Adolf Tolkachev was a Soviet engineer in the field of radar and aviation, who betrayed the USSR so successfully that his portrait was hung in the head office of the CIA. Why did he do it and how did he manage it? …
Before deciding to take action, Tolkachev spent about a year planning and analyzing possible ways of communicating with the CIA. The task for an engineer is very atypical - he had zero experience in espionage, and his ideas about this topic were so divorced from reality that the peak of his thought was the idea of throwing notes into the salons of diplomatic cars. He left the first note under the windshield wiper.
This note was ignored. He left one more. When they ignored her too, he added some details about his place of work and the information offered to the text. Ignore again.
A few words about the espionage situation of that time: the Moscow CIA network was greatly weakened by our counterintelligence, there were few spies, and all incoming contacts were assessed extremely paranoid. Tolkachev's persistent attempts were perceived as provocations by the KGB. Throwing notes in diplomats' cars? In 1978? And the KGB was expecting the CIA to believe this ?!
As a result, it took more than a year for a successful communication attempt, five notes and chance. In his last notes, Tolkachev began to add pieces of information about aviation radars. In parallel with this, the US Army made a compelling request to the CIA for any information that would concern Soviet aviation.
The CIA once again assessed the situation - there is a high-priority request, there is a potential mole, there are small pieces of extremely valuable information. Okay, so you can risk an operative and get in touch with Tolkachev.
First, they called him, and then left a bookmark - a hidden glove, inside which were codes, instructions, questions and 500 rubles.
Thus began a collaboration that lasted seven years. During this time, CIA operatives met with Tolkachev 21 times. At almost every meeting, Tolkachev handed over hundreds of photographic films, literally receiving suitcases of money in exchange. Tolkachev's total earnings amounted to $ 2 million and about 700 thousand rubles.
Five hundred rubles in the bookmark was just the beginning, a kind of gratitude for the efforts made to establish contact. The CIA offered Tolkachev a "generous" salary - as much as a thousand rubles a month. In their opinion, this was sufficient payment in exchange for overvalued information received straight from the secret research institute. Tolkachev, of course, did not share this opinion and demanded 40-50 thousand rubles only for the information that he had already transmitted.
The demands were met with skepticism. The head of the Moscow headquarters of the CIA was indignant and asked the contact Tolkachev: “Where the hell is he going to get all this cash? Will he put it on the mezzanine and admire them? " The CIA was worried that Tolkachev might inadvertently spend money, and this would attract the attention of the KGB. In addition, the need to go to secret meetings with suitcases of money caused some inconvenience.
Tolkachev was persistent in his demands. One day he heard on the radio about the flight of the pilot Belenko, who was paid a six-figure sum. So the high fees are real! The value of Tolkachev's information was no less than what Belenko could provide with his plane. So Tolkachev also wanted a six-figure sum.
Local tsereushniki, cursing the radio and Belenko, sent a request to the head office. And there, Tolkachev's demands have already found understanding. They agreed to pay him $ 300,000.
In response to this, Tolkachev clarified: “when I say six figures, I meant fees with six zeros!”. The CIA countered with the fact that even the US president does not receive so much for his work and offered 200 thousand dollars for the current year and 300 thousand for each next. The presidential salary argument turned out to be unexpectedly convincing, and Tolkachev agreed.
Adolf received payment in dollars and rubles. And if everything was clear with rubles, then Tolkachev had his own account in an American bank for dollars.
Tolkachev also constantly asked for items that were difficult or impossible to get in the USSR. Here are just a small part of his requests: shaving accessories, Czech erasers, drawing pens, briquettes of dry Chinese ink, music records, a player and headphones, foreign newspapers, medicines, a heater for the rear window of a car, an audio course in English, French markers.
In addition, he requested literature about the Soviet Union, memoirs of famous public figures, books by authors with different political views.
A small list with specific wishes:
1. Brochure "On Soviet Power"
3. "Mein Kampf"
4. Solzhenitsyn "August the Fourteenth"
5. Golda Meir "My Life"
Gas station where Tolkachev tried to establish contact with a CIA officer
Why is this all?
At first glance, Tolkachev's motivation is obvious - to sell the secrets of the Motherland and make himself a happy life. In fact, this is not the case. The money, according to Tolkachev, was needed as a token of appreciation for his services. And he really could not use them. In the USSR, this would have aroused the suspicion of the KGB. With spending money abroad, everything was also extremely difficult - emigration, especially with such admission to secrecy, did not shine for him. Plus, my wife was strongly against moving somewhere.
At first, Tolkachev dreamed of evacuation. Ideas were on the same level as throwing notes into diplomatic machines. Once he said to a liaison: "Listen, if you have a special plane to pick me up, he can land somewhere in a field in the middle of the forest, and we will quickly run out of the forest, get on the plane, and you will take us out." The offer surprised the liaison person, and later the CIA refused it - there was no technical possibility to quietly land the plane.
Money was only a secondary motivation. The main motivation was hatred. Hatred that has been accumulating for years and could not find a way out. This feeling was so strong that at times it blocked the instinct of self-preservation, forcing them to take extremely risky steps. All in order to inflict maximum damage on the USSR.
Where did such a strong feeling from a simple engineer come from? There were three reasons for this at once.
1) My beloved wife, Natalia, went through a difficult childhood. When she was two years old, her mother was shot for anti-Soviet activities. The reason - she met with her father, a businessman from Denmark. The times were turbulent; contacts with foreign capitalists raised many questions. Natalia's father received a ten-year sentence for refusing to testify against his wife. Natalia herself, left without both parents, ended up in an orphanage.
The official reason for the execution of Sophia Bamdas is "counter-revolutionary agitation and participation in a sabotage and terrorist organization." She was shot on December 10, 1937, rehabilitated on September 1, 1956.
2) According to Tolkachev, the works of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn had a huge influence on him. He wrote: “(After reading the works) Some inner worm began to grind me down. Something had to be done."
3) It is very likely that the work environment also had an impact. Working in a secret research institute during the tense times of the Cold War caused significant stress. The stress was not compensated in any way; instead, Tolkachev felt insignificant and of little value. This is partly why he so insistently demanded huge fees - with them he felt significant.
Interestingly, before starting espionage, Tolkachev first thought about writing and distributing anti-government leaflets. This idea was dismissed as ineffective - he, as an employee of a secret enterprise, would have been quickly discovered by the KGB.
How was the information stolen?
Most of the documents Tolkachev simply took from the library of the research institute, using his pass with the highest level of access to classified information. The documents received were taken home during lunch and photographed.
Later, Tolkachev received copies of his documents from the CIA, including a library card. This made it possible, without any special fears, to continue taking a huge amount of materials.
The spy idyll lasted five years. After that, it became more difficult - the authorities suspected a leak of information and a search for traitors began in secret research institutes. Tolkachev was summoned to the authorities and told to look after employees with access to classified information.
From such a conversation, Tolkachev panicked, took a day off and went to the dacha - to burn the wealth acquired by treacherous labor, and with them all the spy accessories. According to various sources, from 300 to 800 thousand rubles were lost in the fire.
After the dacha fire, Tolkachev wrote a detailed letter to the CIA. The CIA analyzed the letter and came to the conclusion that Tolkachev responded to the incident adequately and this would not harm further work with him.
At the next meeting, Tolkachev received 120 thousand rubles as partial compensation for the money burned, along with ginseng and some medical advice: learn to relax and eat less salt. The letter also read: “We consider you not just a colleague, but also a friend. And we kindly ask you to take care of your health."
After the time off, the spy went to work only with a special pen, in which there was a capsule with poison. He shoved the capsule under his tongue every time he had to go into the office of his superiors - that was where the most likely place for arrest was.
Tolkachev hid for a while, waited out the most dangerous time, and then again took up espionage.
This time, the method was slightly different: instead of photographing documents at home, he arranged spy meetings in the toilet of the research institute.
At some point, it became impossible to do toilet research. Security has increased to the limit, the CIA is asked to hide and do nothing. Tolkachev is biding his time, but cannot help it. Tired of spy idleness and true to his hatred, he nevertheless continues to leak information and chooses very risky methods for this.
For example, he came to work at the moment the doors to the office were opened and photographed documents in a five-minute interval, while there were no colleagues around. Another method was to take the classified document under the pretext that the boss wanted to look at it. After that, Tolkachev simply took the document home and photographed it.
Excerpt from correspondence between the CIA headquarters and the Moscow headquarters: “We are extremely concerned. The tricks he told us about in the April note are already daunting. Others, the use of which he also speaks of, but which he did not describe, may be even more dangerous."
The CIA did not know what to do with Tolkachev. How to control his level of risk if he is already ready for such actions? It was necessary to maintain a balance between risk and productivity, because the US Army demanded more and more documents from the CIA. But how can this be done if Tolkachev is out of control and directly ignores requests for a temporary cessation of espionage activities?
The spy was not ruined by a desperate risk, not by the KGB investigations, not by the blunders of the local tsereushniki. Ruined his personnel error in the CIA.
In 84, Edward Lee Howard was prepared for a business trip to Moscow, who was supposed to become Tolkachev's liaison.During a polygraph test, his participation in a long-standing theft was revealed, as well as dishonesty in answering questions about alcohol and drugs.
The result was overwhelming - he was not just removed from field work, but thrown out of the CIA altogether. They threw out a not very stable, touchy person with addiction to drugs, who had access to classified information. Not a very smart move.
Howard soon contacted the KGB and leaked all the information he possessed. The information on Tolkachev was very inaccurate - the CIA has a prolific mole in one of the Soviet design bureaus. The signs were also vague. But even this was enough to start looking for a mole, and later to go to the "Phazotron", where Tolkachev worked.
After that, the KGB had another informant, who put the final point on the issue of capturing Tolkachev. It turned out to be Aldrich Ames, who was engaged in counterintelligence in the Soviet department of the CIA. Ames' position in the CIA was better than that of newcomer Howard, so the information was much more accurate. He pointed the KGB directly at Tolkachev. By the way, later it was Ames who analyzed the reasons for Tolkachev's failure.
Amount of damage
At each meeting, Tolkachev handed over a variety of photographic films containing drawings and descriptions of secret projects. From time to time he was able to get hold of even parts of the equipment under development. This unique information allowed the United States to curtail unpromising developments and accelerate those that were carried out in parallel with the USSR.
How significant is it in general - the curtailment of unpromising projects? Based on the results of all work with Tolkachev, the US Air Force estimated the amount of saved funds at $ 2 billion. And this is still a rather conservative estimate. According to outside experts, the Air Force could save up to $ 10 billion. At the current exchange rate, this is approximately $ 24 billion.
Arrest, execution, consequences
Tolkachev was arrested while returning from his dacha. For this, the KGB organized an "accident" that paralyzed the movement. The alleged traffic police officer asked the stopped Tolkachev to approach the police car with the documents. On the way, KGB officers pounced on him, twisted and put a gag in his throat so that he would not be poisoned.
Adolf denied everything during interrogations, but when he realized that the KGB knew too much, he changed his strategy and laid out everything he knew in the hope of mitigating the punishment.
The information received was used to organize a meeting with Tolkachev's contact. A CIA operative who came to her was detained and interrogated. The operative did not say anything and kept repeating that he was a diplomat, not a spy. It all ended unexpectedly boringly - he was released and kicked out of the country.
Tolkachev was sentenced to death. The US authorities tried to exchange him for another mole, but were late with their offer. Tolkachev's wife, as an accomplice of the spy, received a prison sentence.
Soon after her release, Natalya Tolkacheva fell ill with cancer. She was unable to receive the dollars that were kept in her husband's account in American banks. Desperate, she contacted the US Embassy and asked for help, recalling the merits of her husband. The embassy replied with a standard reply: "Sorry, we cannot help everyone."