I knew the trip to Brussels was somewhat risky. I had
written to Bagley three times— and he had not responded.
I sent him a cable Helms had recommended that I speak
to him about "a matter of mutual interest." No reply.
I sent him a precise of the account I had pieced together
of Nosenko's defection. Again, no reply. I even had
phoned his home number in Brussels. His wife Maria answered,
and told me courteously that he would not return my
call. Meanwhile, I received a very interesting unsigned
document from the CIA through the Freedom of Information
Act. It contained forty-four questions— very precise
questions with many subtexts— that had been prepared
for Nosenko. They were aimed at testing his knowledge
about Oswald. Were the "tough questions" from Bagley
to which Helm's had alluded? There was no indication
they were ever answered. So, hoping they might ring
a bill, I sent them to Bagley's address, scrawling on
"Bagley's Questions?" I enclosed an elliptical note,
asking "Were the questions ever answered?" and, giving
my itinerary, said I would be stopping in for two days
Brussels en route to France.
It worked. There was a message from
"Pete B." when I called back, he was terse. He began
by asking pointedly who gave me the 44 questions. When
I replied, just as terse, the CIA, there was a long
pause. Then, like a kidnapper might arrange a ransom
drop-off, he told me where to meet him at the Waterloo
battlefield memorial. At 2 p.m. he would be standing
in front of the depiction of a particular regiment in
a circular mural in the museum.
I had no trouble finding him. He
looked considerably younger than his fifty years, His
military posture, and stern look, made him stand out
among the other tourist like a sore thumb. So much for
He then took me for a tour of the
battlefield-- showing an impressive grasp of Napoleon's
order of battle. As we walked from position to position,
he reviewed the battle formations, explaining the impossibility
of Napoleon's position.
He asked again how I had gotten
his 44 questions. I explained the CIA released it under
Freedom of Information. He shook his head in disbelief.
The idea that the secret documents could be released
to an outsider was. He said, "in his time, inconceivable."
He expressed indignation that the CIA would make available
the questionnaire, especially since it identified him
(although in fact, it did not identify him; he had misinterpreted
my scrawl on the page).
But now that the subject was breached
I asked him whether he had read my precis of Nosenko's
defection. He nodded. "Is it a fair rendition?" I continued.
He remained silently for almost
a full minute-- and I could see the tension in his face.
Finally, he said "You've got it wrong."
"In what way?" I pressed.
"Unfortunately, I can't tell you
If this all he had to tell me, I
wondered why he hadn't just told it to me over the phone.
I assumed he had met me to tell something more definite
about Nosenko. Couldn't he at least point out the error?
"If I told you that, I'd have to
tell you everything," he answered. He added, as if it
were some consolation, that he had even refused to talk
about the case to John Hart, the CIA investigator who
had spoken to Helms.
He then said matter-of-factly that
he had made a reservation at the Villa Lorraine, a three
star restaurant outside of Brussels. He asked if I would
like to join him. I again assumed he had more to tell
me, and accepted.
At dinner, he apologized for not
being able to correct my error. He hardly dampened my
interest by asserting "Nosenko was not just another
case-- it was at the heart of everything that happened
at the CIA for a decade." Realizing that he was still
obsessed by Nosenko, I asked if he would be interested
in seeing other material on the Nosenko case that had
been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
June 8-13, 1977
The house in the village of Gassin
perfectly fit Bagley's penchant for inconspicuous places.
After reading my Nosenko file at a medieval nunnery
in Bruges, while I wandered around the cloisters, he
had made his decision. He would tell me the secret side
of what happened to Nosenko. But it would take time,
so I rented this house just outside St. Tropez. It also
fit his idea of the good life, which included lunching
dailys at the Club
55 on the topless Pamplona beach and hikes in the
countryside ( he was a dedicated bird watcher).
He began by telloing me what Angleton
had omitted. "Where you went wrong was that you assumed
that it was after Kennedy had been assassinated in November
1963 when Nosenko had first contacted the CIA ."
I rechecked my notes, mystified
by his point. The date I had been given was January
23, 1964, which was nine weeks after the assassination.
I had assumed that Nosenko contacted the CIA because
of what he knew of the assassin--Oswald. I answered
defensively "That is what I was told."
He shot back, "Angleton omitted
telling you that Nosenko was supposedly working for
us before the assassination. He was our man in Moscow."
He added, "I should know-- I recruited him."
That was the missing piece-- or
at least of one them.
Bagley's story began in Switzerland
in the summer of 1962. Officially, he was the Second
Secretary at the American Embassy in Berne; unofficially,
he was a CIA case officer. His worked for its elite
Soviet Russia Division, code named BK HERALD. In it,
he headed the recruitment team that went after REDTOPS.
REDTOPS were Soviet diplomats, military attaches, intelligence
officers or other government officials who were travelling
through or temporarily stationed in the west. Bagley's
mission was to arrange for these REDTOPS to be somehow
approached by an so-called "access agent," which was
usually some diplomat with a plausible excuse to meet
REDTOPS, and then induced or persuaded to act as steal
secrets for the CIA when they returned to the Soviet
Union. It was not an easy job.
On June 8th, he got an urgent call
from Geneva. A Soviet security officer named Yuri Ivanovich
Nosenko, who was at the Disarmament Conference there,
had passed a note to an American diplomat at the meeting.
It said only he wanted to be put in touch with a "representative"
of the U.S. Government, which meant CIA.
Bagley caught the next plane to
Geneva. Working through the American diplomat, he passed
a message back to Nosenko containing only a time and
an address. The address was that of a "safehouse," which
the CIA maintained in Geneva for just such a contingency.
It was actually a small apartment with a terrace in
an inconspicuous bloc of flats that would be used only
for Nosenko, and then abandoned.
As he waited for Nosenko to show
up, Bagley was joined in the apartment by another case
officer in the Soviet Russia Division named George Kisvalter.
Kisvalter, who was born in Russia, spoke perfect Russian.
He had just flown in that afternoon from Washington
to assist Bagley with the interrogation.
Nosenko arrived about an hour and
a half late, claiming that he had to make sure he wasn't
followed. He was a powerfully built man, about six feet
tall, with a massive jaw. He acted very professionally,
and, without any resistance, rattled off answers to
the questions as if he was there for a job interview.
He also seemed to know that it was being taped. The
first question was mandated by CIA regulations for all
REDTOPS. Kisvalter asked Nosenko whether he knew of
any imminent Soviet plans to launch a military attack.
Nosenko smiled, as if he was expecting the question,
then shook his head "no." He was next asked why he had
contacted the CIA. Hostile intelligence services previously
had sent "dangles" to the CIA, as the secret Central
Intelligence Directive on Defectors warned, "to penetrate
or convey false or deceptive information to U.S. Intelligence
Nosenko replied his motive was economic.
He had spent 900 Swiss francs (or about $200) of KGB
funds on a drinking binge and needed to replace it.
In return, he offered to furnish the CIA with a KGB
manual on its techniques for surveilling western diplomats
in Moscow. He said it would explain how the KGB had
caught one of the CIA's top agents.
Bagley then asked Nosenko if he
wanted to defect to the West. If he did, then crash
arrangements would have to be made to get Nosenko out
Nosenko answered "No." He had no
intention of defecting. He had a wife and children in
Moscow to whom he planned to return. He only wanted
900 Swiss Francs.
This was the answer Bagley hoped
to hear. The object of the exercise was not to encourage
REDTOPS to defect, but to get them to spy for the CIA.
He handed Nosenko the 900 francs. He explained to Nosenko,
who had already shown an interest in money, that the
CIA would pay him handsomely if he assisted them by
supplying information. He would, for example, be given
an additional $25,000 for every Soviet source in the
west his information helped to expose. The money could
be deposited in a Swiss account for when he eventually
decided to defect. He would, moreover, be given assistance
in getting his family out of Russia.
Nosenko betrayed no emotional reaction
at this offer to commit treason. He shrugged and said
he would consider it.
Bagley still didn't know with who
he was dealing. In response to his "flash" cable, CIA
files had no information, or "traces," on Nosenko. The
only Nosenko in them was Ivan Nosenko, the Soviet Minister
of Shipbuilding, and a member of the Central Committee
of the Communist Party, who had died six years earlier.
Nosenko explained that he was Ivan
Nosenko's son. He had been born October 20th 1927 in
Nikolayev, Russia, and, as the son of a Minister, had
attended the elite Frunze Military Academy. In 1953,
after serving briefly in naval intelligence, he joined
the KGB. He was assigned to its Second Chief Directorate,
which had the primary responsibility for for recruiting
foreigners in Russia and mounting counterintelligence
initiatives against the West. He worked in both its
"American Department," which attempted to recruit U.S.
embassy employees in Moscow, and the "Tourist Department,"
which attempted to recruit American tourists in Russia.
He had been given the Geneva duty to watch over the
Soviet delegation purely as a perk.
Bagley immediately realized that
Nosenko, if his story checked out, was an incredible
catch. Not only was he the son of hero of the Soviet
Union-- Khrushchev himself had been a guard of honor
at Ivan Nosenko's funeral bier-- but he was in a key
section of a part of the KGB which the CIA knew virtually
nothing about-- The 2nd Chief Directorate. Up until
two years before, it had not even known of its existence.
No one had ever been recruited from this Directorate
before. If Nosenko now could be induced to go back to
Moscow and work as an "agent in place," the CIA would
have a mole in the heart of KGB counterintelligence.
As the debriefing proceeded, Nosenko
provided a wealth of clues to identify Soviet agents
in the United States and England. He also revealed how
the KGB had planted microphones in the U.S. Embassy
in Moscow. He then left two hours after he arrived,
and, as Bagley watched, he vanished into the night.
Two days later, he returned for
another session. This time he brought with him the promised
documents on survelliance. They revealed that the KGB
had a chemical substance they sprayed on the shoes of
American diplomats in Moscow, so that they could be
invisibly followed by survelliance teams with dogs.
He then agreed to act as a mole for the CIA in Moscow
(although he refused to allow the CIA to contact him
on the grounds it would be too dangerous).
On June 11th, Bagley cabled the CIA
in Washington: "Subject has conclusively proved his
bona fides. He has provided info of importance and sensitivity.
Willing to meet when abroad." The CIA responded by providing
Nosenko with a cryptonym-- AE FOXTROT. Bagley was authorized
to provide AE FOXTROT with a secret writing kit, a password,
and a means of communicating with the CIA. Four days
later, Nosenko (or AE FOXTROT, as he was now known in
the CIA), returned to Moscow.
Bagley flew to Washington the next
week believing he had "hooked the biggest fish yet".
When he arrived at CIA headquarters that Saturday, he
was personally commended by his superior David Murphy,
the Chief of the Soviet Russia Division, who believed
Nosenko's career in the KGB could be systematically
advanced by the CIA. It could indeed arrange for its
secret agent in Moscow to have a string of dramatic
successes in his counterintelligence work. As his case
officer, Bagley's career would also be advanced.
Bagley also had a message that Angleton
had wanted to see him. There had been always been some
tension between Angleton, who had no "operational" responsibilities
for agents but second-guessed their value and the Division
which actually ran and supported agents in the Soviet
Union. It was not unlike the competition that goes on
in a news magazine between reporters, who find sources,
and fact-checkers who question their reliability. Although
Angleton had no direct authority of him or the Division,
he decided it would be "politically wise" to see the
Counterintelligence Staff Chief right away.
Angleton handed him a file to read
which he said pointedly was too sensitive to leave his
office. It concerned another REDTOP defector. He suggested
he review it before making any further judgments about
As he poured over it that June weekend,
he was astounded. Each point in Nosenko's story paralleled
information given by this earlier defector. When the
two stories were compared, it became clear to that Nosenko
was a "provocation", sent to him in Geneva by the KGB
to supply clues that would divert from and confuse the
intelligence the CIA already had from the real defector.
The practice was called in the CIA "painting false tracks".
He understood, even before Angleton told him, that he
had been duped by Nosenko.
Angleton seemed far less concerned
about this turn of events. He suggested that now that
the Division knew it was dealing with a KGB "controlled
source," it could use him to the CIA's advantage. He
would be treated as a "mailbox" in which messages would
be deposited for the KGB. As far as any information
that came from AE FOXTROT (and presumably the KGB),
it would be labelled "From as source whose bona fides
have not been established," which was the term of art
for a disinformation agent.
Bagley returned to Switzerland crestfallen.
The mole he had recruited turned out to be a Soviet
plant. Whether or not he would re-emerge was problematical.
Then, on November 22nd 1963, President
Kennedy was assassinated. Less than a week later, the
CIA established that the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey
Oswald, had attempted to contact Soviet intelligence
in Moscow during his stay there. The question was asked
of CIA procedure experts: If Oswald had made contact
with the KGB during that period, what unit of Soviet
intelligence would have been handled his case. The answer
that came back was the 2nd Chief Directorate's "Tourist
Department." By coincidence, it was the one unit in
which the CIA had, on paper at least, an agent--AE FOXTROT.
Some six weeks later, Nosenko sent
a cable to an innocuous-sounding address in Europe.
It was the pre-arranged signal that Nosenko had been
given by the CIA. He indicated he would be arriving
in Geneva the following week, where he would again be
acting as the security officer for the Soviet disarmament
delegation. He wanted a meeting with "George," the name
by which he knew Bagley.
Bagley, now stationed in Washington,
had risen to a central position in the Soviet Russia
Division. He headed its counterintelligence operations
(which had no connection with Angleton's Counterintelligence
Staff) and he was slated to be the Deputy Chief of the
whole Division. He still remained the case officer of
the mystery agent AE FOXTROT. As soon as Nosenko's signal
was flashed to Washington, Bagley booked a flight to
Geneva. He assumed the rendez-vous with Nosenko would
lead to a few tidbits of disinformations. He had no
idea of what was in store for him.
On January 23rd, Nosenko sauntered
into the safe house, taking few precautions about security.
He greeted Bagley like an old friend. As he poured himself
a drink, he casually told Bagley he had made a "decision."
Instead of returning to Russia, he would defect to the
Bagley was speechless. Even if he
believed Nosenko was genuine, CIA policy would be to
discourage defections, and persuade REDTOPS to return
to the Soviet Union, where they could do some good as
spies. Since he believed Nosenko was phoney, and controlled
by the KGB, such a defection would be ludicrous. But
before Bagley could question this decision, Nosenko
brought up another surprise-- Lee Harvey Oswald. He
reported that he had information about Oswald that could
be crucially important to the United States.
Bagley asked how he knew about Oswald.
Nosenko explained that he had been
the KGB officer assigned to Oswald's case when he arrived
in Moscow. He was consulted on Oswald after he returned
to the United States. Then, after the assassination,
he had been asked to read through Oswald's entire KGB
file and act for the KGB as sort of inspector general
in the case. He in fact "signed off" on the case for
the KGB. This put him in an unique position: he could
testify to the relationship between Oswald and the KGB.
Bagley was totally unprepared for
this turn of events. He didn't believe Nosenko, but
he had to forward his report to Washington. He knew
that Nosenko's claims to being Oswald's case officer
would set off "bells" in the CIA. The President might
even now have to be briefed on the case. There was nothing
he could do but continue the interrogation session,
and hope that the label on the file would alert headquarters
to the danger of disinformation.
He asked the key question. What
interest did the KGB have in Oswald?.
"It was decided Oswald was of no
interest whatsoever, so the KGB recommended he go home
to the United States." Nosenko answered.
Bagley listened keenly, as he tried
to figure out Nosenko's game. It appeared the KGB wanted
its man in Washington. But why? Changing the subject,
he asked him why he now wanted to defect.
Nosenko had a ready answer. He said
that he had come under suspicion and feared he would
be arrested if he returned to Russia. He said he had
just received a telegram ordering him to return to Moscow
on February 4th. He had less than a week. He needed
help from the CIA.
When the transcript of this interrogation
was cabled to CIA headquarters, Helms had no choice
but authorize a "crash" defection for Nosenko. If he
had done otherwise, the CIA could be accused of suppressing
potentially important evidence on the Kennedy Assassination.
He was too proficient a bureaucrat to fall into that
trap. He gave Bagley the "Go" signal. He specified Nosenko
was to be taken out of Switzerland "black," without
revealing his identity to the Swiss, which meant military
attache planes, not opened to border inspection would
After a brief stop at the U.S> debriefing
center in Frankfurt, Nosenko arrived in Washington on
a military transport on February 11th. He was ensconced
in a CIA safe house outside of Washington. This was
the easy part.
The issue was what to do with him.
Bagley's investigators, after scrutinizing his biography,
concluded it was a "legend," concocted by the KGB. He
could not have held the positions he claimed to have
had in the KGB. They concluded that Nosenko was a dispatched
defector under KGB control. Bagley concurred, as did
his Chief, David Murphy.
Murphy believed, moreover, that
the KGB might have instructed Nosenko to break away
at his earliest opportunity and go to a Soviet Embassy.
He could then denounce the CIA for attempting to kidnap
him. He might even claim the CIA was attempting to suppress
his Oswald story. On February 17th, less than a week
after Nosenko's arrival, Murphy wrote Helms: "... there
is greater evidence now I believe for the view that
this operation is designed for long-term goals of utmost
importance to the Soviets. One of these is probably
a massive propaganda assault on the CIA in which Subject,
most probably as a `re-defected CIA agent', will play
a major ... role." In addition, he expressed concern
that Nosenko's mission also was aimed the "penetration
of our operational effort," which could be accomplished
by Nosenko learning CIA procedures, and the "protection
of past or possibly existing sources," which he could
do by confusing ongoing investigations with false clues.
Because of all this damage that Nosenko could do, Murphy
recommended that preparations should be made to imprison
Nosenko to prevent him from re-defecting. He noted "the
big problem is one of timing: How long can we keep subject
or his KGB controllers, ignorant of our awareness of
this operation? At some point, he would have to be confronted
and broken through a process of "hostile interrogation."
Bagley knew that this inevitable
confrontation was strongly opposed by Angleton, who
wanted to keep playing Nosenko, and his KGB controllers,
like a fish on a line. But while Angleton might have
inexhaustible patience, Murphy wanted results. Nosenko
had involved himself in the investigation of Oswald,
which had brought the issue of his status to the attention
of the FBI, Attorney General and Warren Commission.
Helms, with the concurrence of the Department of Justice,
had authorized the "hostile interrogation." It was only
a matter of time. To lull Nosenko into a false sense
of confidence, the CIA paid him $60,000 for the information
he supplied, began making arrangements for him to be
a U.S. citizen and even sent him on a vacation to Hawaii
with Bagley. All the while he was cavorting on the beach,
the CIA was constructing a "vault" for him in the basement
in the basement of a what looked like a ranch house
a few miles from downtown Washington.
Then, on April 4th 1964, Nosenko
was strapped into a lie detector. It was all a carefully
rehearsed drama designed to break him. His interrogators
told him over and over again that his answers were lies.
He asked for Bagley. Bagley came in, examined the lie
detector results, and then ordered him stripped and
put in a cell. It was only the beginning of his ordeal.
Nosenko spent the next three and
one half years in a windowless cell in solitary confinement.
Day and night, the light remained on in his eight foot
square cell, with guards keeping him under constant
visual observation. Every three or four days, he was
brought in front of interrogators, and grilled relentlessly
about details of his story. As the weeks dragged on
without results, they tried various disorientation techniques,
such as gradually setting clocks back and manipulating
lighting conditions to convince him it was day when
it was really night, thereby confusing his sense of
time. At one point, Bagley was convinced that he was
about to break, and admit his entire biography was a
KGB invention. He muttered something indicating that
he could have held any of the positions in the KGB he
had claimed to hold. Bagley held his breathe, anticipating
that a full confession would follow. When it didn't,
he repeated the question. After a long pause, Nosenko
replied, "You misunderstood me." He then pulled himself
together, and stuck monotonously to his story.
The battle went on year after year.
Bagley versus Nosenko. Bagley set forth the case against
Nosenko in a 900 page report. "But he never broke,"
Bagley said, as he ended his story.
But Nosenko was not in prison now.
As I found out in my interview with him, Nosenko ,cocky
and in high spirits, was now working as a counterintelligence
consultant for the CIA. What had happen to transform
him in the eyes of the CIA from a provocateur on a KGB
directed mission, who had been imprisoned, to an accredited
Bagley answered glumly "I wish I
knew." He explained that in late 1967 the Soviet Division
was "re-staffed." Murphy was abruptly removed as and
sent to Paris to be station chief there. Bagley, who
was then Deputy Chief, was not promoted. Instead, he
was transferred to Belgium, where three years later
he sought early retirement. Other top officers who had
been involved in the Nosenko were also switched to other
divisions. In the months that followed, the entire case
seemed to be turned inside out. The insiders who had
developed the indictment against Nosenko were turned
out; the outsiders came in. It all happened without
warning or explanation. Nosenko, who had been the Division
responsibility, was suddenly turned over to the CIA's
Office of Security.
Then, earlier this year, when John
Hart had come to see him, he learned that Nosenko had
been "rehabilitated," as Hart put it. He also realized
that Hart's job was re-writing the history of the case
to expunge any trace of Nosenko's KGB mission. He had
come to see him to see him to pressure him to recant,
which he had refused to do.
Bagley had heard that Nosenko's
new case officer, Bruce Solie, had received a CIA medal.
"For what?" I interrupted.
"The whitewash," he answered bitterly.
It was now clear why he had believed
himself justified in telling me his version of the story.
There still seemed to be a missing element: why the
Soviet Division had been purged?
Bagley could not answer that question.