How Adolf Tolkachev Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union?
The “Great Spy” Who Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union

The “Great Spy” Who Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union

Khalid Elhassan - January 14, 2019

The “Great Spy” Who Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union
Edward Lee Howard WANTED poster. FBI

Tolkachev’s Treason Unmasked by Treason Within the CIA

The unmasking of Tolkachev began with Edward Lee Howard. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Howard went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration, before getting hired by USAID in 1976. He joined the CIA in 1980, but revelations of past drug use derailed his career, and he was eventually fired in 1983. Disgruntled, he contacted the KGB and began spilling secrets, before finally defecting to the Soviets in 1985. Among the secrets, he spilled was information that put the KGB on Tolkachev’s trail.

More devastating to Tolkachev was Aldrich Ames. The son of a CIA analyst, Ames’ connections got him into the CIA in 1962. Despite heavy drinking, drunken run-ins with the police, drunken brawls in public with foreign diplomats, as well as sloppiness that once led him to forget secret documents in an NYC subway car, Ames rose steadily within the CIA’s ranks. After recruiting Soviet spies in Turkey in the 1960s, he returned to the US in the 1970s, then was posted to Mexico in the early 1980s, where he met his second wife, Maria del Rosario, a Colombian whom he had recruited. They wed in 1985, and that same year, the couple began selling secrets to the KGB.

The “Great Spy” Who Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union
Aldrich Ames. Documentary Tube

By the time they were finally unmasked in 1994, Ames and his wife had been paid over $2.7 million by the KGB and its Russian successor. There had been warning signs aplenty, as the couple flouted the proceeds of their treason with conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending. A big $520,000 house paid for in cash, luxury vacations, premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payments exceeded Ames’ salary, and luxury cars that stood out in the CIA’s parking lot – things that honest public servants could not afford on government pay.

No alarm bells were raised for years, and it was not until 1993 that Ames’ employers took a serious look at his finances and activities. In the meantime, Ames had passed two polygraphs while he was spying. He needed no high-tech means or complicated Oceans Eleven-type capers to smuggle out secrets. Ames simply stuffed whatever documents he wanted to give his handlers in his briefcase or in trash bags, and brazenly carried them out of the CIA headquarters at the end of the workday, with nobody questioning him.

The “Great Spy” Who Got His Revenge on the Soviet Union
Tolkachev during his trial. Gary Nevillegasm

By the time Ames was finally unmasked, nearly a decade later, he had revealed to the Soviets and Russians the identity of every CIA spy operating in their country. As a result, at least 12 CIA spies within the Soviet Union were captured, of whom 10 were subsequently executed. They included Adolf Tolkachev, who was arrested by the KGB in 1985. He was tried and convicted, and executed the following year. As to Ames, after his arrest in 1994, he cut a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty, and ensured that his wife got no more than a five-year sentence. Ames is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, August 8th, 2015 – What Made This Man Betray His Country?

Central Intelligence Agency – Tolkachev, a Worthy Successor to Penkovsky

Hoffman, David E. – The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal (2015)

History of Yesterday, August 10, 20019 – The CIA’s Billion-dollar Spy

War is Boring, – The Man Who Ruined the Soviet Warplane Industry

Wikipedia – Adolf Tolkachev