A spy comes in from the Cold War, with eye-opening tales to tell.
The son of a high-ranking Stalin-era NKVD officer, Cherkashin grew up one of the Soviet faithful; as a true believer in Communism, he writes, “I’d always felt the difficulties and cruelty I saw . . . were a necessary part of the work it took to shore up our socialist state.” There’s a certain old-school quality to him still, and when Cherkashin turns to telling tales about the well-placed Americans he recruited into the KGB, he reveals an evident pride in his ability to outsmart the assembled CIA, FBI, NSA, and other spooks arrayed against him and his colleagues. His star convert was, of course, Aldrich Ames, who revealed the names of more than twenty agents working inside the Soviet Union, helping dismantle a technologically sophisticated spy network and hampering the effectiveness of US intelligence worldwide. Ames was eventually betrayed, Cherkashin notes, probably by a Soviet agent who defected to what the KGB called “the Main Adversary.” Similarly, most of the double agents working within American intelligence under Cherkashin’s tutelage were exposed in time, just as most of the double agents working behind the Iron Curtain were caught. Though he proudly recounts episodes of trickery, deceit, blackmail, and the like as victories for his team, Cherkashin insists that the act of treason, as evidenced by such agents as Ames, Jonathan Pollard, Oleg Kalugin, Robert Hanssen, and Vitaly Yurchenko, is usually “committed to solve immediate personal problems and is rarely prompted by ideology.” He also notes that it was easy to recruit Americans: just about every double agent under his care came to him willingly, driven by the usual human frailties. Just so, Cherkashin concludes, Americans now regularly betrayed by their own poor intelligence—witness, he writes, the mess in Iraq—should not be too quick to engage in “loud chest thumping” over winning the Cold War, for the Soviet Union, he argues, “ultimately collapsed under its own weight.”
Of much interest to serious students of espionage and spy-novel aficionados alike.