Sunday, December 2, 2012

Of Spies, Defectors, and Embassy Bugs: Remembering Yuri Nosenko, Cold Warrior

Yuri Nosenko

I just can't quit the Cold War. I first wrote this post a couple years ago, when Yuri Nosenko, a famous Soviet defector, died. Nearly 50 years after he first fled the USSR, and four years after his death, his case remains intriguing. Take it away, blog...

By modern standards, this may not sound like much; but I clearly remember that one of the most frightening episodes of my childhood was when it emerged that Soviet agents had bugged the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. 

In those days, the Cold War was very much a simmering brew that seemed destined to spill into hot war at any provocation. The hidden microphones, announced in 1964, were discovered after a KGB defector dropped the dime on his former bosses. That whistleblower, Yuri Nosenko, died on 2008 while living in secret in the U.S. under an assumed name.

Nosenko had a rough time defecting. He crossed over shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In those tumultuous days, Nosenko became caught in the crossfire of an intense internal war within CIA. Opposing factions within the agency held vehemently different views on whether CIA had been infiltrated by foreign agents, and whether certain communist defectors were legitimate. 

Although Nosenko provided good information on the embassy bugs, other factors surrounding his defection aroused such suspicion that the defector was placed in long term solitary confinement and was interrogated under horrific conditions. Although Nosenko officially was found to be a genuine defector, debate persists to this day. Was he real? Was he a Soviet plant? Was he a mix of both? The only person who knew the full truth has now, like a good spy, taken his secrets to the grave. Meanwhile, as we are beginning to see from current events,  we still have reason to cast a wary eye on Moscow.

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