Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book Commentary: Spycatcher

As the MI-5 senior technical officer, Wright was involved in the technical aspects of the Penkovskiy meetings in April and July 1961 in London. He comments that Penkovskiy alerted the West to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. That is not true—one of Penkovskiy's documents described the missile site so that the missile could be identified and its readiness for launch be determined. I dealt with Wright only once, just before he retired, but none of the things in his book were discussed then.

More significant is Wright's theory that the Penkovskiy operation was a disinformation operation resulting from a supposed KGB extensive deception activity alleged by Golitsyn to be in its initial stages. He first cites the timing of Penkovskiy's contact with the West, but bases his theory in large part on his statement that Penkovskiy visited the American Embassy, known to be well-penetrated technically by the KGB. However, that is absolutely untrue—Penkovskiy never entered the embassy.

Wright also mistakenly identifies the origin of Penkovskiy's documents on missiles—not from an uncle in the GRU, but from Penkovskiy’s mentor and protector—commander of Soviet tactical missiles Chief Marshal of Artillery Varentsov. Wright's allegation that Penkovskiy's reporting from Varentsov misled us about minimal Soviet strategic missile capability is nonsense—the information was quite right, and gave the US government the information it needed to stand up to the Soviets in Berlin and Cuba.

Wright also incorrectly states that the KGB and GRU officers who walked in to the FBI in New York in 1962, FEDORA and TOPHAT, were identified by all US agencies as KGB provocations, and gave false information supporting Penkovskiy (and Nosenko). The CI Staff under Angleton, and the FBI CI staff under Nolan , did so, but both sources continued to report significant information for several years after those incorrect assessments, and were evaluated as bona fide by CIA after Angleton left the CI Staff in December 1974. The doubts about TOPHAT came up again when he provided information leading to the arrest of British national Bossard in 1965, who had been supplying American missile documents to the KGB. Again, instead of accepting this event as obvious support of TOPHAT's bona fides, Wright speculates as to why the KGB had given up Bossard!

Spycatcher, Peter Wright, 1982

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