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ESCAPE FROM THE CIA by Ronald Kessler


How the CIA Won and Lost the Most Important KGB Spy Ever to Defect to the U.S.

by Ronald Kessler

Pub Date: May 6th, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-72664-1
Publisher: Pocket

 The intriguing tale of Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB colonel who returned to the Soviet Union barely three months after having defected to the US, giving his on-again, off-again masters a considerable propaganda victory. Drawing on deep-throat sources in the intelligence community and interviews with the disaffected principal, Kessler (The Spy in the Russian Club, 1990; Spy Versus Spy, 1988, etc.) offers a tellingly detailed account of the stranger-than-fiction case. On August 1, 1985, Yurchenko, a globe-trotting security officer who had a tour of duty at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., during the mid-1970's, turned himself over to the resident CIA agent in Rome. Spirited back to the States, he furnished debriefers with a wealth of information of KGB penetrations of Western intelligence services. Among others, the apostate exposed Edward Lee Howard (a former CIA operative) and Ronald W. Pelton (a sometime employee of the National Security Agency). While spilling the beans about traitors and KGB methods, however, Yurchenko apparently became disenchanted with his putative hosts. At any rate, on Nov. 2, 1985, he walked out of a Georgetown restaurant--and into the nearby Soviet embassy. From this haven, Yurchenko denied ever having defected, telling the press he had been drugged and kidnapped by the CIA. Although some slight doubt remains as to whether Yurchenko was a KGB plant, Kessler argues persuasively that he was a genuine turncoat who slipped through the hands of American agents largely for lack of empathetic handling. Despite having promised him a comfortable lifetime income, the author points out, the CIA (traditionally contemptuous of defectors) alienated Yurchenko in large as well as small ways, e.g., by failing to provide Russian-speaking interrogators, dismissing his complaints of digestion problems as the whining of a hypochondriac, and breaking a pledge to keep the case out of the media. A fascinating and painstakingly documented footnote to the history of cold-war espionage. (Eight pages of photographs--not seen.)