A rollicking tale of Cold War espionage focused on the improbable bond between a macho CIA agent and his KGB counterpart.
Russo (Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, 2006, etc.) and Dezenhall (Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, 2014, etc.) offer a well-researched account, intersecting with the CIA’s betrayal by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. The institutional pursuit of these turncoats, who caused “a staggering amount of damage,” involved many of the principals here. Previously, in both Washington and Moscow in the 1970s and ’80s, spies with diplomatic covers often became entangled in each other’s recruitment schemes. Rakish, outgoing KGB officer Gennady Vasilenko became involved in the D.C. diplomats’ amateur athletics, making him a prime target of CIA officer Jack Platt, a larger-than-life, hard-living agency tactician. While neither agreed to “cross over” to provide their country’s secrets, they developed a genuine friendship. “Both men were patriotic risk takers,” write the authors. “Both loved their chosen professions and had no respect for the desk jockeys.” Although Platt participated in an operation to “turn” Vasilenko, he respected the Russian’s determination to remain loyal. But KGB suspicions of Vasilenko’s rule-bending ethos prevailed, and he was lured home, imprisoned, and expelled from the service. When the Soviet Union collapsed, his American connections enabled him to pursue business opportunities with Platt, as did many ex–Russian spies. However, the 2001 arrest of Hanssen led Vasilenko’s erstwhile colleagues to target him; he was arrested a few years later and again imprisoned over old allegations of collusion. Following five years of often brutal treatment, Platt’s CIA colleagues added Vasilenko to an exchange for the Russian “illegals” notoriously arrested in 2010 after years of deep-cover spying, finally permitting him a bittersweet American retirement. Russo and Dezenhall aptly capture this complex narrative, based on its protagonists’ long-classified recollections, though the focus on their outsized personalities can be repetitive.
An unusual, entertaining story of steadfast friendship amid governmental treachery.