A thoroughly researched excavation of an astoundingly important (and sadly sacrificed) spy for the CIA during the low point of the 1970s.
The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (2009), Washington Post contributing editor Hoffman has strong credentials to tell the unheralded story of Adolf Tolkachev (1927-1986), a radar engineer who offered invaluable information on the state of arms technology in the Soviet Union until he was snagged by the KGB in 1985 and executed soon after. The CIA was scrambling to make a connection in the Soviet Union after the loss of the extremely productive spy Oleg Penkovsky for clandestine acquisition of technology for the West in the 1960s, though the agency was hampered by the “long shadow” cast by ultraparanoid chief of Moscow counterintelligence James Angleton, who believed the KGB was employing a “vast ‘master plan’ of deception,” and thus he trusted no one. Once he left in 1975, a younger generation of more enterprising officers trained in Berlin and other Eastern Bloc cities—e.g., Burton Gerber, who advocated for rigorous sifting of genuine sources from phony ones. Consequently, when a Russian engineer at Moscow’s Scientific Research Institute for Radio Engineering repeatedly approached American diplomats with his declared access to the development of a “look-down, shoot-down” radar system, they finally paid attention. Given the code name CKSPHERE, Tolkachev was motivated to photograph reams of priceless documents out of deep resentment of the “impassable, hypocritical demagoguery” of the Soviet state. Inspired by the famous defector Viktor Belenko and dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, Tolkachev also wanted money—the “six figures” that Belenko reportedly got, as well as rock albums for his teenage son, all of which would push him to take too many risks. Hoffman ably navigates the many strands of this complex espionage story.
An intricate, mesmerizing portrayal of the KGB-CIA spy culture.