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Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War over Nerve Gas

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Cassidy's Run is the riveting story of one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War—an espionage operation mounted by Washington against the Soviet Union that ran for twenty-three years. At the highest levels of the government, its code name was Operation shocker.

Lured by a double agent working for the United States, ten Russian spies, including a professor at the University of Minnesota, his wife, and a classic "sleeper" spy in New York ...
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Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War over Nerve Gas

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Cassidy's Run is the riveting story of one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War—an espionage operation mounted by Washington against the Soviet Union that ran for twenty-three years. At the highest levels of the government, its code name was Operation shocker.

Lured by a double agent working for the United States, ten Russian spies, including a professor at the University of Minnesota, his wife, and a classic "sleeper" spy in New York City, were sent by Moscow to penetrate America's secrets. Two FBI agents were killed, and secret formulas were passed to the Russians in a dangerous ploy that could have spurred Moscow to create the world's most powerful nerve gas.

Cassidy's Run tells this extraordinary true story for the first time, following a trail that leads from Washington to Moscow, with detours to Florida, Minnesota, and Mexico. Based on documents secret until now and scores of interviews in the United States and Russia, the book reveals that:

 ¸         more than 4,500 pages of classified documents, including U.S. nerve gas formulas, were passed to the Soviet Union in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars

 ¸         an "Armageddon code," a telephone call to a number in New York City, was to alert the sleeper spy to an impending nuclear attack—a warning he would transmit to the Soviets by radio signal from atop a rock in Central Park

 ¸         two FBI agents were killed when their plane crashed during surveillance of one of the Sovietspies as he headed for the Canadian border

 ¸         secret "drops" for microdots were set up by Moscow from New York to Florida to Washington

More than a cloak-and-dagger tale, Cassidy's Run is the spellbinding story of one ordinary man, Sergeant Joe Cassidy, not trained as a spy, who suddenly found himself the FBI's secret weapon in a dangerous clandestine war.


"Cassidy's Run shows, once again, that few writers know the ins and outs of the spy game like David Wise. . . his research is meticulous in this true story of espionage that reads like a thriller."
—Dan Rather

"The Master hsa done it again. David Wise, the best observer and chronicler of spies there is, has told another gripping story. This one comes from the cold war combat over nerve gas and is spookier than ever because it's all true."
—Jim Lehrer
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a remarkable true-life espionage thriller. For 21 years, beginning in 1959, plainspoken, modest U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Cassidy successfully pretended to be a money-grubbing traitor to his country. In the eyes of his Soviet handlers, he was a mole planted deep inside the U.S. defense establishment. In fact, he was passing along secret nerve-gas formulas and military data--some of it genuine, some fake--to the Russians with the aim of sidetracking their chemical warfare program. Cassidy, now retired, was the star player in Operation Shocker, a top-secret FBI/Defense Department project that cost the lives of two FBI agents, flushed out 10 Communist spies and revealed the lengths to which Soviet intelligence would go to penetrate America's defenses. Wise (The Spy Who Got Away) takes readers deep inside the U.S. nerve-gas program, founded on the ashes of the Third Reich when U.S. Army intelligence obtained from ex-Nazi scientists the formulas for lethal agents like sarin. Wise also interviewed Vil Mirzayanov, a senior chemist who worked for three decades in the Soviet nerve-gas program, and who was arrested in 1992 for telling the world that the U.S.S.R. had developed Novichok, a nerve gas capable of killing millions of people instantly. Although both the U.S. and Russia have pledged to dispose of their chemical weapons, Wise reports that the Russians still possess Novichok. His taut narrative is full of bizarre twists and James Bond echoes--coded Soviet messages on microdots left inside hollow artificial rocks; a Russian sleeper agent in the Bronx, awaiting the signal for nuclear Armageddon; Cassidy's marriage to an ex-nun who conceals her past from him (and vice versa). To say this book would make a terrific movie in no way diminishes its value as an investigative scoop. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the FBI decided to dangle a prospect in front of a Soviet embassy employee named Polikarpov. Polikarpov, a GRU officer, took the bait and enlisted Sergeant Joseph Cassidy as a for-cash agent. Their relationship continued for 23 years, during which the double agent solicited information that netted ten other Soviet spies and funneled an enormous mass of true, false, misleading, and trivial intelligence eastward. Much of the intelligence concerned the nerve gas research and production facility at Edgewood Arsenal and may have led the Soviets into expensive and dangerous blind alleys. Wise (The Invisible Government) tells this important history richly; details of the operation, especially the capture and release of two Mexican nationals who were confessed spies, make an interesting account of a U.S. intelligence success not previously publicized. Recommended for public libraries.--Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A meticulous reconstruction of a hitherto unknown counterespionage case . . . Wise has done readers a service in bringing Cassidy's remarkable tale to life.
The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher

Praise for Cassidy's Run

"A true cold-war story that reads like the very best spy thriller."
—Seymour M. Hersh

"David Wise has again performed one of his astonishing feats of digging out a spy drama where few even knew one existed. Magnificently documented and yet clearly and cogently written, Cassidy's Run is a piece of hidden history that is a cautionary tale for our time."
—Daniel Schorr, senior news analyst, National Public Radio

"        A Soviet sleeper agent doubled back against the GRU. Dangles. Illegals. Hollow rocks with microdots at dead drops. Fake nerve gas formulas. FBI special agents killed in the line of duty. At the center of it all an army sergeant from a humble background who deceives Soviet intelligence for over two decades. Bag the novels. Read Cassidy's Run."
—R. James Woolsey, former director, Central Intelligence Agency

"David Wise's carefully researched, dramatic story reveals how counterintelligence has been used to identify the targets, objectives, and techniques of our enemies and to neutralize their efforts. Because of patriotic citizens like Joe Cassidy, America is safer today."
—William H. Webster, former director, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780783891446
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 308
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Wise is America's leading writer on intelligence and espionage. He is the coauthor of The Invisible Government, a number one bestseller about the CIA. He is also the author of Nightmover, Molehunt, The Spy Who Got Away, The American Police State, and The Politics of Lying, and the coauthor, with Thomas B. Ross, of The Espionage Establishment and The U-2 Affair. A native New Yorker and graduate of Columbia College, he is the former chief of the Washington bureau of the New York Herald Tribune and has contributed articles on government and politics to many national magazines. He lives in Washington, D.C.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Milkovich also had reports from residents in Chisholm, to the south, who said the plane, its engine sputtering, had a few minutes earlier flown low over the town, as though it might try to land in Longyear Lake right in Chisholm.

More deputies arrived. The county medical examiner and divers were summoned. The plane's floats seemed to have exploded, and the fuselage was twisted, indicating that the plane had gone into the water nose down and flipped over. The pilot and his passenger had died on impact, still strapped in by their seat belts.

Tish Basford was sorting laundry when they came up the walk. John Otto, the special agent in charge in Minneapolis, and his wife, and Basford's partner, Frank Grady, and his wife, arrived around 10: 30 PM.

"When I saw them," Mrs. Basford said, "I knew. I think every law-enforcement wife knows it might happen at some time. John Otto was unbelievable, I will never forget his great kindness.

"I do not blame the bureau, it was an act of nature. Tren never had to face the ravages of old age, disease, and futility. He died in his prime, being useful and doing what he most liked to do."

The FBI, the Minneapolis Star reported the next day, said that the two agents were "on routine investigations" at the time of the crash. The FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, Arthur Sullivan, professed not to know "where they were flying from or their destination." Sullivan seemed to go out of his way to assure reporters that Basford had "worked his entire career in what we call criminal matters, not security cases." The Minneapolis Tribune similarly reported that FBI officials said the agents "were on routine business at thetime, helping Duluth authorities in a number of cases." The Saint Paul Dispatch said the FBI explained that the two men "had been in Duluth assisting agents there for several days." These stories and others did not indicate that anyone in the news media had questioned why, if the agents were working in Duluth, their plane had crashed some seventy miles northwest of that city.

The FBI's statements were a cover story. In fact, Kirkland and Basford at the time of their deaths had been conducting airborne surveillance of a University of Minnesota professor. The professor had been driving north, toward the Canadian border, with his wife and two children. Other FBI agents in cars had been trailing the target on the ground.

The FBI made a calculated decision to mislead the press and the public about the circumstances of the deaths of the two agents. For years, even the agents' wives and families were told nothing. Until now, the secret has been kept.

The bureau could not afford to divulge the truth, for the crash of the Cessna threatened to unravel the longest-running espionage case of its kind in the history of the cold war, an extraordinary drama that had begun two decades earlier.

The University of Minnesota professor was a Soviet spy, a trained agent of the GRU, the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, the Soviet military-intelligence agency.

The existence of the case was known only to the president of the United States, his national-security adviser, and a handful of federal officials.

At the highest levels of the United States government, it was code-named Operation SHOCKER.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2000

    Interesting, but not Spellbinding

    I found the book quite interesting, but not very detailed in the areas of nerve gas secrets. It was more of a store of one counter-espionage program against the Soviet Union. Some of the story jumped around a bit. I found the book a little short and a little disappointing. I would definately check out from the library, but not add to my permanent collection. Wait for the paperback.

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    Posted February 28, 2012

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    Posted July 21, 2011

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    Posted January 25, 2010

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