Friday, May 2, 2014

Wikipedia Commentary: Oleg Penkovskiy

Note: These comments refer to a Wikipedia entry as it was in 2013.

This account of the Penkovskiy operation is mostly unreliable, casting doubt on the most important CIA operation of the Cold War.

The "two very different opinions" about the operation were never the official CIA opinion, but the opinion of paranoid Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, accepted by CI Staff chief James Angleton and his supporters from 1963 on, including some in the FBI, and applied by them to all Soviet assets and defectors until Angleton and his staff declined reassignment by DCI William Colby in December 1974 and were replaced.

The citation of technician Peter Wright ("Spycatcher") as one of those suspecting Penkovskiy of being a Soviet plant is particularly irrelevant and meaningless. Wright was not a counterintelligence or intelligence officer but the first really capable and respected technician in MI5. His only connection with the Penkovskiy operation was to set up the recorder for the series of meetings with Penkovskiy in London in April and July 1961.

The comment here that Wright suspected Penkovskiy of misleading the US about
Soviet strategic missile capability is nonsense which Wright had no experience or background for asserting. Just the opposite, Penkovskiy provided correct information on Soviet ICBM development which led to a major reduction of that capability in the 1961 National Intelligence Estimate, and provided President Kennedy the confidence he needed to confront the USSR during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. Wright’s personal opinion in this and other matters was based entirely on his relationship with, and confidence in, Angleton.

Greville Wynne ("The Man from Odessa") certainly contributed to the operation, but only as a safe intermediary between Penkovskiy and the US/UK team of four operations officers who met with him. Wynne's book has a number of significant inaccuracies and unfounded claims, but his role in the operation certainly earned him some such reward. There is no basis for the statement that Penkovskiy was compromised somehow by Jack Dunlap, an army sergeant working as a courier for lower classified documents at NSA. When he was arrested, documents found in his house included some of those provided by Penkovskiy and given lower classifications because a great number of Soviets would have had access to them. KGB surveillance of Janet Chisholm eventually led to Penkovskiy's compromise.

The comment here which assigns operational responsibility to the British, M16, is entirely inaccurate. Penkovskiy planned from the start to contact the Americans, and work with them, and that was his message to those in Moscow that he tried to get to help him make that contact , and in the message he finally got to MI6. MI6 accepted that fact, but the head of the American team, Joe Bulik, expressed his suspicion that MI6 was trying to steal the operation, which led to a confrontation in London just before the July meetings started. His attitude remained all the way to the end of Paris meetings in October 1961, when the MI6 and CIA teams were speaking to one another only through Leonard McCoy. The description here of the manner in which Penkovskiy provided his information, particularly in large volume to wife Janet Chisholm in Moscow, is indeed correct.

Why Wright's opinion of the case deserves so much attention here makes no sense at all. He did not see Penkovskiy’s information, had no background to evaluate it, and could only quote Angleton, Golitsyn, and the MI6 officers whom he identifies as having served in Washington, Christopher Phillpotts and Stephen de Mowbray, who had accepted Angleton's (Golitsyn's) medically paranoid theory.

Maurice Oldfield, the (SIS) officer in Washington during the operation, later chief of MI6, did not accept that theory. In my last meeting with Wright in London, just before his retirement, when he said he would settle in Dover and raise Arabian horses, the only subject he raised which came up later in his book was to the effect that his analysis of Soviet KGB broadcasts to its agents supported Angleton's accusation that Canadian RCMP CI chief Leslie James Bennett was a KGB asset. In his book, however, he comments that he did not believe that.

The description here of Penkovskiy's contribution to the identification of the Soviet intermediate range missile being deployed in Cuba is greatly exaggerated. It is absolutely true that his information resulted in the identification of the missile site being built and photographed by the U-2, which convinced President Kennedy of the threat and prompted his 22 October 1962 challenge to Khrushchev. That information was not extensive however, only presented in an article which appeared in the Strategic Missile Bulletin and was photographed by Penkovskiy.

Wikipedia would be wise to refer to Wright's comments only briefly, and focus on the accounts of the Penkovskiy operation presented in "The Spy Who Saved the World" and "The Penkovskiy Papers". The theory that Penkovskiy was somehow involved in a vast Soviet plot with a grand political strategy was not borne out by history or subsequent defectors or assets. It ranks in terms of credibility with the associated theory that the Sino-Soviet feud was simply theater to deceive the West.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.