion, the recently aired Russian TV series ‘Traitors’ adds a new and important twist to the story. In a round-about, indirect way, which is how all intelligence public statements and declassified products must be interpreted, it gives enough hints to make me conclude that Bagley and Angleton may have been right after all.

The Russian TV Series ‘Traitors’

The Russian TV station Zvezda [meaning the star], owned by the Russian military, produced this documentary TV series for three seasons starting in 2014.[5] It aired 24 episodes in total, eight in each season. They can all be found and viewed on Youtube.[6] The episodes covered 24 individuals declared traitors by the leadership of the Soviet Union, from the 1920s to the 1980s. There was even one American, Elizabeth Bentley, known as the “queen of Red espionage,” who, in the late 1940s, revealed to the FBI the network of the Soviet spies she organized on the territory of the U.S.[7] She was the only woman included.

The entire series was hosted by the ex-KGB officer Andrey Lugovoy who is sought by the British government to stand trial for the fatal polonium poisoning of the Russian intelligence defector Alexander Litvinenko in London. At this time, Lugovoy is a member of the Russian Duma [the lower house of the Parliament] representing the pro-government Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR) led by the virulent Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Quite recently, on January 9, 2017, Lugovoy was added to the list of the Russian citizens under U.S. sanctions.[8]

The Russian audiences appear to enjoy having former spies host documentary programs on TV. Anna Chapman, who was arrested for spying by the FBI in 2010 and, together with nine other so-called Illegals, exchanged for four U.S. spies imprisoned in Russia, also had her own show on REN TV. The title of her show was “The Secrets of the World. The Riddles of the Cosmos.”[9]

The 24 “traitors” covered by the TV Zvezda series included Anatoly Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. The episodes about them were aired in the second season of the series. I watched both episodes closely in order to test the following hypothesis: if Golitsyn was a genuine defector and Nosenko was a plant, then the presentation and treatment of Golitsyn will be more negative and harsher than the treatment of Nosenko. In fact, as I will explain in detail below, this is precisely what I found.

The episode on Golitsyn was aired first.[10] From the very beginning, the episode sought to present Golitsyn as somebody not to be trusted. It reported, for instance, that he was not liked by his co-workers and that his nickname was “the hunchback.” The KGB veterans interviewed in the episode also expressed distinctly negative opinions about him. The retired KGB general Alexander Duhanin, for instance, claimed that Golitsyn did not have access to any significant information, but claimed to know a lot in order to get more money and privileges from the Western intelligence services. He emphasized the alleged Golitsyn’s love of luxury and the heightened sense of self-importance. The episode even went so far as to say that Golitsyn was diagnosed as a paranoid personality with pathological symptoms by the chief CIA psychologist, John Gittinger. This, by the way, is directly contradicted by Bagley who, in his book, claimed that it was Nosenko who was diagnosed by Gittinger, and not Golitsyn.[11]

In fact, Bagley in particular singled out Oleg Nechiporenko, former KGB officer now turned historian of the Russian intelligence, as somebody who was especially eager to extol Nosenko’s genuineness as a defector and demean Golitsyn.[12] Bagley suspected that this was a part of the enduring KGB/SVR plan to hide the Cold War penetration of the CIA. Nechiporenko’s appearance in the episode confirmed Bagley’s claims made years earlier. His statements did indeed represent the character assassination of both Golitsyn and Angleton.

Even Edward Jay Epstein, a well-known U.S. journalist and intelligence community researcher, who was a friend of Bagley and wrote a preface to Bagley’s last book, did not seem convincing in his defense of Golitsyn. This, I suspect, was the result of selective presentation of his statements by the episode’s producers.

In the end, the viewer is left with the impression that Golitsyn was an extremely successful but psychologically unstable con artist who fooled the Western intelligence community in order to get rich and did not provide them with any secret intelligence worth the money he received. However, the episode admitted that Golitsyn was nevertheless sentenced to death in absentia by the KGB and that his only daughter Katya died suddenly, supposedly of drug overdose, in Rome in the 1970s. Golitsyn himself passed away recently, but neither the time of his death nor the place of burial are known, which is another difference between him and Nosenko.

Although the episode on Nosenko had pretty much the same cast of interviewees, their reactions to Nosenko were very different from their reactions to Golitsyn. Their attitude toward Nosenko was much more upbeat: Nosenko was not “the hunchback,” but the son of Stalin’s favorite government minister. Such a positive attitude was particularly surprising, considering that they also claimed that Nosenko caused grave damage to the KGB foreign operations and that the damage was more extensive in scope than that caused by Golitsyn.

Nechiporenko, for instance, claimed that approximately 300 to 400 Soviet intelligence agents were recalled to Moscow due to being exposed by Nosenko’s revelations, the claim which was already debunked by Bagley’s book.[13] He also stated that Angleton convinced Bagley that Nosenko was a KGB plant, whereas Bagley in detail described how he came to this conclusion on his own, after months and months of interrogating Nosenko. How could Nechiporenko know better than Bagley what the latter himself went through?

Moreover, Nechiporenko directly stated that Nosenko could not have been a double agent, whereas the general Duhanin ridiculed and caricatured the CIA interrogation process. They seemed to be defending Nosenko, which was paradoxical if he had caused as much damage to the KGB as they claimed he had. It was as if it was more significant to them that Nosenko was victimized by the CIA than that he gave away very important Soviet secrets. Should they not be content that the person who betrayed them had to suffer the consequences of his misdeed, even if by their opponents’ hand? There is only one condition under which they should not: if Nosenko worked for them.

In fact, this is precisely the conclusion that one comes away with, if one compares Bagley’s account of the Golitsyn-Nosenko affair and the account presented by Lugavoy and TV Zvezda. By embracing Nosenko with open arms (he even lectured at Langley) and smearing Bagley and Angleton, the CIA chose to trust the wrong guy and therefore utterly failed in counterintelligence work. It is likely that many of its problems today stem from the repetition of this same basic pattern. It would not be inconceivable that even right now there is a Russian mole in its midst whom it cannot ferret out because it has consistently refused to learn the lessons of the past.


[1] http://stmedia.startribune.com/documents/1russia010717.pdf

[2] Tennent H. Bagley. Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games. New Haven, NJ: Yale, 2007.

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/28/us/28nosenko.html

[4] Tennent H. Bagley. Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.

[5] http://tvzvezda.ru/schedule/filmsonline/content/201409301945-kbdj.htm/


[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q29cD5C5gWc




[11] Bagley, Spy Wars, p. 190.

[12] Bagley, Spy Wars, pp. 211-212.

[13] Bagley, Spy Wars, p. 209-212.

Originally published by Newsbud on January 19, 2017.


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