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Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief

Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief

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by Tennent H. Bagley

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The memoirs of a high-ranking espionage chief as confided to his ex–CIA agent friend.

From the dark days of World War II through the Cold War, Sergey A. Kondrashev was a major player in Russia’s notorious KGB espionage apparatus. Rising through its ranks through hard work and keen understanding of how the spy and political games are played, he


The memoirs of a high-ranking espionage chief as confided to his ex–CIA agent friend.

From the dark days of World War II through the Cold War, Sergey A. Kondrashev was a major player in Russia’s notorious KGB espionage apparatus. Rising through its ranks through hard work and keen understanding of how the spy and political games are played, he “handled” American and British defectors, recruited Western operatives as double agents, served as a ranking officer at the East Berlin and Vienna KGB bureaus, and tackled special assignments from the Kremlin.

During a 1994 television program about former spymasters, Kondrashev met and began a close friendship with a former foe, ex–CIA officer Tennent H. “Pete” Bagley, whom the Russian asked to help write his memoirs.

Because Bagley knew so about much of Kondrashev’s career (they had been on opposite sides in several operations), his penetrating questions and insights reveal slices of never-revealed espionage history that rival anything found in the pages of Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, or John le Carré: chilling tales of surviving Stalin’s purges while superiors and colleagues did not, of plotting to reveal the Berlin Tunnel, of quelling the Hungarian Revolution and “Prague Spring” independence movements, and of assisting in arranging the final disposition of the corpses of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Kondrashev also details equally fascinating KGB propaganda and disinformation efforts that shaped Western attitudes throughout the Cold War.

Because publication of these memoirs was banned by Putin’s regime, Bagley promised Kondrashev to have them published in the West. They are now available to all who are fascinated by vivid tales of international intrigue.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cold War reminiscences from the Soviet side are generally best read with caution—they add to autobiography a fundamental unverifiability that makes them dubious as historical documents. That said, Sergey Kondrashev’s memoirs, as told to friend and former CIA officer Bagley (Spy Wars), are a vivid mosaic of the Soviet intelligence apparatus in its heyday. Kondrashev was recruited to the KGB during WWII as an interpreter; in 1947 his English skills led to an assignment targeting the American embassy. Stalin’s purge of the security apparatus brought Kondrashev promotion; that it was a “recurring nightmare” led him to transfer to the less visible Foreign Intelligence section. “Handling” British mole George Blake, then moving to the Austro/German Department, Kondrashev built simultaneous reputations as a loyal apparatchik and a sophisticated operative. The combination eventually returned him to Moscow and the KGB’s “active measures” department, responsible for disinformation operations in the West. Kondrashev’s discussions of their genesis and implementation comprise the book’s most valuable element. There are no startling revelations—Bagley regularly refers to “drama still largely hidden”—but the details flesh out still-unfamiliar aspects of the espionage war while illuminating a man who “made internal peace” with the system he served so well. (Nov.)
“Fans of spy nonfiction, prepare to get giddy with excitement. Not only does this book draw on the previously unpublished memoirs of a veteran Russian intelligence operative, Sergey Kondrashev, it’s written by a veteran CIA operative. . . . Although the inner workings of Cold War–era Russian intelligence have been written about before, mostly in spy novels, this may be most readers’ first exposure to this material in a real-world setting. Kondrashev’s adventures—including his key role in the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution and his relationship with George Blake, the MI6 agent who, in the 1950s, was secretly passing information to the KGB—don’t spring from a writer’s imagination. This stuff actually happened. A rare glimpse behind the closed doors of Russian intelligence.
Edward Jay Epstein
“Tennent Bagley's Spymaster is the single most revealing book about espionage to emerge from the Cold War.”
Dr. John J. Dziak
“Bagley’s informed commentary adds penetrating insight and context. . . . Spymaster is in many ways a fitting and worthy sequel to Bagley’s earlier, acclaimed Spy Wars. As Putin’s Russia slips steadily deeper into its KGB pedigree, Spymaster is a required and welcome read.
Frederick Kempe
“With his Spymaster, Pete Bagley has produced the scintillating stuff of espionage history. This page-turner is a must read for anyone who wants the inside story behind the Cold War’s most important spy games.
Kirkus Reviews
A retired spy-service veteran reflects on the life of an espionage specialist. In the Cold War era of the 1960s, Bagley was a CIA counterintelligence chief and the first to have interrogation privileges with renowned Ukrainian KGB defector Yuri Nosenko. This book is a suitable follow-up to his revealing memoir about his work as chief handler on that case (Spy Wars, 2007); here, he focuses on senior KGB Soviet spymaster Sergey Kondrashev. Bagley befriended his former adversary after numerous informal chats at Cold War reunion functions, ushering in years of unencumbered "affinity, cordiality, mutual respect and growing confidence between two old professionals." In 1999, five years into their ripening friendship, Kondrashev decided to pen an autobiography. Bagley ably assisted, reveling in the informational "stroke of fortune" from this expert insider. Nearly a decade into the project, Russian foreign intelligence apparatchiks learned of the sensitive project and swiftly embargoed its Russian publication. Bagley skillfully condenses the bulk of Kondrashev's interviews and stories, chronicling his brisk, incremental rise through the ranks of the Soviet spy system with unexaggerated brio. The author portrays in riveting detail the spy's considerable ascent from managing successful counterintelligence decoding operations to dexterously handling traitorous high-level moles like double agent George Blake. Equally fascinating are sections detailing Stalin's nightmarish postwar personnel purges, Kondrashev's involvement in the final arrangements for Hitler's and his wife's remains, and an operation during which subversive KGB operatives posed as defectors, a scheme that, at one time, involved both men as rivals. Kondrashev died in 2007, and with his family's blessing, Bagley grasps the unique opportunity to not only spill classified spy secrets and disinformation schemes, but also to posthumously venerate a world-class spymaster. A respectful, introspective exposé of a great emissary who became a friend.

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Skyhorse Publishing
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Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief

By Tennent H. Bagley

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Tennent H. Bagley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62636-065-5


Breaking American Ciphers—and Starting a War

The all-powerful head of Soviet State Security reached toward the corner of his wide desk and picked up the little pile of handwritten and amateurishly-typed papers, knocked them together, and stuffed them into a large envelope. With his pen, he wrote on the envelope, "File closed. To be opened only with the handwritten authority of the Minister of State Security" and signed, "Viktor S. Abakumov." He dropped the envelope into his own safe, perhaps the closest-guarded of all archives in this secret center of a secretive regime.

In that thin sheaf of papers was the entire written record to the present day of a spy story that deserves volumes. It told how the KGB (then MGB) had recruited an American code clerk in Moscow, enabling it to break America's military ciphers at a critical moment of the Cold War.

There was more paper on this triumph elsewhere, of course, somewhere inside the secret realms of the cipher-breakers: calculations and work sheets, lists of machine key settings, steps in reconstructing the American cipher machine, and heaps of deciphered American military communications. But those other papers gave no hint of what was in Abakumov's envelope: who the source was and where and when and how he had been recruited and handled. Aside from Minister Abakumov, only seven people in the world knew these things and at the same time knew of the cipher break—aside from the recruiter himself.

The recruiter was Sergey Kondrashev.

Fewer still, and never anyone in the West, became aware of the impact this KGB operation had on Josef Stalin. Abakumov, who was probably closer to Stalin's innermost secrets than anyone alive, personally carried to him the transcripts of these deciphered American military messages along with the KGB's analysis of them. Stalin had confided to Abakumov that they were swaying him. These authentic insights into American thinking, Abakumov told Kondrashev when later rewarding him, had been "especially persuasive for Stalin at this particular moment."

"At this particular moment" the Americans had withdrawn their military forces from Korea. Secretary of State Dean Acheson had publicly enunciated a new defense perimeter in the Pacific "from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands," which excluded Korea. North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung had long pleaded with Stalin to support—in effect, permit—a military invasion and takeover of South Korea, but Stalin, fearing American military intervention, continued to rebuff him. Now, Abakumov told Kondrashev, these deciphered high-level American communications conveyed to Stalin the impression that there would be little danger of direct conflict with the United States even if the USSR gave massive aid to the North Korean venture. That was why Stalin finally removed his objection to the North Koreans' long-standing plans to invade.

This American code clerk may thus have inadvertently touched off the Korean War. But the KGB had kept the secret well. Until now that traitor's role has remained unknown.

* * *

The spy had given the Soviets what every government most wants and, having obtained, then most needs to hide: the ability to read the secret communications of its rivals and potential enemies. To preserve such a rare advantage, of the sort the Allies had in the Second World War after mastering the Nazi German cipher machine Enigma, almost any cost is warranted. Many lives had been sacrificed to protect the "Enigma" secret. So well had it been kept, that thirty years passed after the war's end, an entire generation, before the public became aware of it and historians were obliged to rewrite parts of the war's history.

The Soviets broke that record of secret-keeping. More than sixty years have elapsed since the cipher-break, and only now is this first public account of the spy who triggered the Korean War published. He died undiscovered, as far as I know, and the US government presumably remained unaware that during those early days of the Cold War evolving and a hot war threatening, the Soviets possessed the war-winning capability of reading America's secret military communications.

* * *

As the years went by, here and there within the KGB, one or another part of the story—but never both—became known or suspected. Some insiders attributed Kondrashev's unusually fast rise in KGB ranks to a major operational success. Others independently got wind of the recruitment of an unidentified American code clerk in Moscow at some unspecified time after the war. Then at the end of 1961, the first hint leaked to the West when KGB officer Anatoly Golitsyn defected to the Americans. Golitsyn had learned of several recruitments of American and other Western code clerks, two quite recent, but at least one from the early postwar years. Of the latter, he had learned only the code name of an American, "Jack," which was indeed the code name of Kondrashev's recruit. But thanks to Abakumov's precautions, American counterintelligence would be forced to do some painstaking investigating to identify "Jack."

To throw those American investigators off the track opened by Golitsyn to this and the other code clerks, the KGB put to work its time-tested practice of deception (as described in Chapter 14). It succeeded: As far as I or Kondrashev know, the Americans failed to pin down the identity of "Jack" or any of the other code clerks Golitsyn had pointed to. Even to this day, the American Government may believe its ciphers remained secure back in those earlier times.

When Kondrashev embarked on writing his memoirs, he could not fail to mention these events that had so fundamentally influenced his life and career. Accordingly, here is the first public exposure of one of the Cold War's most dangerous spies.

* * *

The story began one morning in the early spring of 1948, the year before "Jack" entered the picture. Members of KGB section 2b-1, the one working against the American Embassy in Moscow (described in Chapter 3) of which Sergey Kondrashev was deputy chief, assembled for a routine staff meeting. Each member was watching one or another group of Americans in or close to the Embassy to detect any spying—and to spot individuals whom the KGB might induce or coerce into becoming spies.

Roman Markov, whose target was the Military Attaché's office, spoke up. "Naruzhka has observed an American sergeant repeatedly seeing a Russian girl. Maybe he's a code clerk."

That was big news! Code clerks were the KGB's most desired recruitment targets in the American Embassy, but at the same time the least accessible. They lived and worked under tight restrictions and observed special precautions whenever they moved outside American-controlled buildings and met foreigners. Now perhaps they had found a bridge to one of them.

"Do we know the girl?" asked section chief Mikhail Levin.

"No, nothing on her, no file, no contact. We know nothing about her."

"Check her out."

After Markov met her to get a feel for the situation, his report was favorable. This was no one-night stand; the "stompers" had stumbled onto a real love affair. "Valya" (as Kondrashev chose to call her) told Markov of her deep affection for the American soldier "Mac"—Sergeant James M. McMillin—and she felt sure that he genuinely loved her, too. Markov told her that Soviet authorities had no objection and in fact hoped she would develop the relationship further.

Levin reported this encouraging development to the American Department (2b) chief, Anatoly Kholevo. Coming back, he told Kondrashev, "You get ready to handle this. You speak the best English." The two of them went to the office of the overall chief of counterintelligence, Yevgeniy Pitovranov, who, after consulting with Minister Abakumov, concurred. If things worked out, it would be Sergey, along with Pitovranov's deputy Leonid Raikhman, who would talk with Mac.

Kondrashev went with Markov to meet Valya and assured her they would do everything possible to help them stay together, but she and Mac must not tell anyone about their relationship. If any Americans heard, the two would be ripped apart. She agreed to follow their directions.

As the weeks went by, Mac and Valya continued to meet in parks, coffeehouses, and at the flat where she lived with her parents. Kondrashev and Markov met her regularly to keep abreast of developments. The "stompers" stayed on the job to see if anything might be amiss, but with a strict injunction to break off if there was the slightest chance of Mac's spotting them. It would spoil everything if he were to get the idea that the KGB was sponsoring their friendship. The surveillance also served as a sort of protection for Mac: "Relations between our countries were so tense that we feared someone might attack him," Kondrashev told me.

Then one day Valya told Kondrashev that Mac had decided to stay with her at any price and make their future lives together in Russia.

"Down the drain went our hopes to recruit a source inside American communications," Kondrashev lamented, "but at least we would get details of the Embassy code room."

At Kondrashev's suggestion, Valya told Mac she knew "people who could help them," and he readily agreed to meet them. "We gave them the address of a safe apartment near Pushkin Square," Kondrashev recalled, and when they arrived one summer afternoon, Raikhman and Sergey were waiting to meet them.

An impressive, gray-haired man then in his late fifties, Raikhman spoke in a fatherly manner. He promised Mac a job and an apartment in Moscow if he was serious about his intentions, but added "we would want to know about certain matters." Mac expected this quid pro quo, and after only a slight pause, said he would help as well as he could.

Now all Mac had to do, Kondrashev told him, is go back to the quarters he shared with other Military Attaché personnel to get his personal belongings. "Take only what you really need, and only small things," Kondrashev said, "We'll give you whatever you need. Just don't let anyone wonder what you're doing."

Off he went. Raikhman and Sergey's nerves were on edge, asking themselves, "Will he really come back?" But even in their agitated state they both noticed that Valya remained calm. She obviously had no doubt.

After what seemed a long wait, a phone call brought welcome news from the stakeout near Mac's quarters. He had been spotted emerging alone with a package and heading in the right direction without being followed.

Mac and Valya stayed there for a few days before moving to a two-room safe apartment that had been stocked with food and drink so they could stay indoors.

Soon the American Embassy asked the Foreign Ministry about the missing soldier. After a few days they replied that he was well but had decided to leave American service and stay in the Soviet Union. "We turned down their request to interview him, too," Kondrashev added. "We weren't sure then that he could have withstood the pressure."

[But six months later—when their son was born—Sergey came to realize that Mac would indeed have withstood pressure and why Valya had remained so calm.]

Kondrashev began questioning Mac about the code room. "He told us how the cipher machines worked—how the rotors were installed and their position alternated according to a key list—and how they would be destroyed in an emergency," Sergey told me. Mac told of the daily routines and personalities of the other code clerks, but as a junior code clerk he didn't know much and had not brought any key lists. "Already after four or five sessions I realized that we had reached the limit. We had made a step forward, but we couldn't break the ciphers."

If they were ever to do that, Kondrashev realized, the Section would have to recruit a code clerk in place.

Someone in the Section proposed that McMillin's defection be publicized to gain a propaganda point against the United States. Kondrashev squelched the idea. To exploit the affair publicly would ensure that other American officials, knowing they might be used that way, would not come over to the Soviet side. "My caution proved fruitful, I think. If there'd been publicity about this case I doubt we'd ever have recruited 'Jack.'"

* * *

The hoped-for opportunity arose within months. Roman Markov reported another observation by foot surveillants of an American code clerk spending the night with a Russian girl.

Markov knew he was a code clerk; by now, thanks to McMillin's defection, this KGB section was familiar with the layout and procedures of the American Embassy's code room and was giving its personnel special attention.

"Get on it, right away!" said Section Chief Levin.

They did, and received some surprises. A check of the files showed that the KGB already knew this street address and even the girl's name, and that they had an earlier relationship with her. "Nadya" (as Kondrashev chose to call her) had briefly cooperated with another part of the KGB, but the contact had lapsed. It now became evident that Nadya had gone out on her own and obtained a job in the American Embassy. For more than a year she had worked there in contact with a lot of Embassy people, but the KGB, confident that they already had enough sources inside, hadn't even bothered to check her out. Their embarrassment redoubled when they now found that two or three of their inside sources had known that Nadya was flirting with the American soldier. Clearly, naruzhka had saved the KGB from missing a rare opportunity.

Nadya, who was rather attractive, was still single, though over thirty. Outside her apartment of two small rooms off Gorky Street, the "stompers" began a stakeout and saw the code clerk come frequently and stay late.

Markov visited Nadya and told her the affair was known, but far from discouraging it, the authorities wanted her to develop it. In fact, a colleague might be able to help them. Markov introduced Kondrashev, who began to direct her relationship with the code clerk, to whom the section now gave the code name "Jack."

To Kondrashev it looked promising. Nadya dreamed of getting married and, like many Soviet women of her time, of living abroad. She saw Jack as her chance for both, and Jack looked susceptible — both to her and to Kondrashev: He was a bit younger than Nadya, by no means tall or handsome, and beginning to lose his hair.

As Kondrashev was soon to learn, Jack was also unscrupulous and greedy for money. When they began laying plans to marry and leave for America, he told Nadya he hoped somehow to get enough to make their life rich and bright. Jack liked drinking so much that Kondrashev imagined his highest ambition might be to own a bar of his own, but even for that they would need a lot more money than he could ever accumulate in the Army. Kondrashev told Nadya to push Jack to think about ways to get more.

Having nourished their greed, Kondrashev then told Nadya to tell Jack that she had a relative (or family friend, Sergey no longer remembered) who might pay good money for information. Jack jumped at the opportunity. He suggested to her that she invite the man to meet him at her place.

Kondrashev stayed only a few minutes on this initial visit, talking only in general terms about the Embassy to avoid scaring Jack off. But he left Nadya with an envelope full of rubles to give Jack afterward.

A week later Kondrashev came back. This time focused more directly on Jack's Embassy work. It was Jack who first mentioned the code room and his functions there. This time Kondrashev left behind an envelope containing five hundred US dollars, the equivalent of about five thousand in today's currency.

The next encounter, which was Kondrashev's first direct payment to Jack, stuck vividly in his memory. He had stuffed into his suit jacket's breast pocket an envelope holding a thousand dollars. As they sat sipping tea, he told Jack specifically what he wanted to know while casually taking out the envelope and laying it on the table beside him. Jack eyed it hungrily as their talk progressed. Then just before stepping out of the room on some pretext, Kondrashev pushed it closer toward the code clerk. As he walked out, he saw Jack slip it under his saucer.

When they parted that day, Kondrashev told Jack he would get another envelope each time they met and hinted that there might be more in each.

The meetings continued at Nadya's two or three times a month. She was always present but would shrewdly excuse herself to go off to the kitchen. Jack sometimes wanted a whisky before beginning to talk, but Kondrashev told him, "Forget it. You'll soon have plenty of time—and money—for that."


Excerpted from SPYMASTER by Tennent H. Bagley. Copyright © 2013 Tennent H. Bagley. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tennent H. Bagley served for twenty-two years in the Central Intelligence Agency, where he handled spies and defectors in the clandestine services division before becoming chief of Soviet bloc counterintelligence. The author of Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games, Bagley lives in Brussels, Belgium.

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Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
usmcLS More than 1 year ago
a lot of info that I really did not believe. it was not anywhere close to what I was expecting in the way of a "real" spy account. maybe just me but found it dull and was happy when I finished the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected a book more "readable" to a civilian mind. The information in this book is quite technical and detailed. For a student of history of this era, it would provide amazing information. I grew up during this era and find it fascinating. But this book went way too deep in it's detail.