The CIA ran a Billion-Dollar Spy
Adolf Tolkachev was a Soviet electronics engineer who provided key documents to the CIA between 1979 and 1985. He gave the CIA detailed information about Soviet air-to-air missiles and fighter-interceptor aircraft radars used on the MiG-29, MiG-31 and Su-27. He was known as the “Billon Dollar Spy”.
The CIA operation involving Tolkachev was compromised in 1985. A CIA operative was attempting to meet with him and was arrested and questioned at the Lubyanka KGB headquarters and prison. The CIA man, unfortunately, was carrying a disguised spy camera and other spying equipment. It is believed that both Tolkachev and his CIA handler were exposed by Edward Lee Howard, an ex-CIA officer who fled to Moscow to avoid treason charges. The CIA now believes that the infamous Aldrich Ames also passed his name to the Soviets.
Tolkachev was arrested by the KGB’s Alpha spetsnaz group while returning to Moscow from the countryside. He was tried and found guilty and executed by firing squad. Tolkachev had completely separated his spying activity from his family, so his loved ones would not be punished as well. In fact, his son Oleg Tolkachev is now an architect.
As the shadowy world of espionage and counterintelligence would expect, the KGB kept Tolkachev’s arrest secret in order to feed the CIA disinformation over the course of 10 months.
The Tolkachev case is why the CIA is suspicious of Russian defectors, for they could be KGB (Now GRU and FSB) plants, double agents who feed the CIA disinformation. Yes, the Tolkachev affair illustrates how the KGB fed the CIA half-truths and falsehoods even after his death! This suspicion is portrayed in the MISSION OF VENGEANCE spy thriller, where CIA spymaster Corey Pearson interrogates a former KGB agent who wants to defect. Here is a snippet from the novel:
It was a windowless, soundproof room in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo. The cream-colored walls were bare except for a small CCTV camera attached near the ceiling and a one-way mirror beneath it. General Morrison, Director of CBIF sat at a table with the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Harlow. His last assignment was with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia where he performed well in assisting Corey with the Penumbra Database mission.
Corey entered the room, gently guiding a visionless man to a chair at the table. He lifted the hood off his head and announced, “Gentlemen, meet Yuri Bocharov.”
General Morrison spoke first. “Obviously, we’re not going to tell you who we are or what we do. You enticed us to take you in and use you as a double, but we cannot trust you… yet.”
Corey sat down and poured himself a cup of coffee from the stainless-steel thermos on the table. “Want some?”
Bocharov responded, “Yes, please.”
Corey served him a hot cup. “You claim to know much of what is on the flash drive. We intend to learn all you know in the next two hours before we release you. The info you give us may be bogus, meant to lead us astray. Or, it might be accurate, but just enough information that Boris Markov is willing to sacrifice to gain our trust, while you learn about our operation and pass it on to him.”
Bocharov calmly sipped his coffee then replied. “I am three decades older than you, Mr. Pearson. I’m a retired KGB agent who’s been in the business of espionage far longer than you. I’m aware of the difficulties walk-in like me pose, but I assure you, I have much incriminating things to reveal.”
Corey said, “No one retires from the KGB. It’s a lifetime commitment. Tell me how you got past my cover and learned my true identity. I also want to know what motivates you to defect. Alexei Suvorov, as you know, has defected to our side and continues to give us vital information. He will validate what you tell us.”
End of Snippet
He was known as the Billion Dollar Spy, and that is how much a good spy is worth. A US Air Force specialist analyzed the intelligence gained from Tolkachev, information that was used to terminate or redirect military R&D spending. He concluded that “somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion was saved”. And that was before Adolf Tolkachev delivered another 179 rolls of film with thousands of pages of Soviet documents.
It is so sad that this true spy story had to end in tragedy. Enjoy the video The Billion Dollar Spy.
Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.