Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yuri Nosenko, KGB defector, said to be dead in U.S.

by DAVID STOUT / New York Times

WASHINGTON - Yuri Nosenko, a former Soviet agent who was at the center of some of the most dramatic espionage episodes of the Cold War, died Saturday under an assumed name, somewhere in the southern United States, a senior American intelligence official said on Wednesday. He was 81.

In a statement with fittingly sparse information, given Nosenko's earlier life as a KGB spy and his later life in the shadows, the senior official said he could provide no details about the cause of death or Nosenko's survivors, if any. The official himself would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Only last month, several senior officials of the Central Intelligence Agency visited Nosenko to present him with an American flag and a letter from Michael Hayden, the director of central intelligence, thanking him for his service and, by implication, offering a final apology for the way he was treated after he defected to the United States in the winter of 1964.

Nosenko's defection seemed to have been motivated in part by his fondness for Western culture. He also said he needed money to repay some KGB money he had lost in Geneva after a night with a prostitute and a bottle of vodka in 1962. So he began spying in Moscow for the CIA, and eventually decided that his future lay in the United States.

He gave his American handlers vital information about Soviet agents who had penetrated American and European embassies and about microphones that Russians had planted in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Most important, he said he had gone over the Soviet file on Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald, an American, lived in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s before traveling to Mexico City and then to Dallas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

At the time of Nosenko's defection, the Warren Commission was trying to determine whether Oswald, the presumed assassin, had acted on his own. Nosenko assured his American questioners that Oswald had never been an agent of the KGB, which had considered him unstable and unfit for espionage work.

But instead of being relieved to hear that the Soviets had not been involved in the assassination, James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's legendarily suspicious counterintelligence chief, and others in the spy trade thought Nosenko's apparent defection was a trick.

"In the spring of 1964, after years of crushing failures, Angleton sought redemption," Tim Weiner, a reporter for The New York Times, recounted in 2007 in his book, "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA." Angleton "believed that if the CIA could break Nosenko, the master plot might be revealed - and the Kennedy assassination solved."

In fact, Nosenko said and did things to arouse suspicions about himself. Had he really been a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, as he initially claimed? Had he really been able to leave behind a wife and two young daughters, assuming the family really existed?

In 1964, the CIA put Nosenko in solitary confinement at Camp Peary, its training site near Williamsburg, Virginia, where he got "the treatment his fellow Russians received in the gulag," as Weiner wrote.

After numerous lie-detector tests and many interrogation sessions, the CIA determined that Nosenko was telling the truth. He was released in 1967, given $80,000 and a new name and sent to spend the rest of his life somewhere in the South, with occasional trips to Langley, Virginia, to lecture American intelligence professionals at CIA headquarters.

Source: International Herald Tribune

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