Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky
"Agent Hero" (Олег Владимирович Пеньковский; born April 23
, died May 16
, Soviet Union
), was a colonel with Soviet military intelligence
) in the late 1950s and early 1960s who informed the United States about Soviet Union placing missiles on Cuba
, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis
. He also passed other important secrets to the West. He is considered one of the best assets the West ever had in the Soviet Union.
Early life and military career
Penkovsky's father died fighting as an officer in the White Army
in the Russian Civil War
. Oleg graduated from the Kiev Artillery Academy in the rank of lieutenant in 1939. After taking part in the Winter War
against Finland and in the World War II
, he had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
A GRU officer, Penkovsky was appointed military attaché in Ankara in 1955. He later worked at the Soviet Committee for Scientific Research. Penkovsky was a personal friend of GRU head Ivan Serov and Soviet marshal Sergei Varentsov
Work for Western intelligence
Penkovsky approached American students on the Moskvoretsky Bridge
in Moscow in July 1960 and gave them a package, which was delivered to the Central Intelligence Agency
. CIA officers delayed in contacting him because they believed they were under constant surveillance . Penkovsky eventually persuaded the British - Greville Wynne
to arrange a meeting with two American and two British intelligence officers during a visit to London
in 1961. Wynne became one of his couriers. The CIA regretted their earlier mistake, but were included by the British and they shared future information.
For the following eighteen months Penkovsky supplied a tremendous amount of information to his British Secret Intelligence Service handlers in Moscow, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, and to CIA and SIS contacts during his permitted trips abroad. Most significantly, he was responsible for arming President John F. Kennedy with the information that the Soviet nuclear arsenal was much smaller than previously thought, that the Soviet fueling systems were not fully operational, and that the Soviet guidance systems were not yet functional.
Role in Cuban Missile Crisis
Soviet leadership started the deployment of nuclear missiles
in the belief that Washington would not detect the Cuban missile sites until it was too late to do anything about them. Penkovsky provided plans and descriptions of the nuclear rocket launch sites on Cuba. Only this information allowed the west to identify the missile sites from the low-resolution pictures provided by US U-2
Penkovsky was arrested by the KGB on 22 October 1962 -- on the information from British double agent George Blake -- before Kennedy's address to the nation revealing that U-2 spyplane photographs had confirmed intelligence reports and that the Soviets were installing medium-range nuclear missiles on the Caribbean Island--code named Operation Anadyr (see Cuban Missile Crisis). Thus the President was deprived of a potentially important intelligence agent that might have lessened the tension during the ensuing 13-day stand-off; intelligence such as the fact that Khrushchev was already looking for ways to defuse the situation. . Such information, arguably, would have reduced the pressure on Kennedy to launch an invasion of the island--an action which, it is now known, would have led to the use of Luna class tactical nuclear weapons against US troops. The Soviet commander, General Issa A. Pliyev, commander in charge, had been given permission to use these weapons without consulting Moscow first.
Penkovsky was tried and convicted of treason and espionage in a trial in 1963. As to his fate after conviction, accounts differ. Some sources allege that Penkovsky was executed by the traditional Soviet method of a bullet to the back of the neck and cremated. GRU author Vladimir Rezun
, writing under the pseudonym "Viktor Suvorov", claims in Aquarium_(Suvorov)
having been shown a black and white GRU film where Penkovsky was bound to a board with a piano wire and 'cremated alive'. This graphic account tells of how he was slowly fed into a furnace alive, feet first, as other officers were made to watch on, in a warning to potential traitors. A very similar description was later included in Ernest Volkman's popular book "Spies: The Secret Agents Who Changed the Course of History" .
Oleg Penkovsky's remains are subsequently listed as having been interred at the Donskoi Cemetery in Moscow.
The spying career of Oleg Penkovsky was the subject of Episode 1 of the BBC series "Nuclear Secrets", entitled "The Spy from Moscow". The programme featured original covert KGB footage showing Penkovsky photographing classified information and meeting with Janet Chisholm. It was broadcast on January 15, 2007.
Portrayal in popular culture
Penvoksky was portrayed by Mark Bonnar
in the 2007 BBC Television docudrama Nuclear Secrets
- Oleg Penkovsky, The Penkovsky Papers: The Russian Who Spied for the West, Doubleday, New York, 1966.
- Note: The book was commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency. A 1976 Senate commission stated that "the book was prepared and written by witting agency assets who drew on actual case materials." Author Frank Gibney denied that the CIA forged the provided source material, which was also the opinion of Robert Conquest. Other dismissed the book as propaganda and having no historic value.
- Jerrold L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992. ISBN 0684190680
- Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton, with Henry R. Schlesinger, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda, New York, Dutton, 2008. ISBN 0525949801