As this summer's Russian 'spy' ring arrests demonstrated, the world of espionage and counterespionage transcends the Cold War, Us versus Them, mindset. Indeed, the fact that anyone thought the spy v spy saga ended in the early 90s demonstrates not just the relative ignorance of the common American, but the residual innocence of the American. The fact that we have a full-time peace-time foreign intelligence apparatus is only a recent development that grew out of the necessity to counter Soviet intentions in the post World War II era.
I assume that since you are still reading this, I have at least maintained some peoples’ interest. So, fellow espionage aficionados enjoy this lessons-learned piece I wrote last year for a college class regarding the 1960s KGB-defector fiasco that ruffles feathers in the intelligence community to this day.
Lessons Learned from Golytsin and NosenkoOctober 16, 2009
Yuri NosenkoFollowing his defection, Golitsyn alleged the KGB would order agents to defect with an agenda to discredit him. As if following a script, Nosenko defected soon after these predictions. The controversial information Nosenko provided included details concerning the KGB’s association with President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The head of counterintelligence of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton, and Nosenko’s original case officer, both believed Nosenko to be a KGB plant; while James Edgar Hoover, and George Kisevalter, the renowned handler of Popov and Penkovskiy, believed Nosenko’s bona fides. This author believes there are three important lessons to be learned from this controversy: The simplest explanation is most likely true, one’s actions must always be weighed against their interests, and polygraphs, if applied in a manipulative manner, will always give the results one desires.
James Jesus AngletonIn the 14th Century, an English scholar named William of Ockham, stated “Plurality should not be posited without necessity” (Ockham’s Razor, 2009). One way to interpret Ockham’s Razor, as it is now popularly known, is that the simplest explanation is usually true. This principle can be applied to the Nosenko/Golitsyn controversy.Following Nosenko’s defection, the FBI vetted him extensively, interviewing him for two months. As part of this vetting process, the FBI used a confidential source, code-named “Fedora.” Fedora confirmed two parts of Nosenko’s story, one that he was a Lieutenant Colonel, and the other that Nosenko was recalled to Moscow from Geneva prompting his defection (Ashley, 2004, p. 279). As CIA concerns about Nosenko’s veracity increased, so did their scrutiny of his statements. Indeed, if it had not been for the fact that Nosenko stated he had “supervised the KGB file on Lee Harvey Oswald in 1959,” the Agency would have likely had rebuffed his request to defect (Ashley, 2004, p. 273). After several, Agency-administered polygraph tests revealed Nosenko was hiding something, he admitted to making up his current rank (he was in fact a captain) and admitted to lying about the telegram recalling him to Moscow (Ashley, 2004, p. 282). This automatically prompted some CIA and FBI employees to doubt Fedora’s authenticity (Ashley, 004, pp. 282, 283).It is at this point one must pause and consider the ramifications of the possibility that Fedora was disingenuous in his corroboration of Nosenko. Granted, it is easy to follow a line of logical thinking, even when the line takes one to places where the truth is on the edge of the realm of possibility. It is here that the first lesson must be applied. If Fedora was lying in order to corroborate Nosenko’s bona fides, one must assume Fedora was a KGB plant. One must further assume he was planted in order to corroborate Nosenko, another KGB plant. And if one were to believe Golitsyn, both of these plants were an elaborate scheme by the KGB to discredit Golitsyn. Ockham’s Razor states the simplest explanation is most likely. Therefore the most acceptable solution to the Nosenko/Fedora problem is one that Nosenko offered: that the paperwork promoting him to Lieutenant Colonel had been approved and the actual promotion was in process, and that he lied about the telegram “in order to encourage the CIA to accept his defection quickly” (Ashley, 2004, pp. 286, 287). Though never confirmed, the fact that Fedora stated the same information can be explained as hearsay. Nosenko lied about these two things because of his own self interests. He also explained some further conflicting answers in his first two polygraphs were due to his being intoxicated during the first round of debriefs (Ashley, 2004, p. 286).The fact that Nosenko lied about several things brings up the next lesson to be learned: one’s actions must always be weighed against their interests. Doctor Gregory House on the popular television drama “House,” says, “Everyone lies.” This character says it due to his study of human nature and the propensity of human beings to do things based on selfish desires. This does not make them wrong, only human. When one combines this element of human nature with the type of person who would betray their country, a very unique personality emerges. One must have very powerful motivators in order to betray one’s country. Lust for money, power, prestige, notoriety, are usually preeminent among the factors. Only rarely is a true, unadulterated, ideological believer uncovered.These facts of human nature apply to the Golytsin/Nosenko controversy because it can explain both of their actions as mostly true. Even though they contradict each other at many points, this author believes both Golytsin and Nosenko to be genuine defectors. Golytsin “was a loose cannon,” and “[insisted] that his worth to the Agency … warranted special treatment” (Ashley, 2004, p. 265). He was treated like a rock star in the counterintelligence community and demanded it. His own overinflated sense of self-worth perfectly explains his warning that “there would be false defectors who would come to discredit him” (Ashley, 2004, p. 265). Likewise, Nosenko, as discussed in the previous lesson, lied to increase his own self-worth, and to artificially spur the Agency into quickly accepting his defection. Furthermore Nosenko is widely believed to have been driven to espionage by a need to replace “money he had lost in Geneva after a night with a prostitute and a bottle of vodka in 1962” (Stout, 2008).Both of these figures were driven by selfish interests. These selfish interests adequately explain their actions. Both were likely the genuine deal. And both were extremely valuable to the US intelligence community. They could have been of even greater value had they been handled properly. Golitsyn was treated with complete deference and unquestioning belief, while Nosenko was treated as a provocateur and a criminal.The last lesson is that polygraphs, if applied in a manipulative manner will always give the results one desires. Nosenko’s first two polygraph examinations were given not with a purpose of delivering an unbiased assessment of his veracity, but in an attempt to prove skeptical Agency officials’ suspicions that he was a KGB plant. During the first polygraph examination, in 1964, the examiner created a hostile environment including accusing Nosenko, in the middle of the exam, of lying (Ashley, 2004, p. 280). Following a lengthy detention in nearly inhumane conditions, the second polygraph administered in 1966, was also conducted in a hostile environment (Ashley, 2004, p. 286). Finally, in 1968, Nosenko was subjected to a polygraph conducted under normal, leveled, unbiased conditions (Ashley, 2004, p. 286).An independent review of the polygraphs conducted on behalf of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Assassinations concluded Nosenko had lied during his first and second polygraphs, but about different subjects (Arthur, 1979). The polygraph expert testified that Nosenko truthfully answered the one question asked about Lee Harvey Oswald on the first exam; while he considered Nosenko’s answers regarding Oswald to be deceptive on the second exam (Arthur, 1979). This review by the polygraph expert was conducted without regard to the environment and conduct of the exam, rather, only the questions, answers, and responses were evaluated (Arthur, 1979). An interesting aside to this incident is that the testimony provided by the expert, Mr. Arthur, practically drips with bias against Nosenko. Even while providing opinion with evidence supporting some of the findings of the truthful 1968 examination, Arthur discounts it by injecting his belief of the probability that Nosenko is a KGB plant (Arthur, 1979).In summary, however delightful complicated plot-lines are intellectually, the simplest answer should always be preferred. And even though the simplest answer is usually the best, one must always remember that human nature affects every action a human being takes. The Heisenberg Principle states: “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known” (Heisenberg, 1927). This means the act of observing affects the results. Similar to this principle, human bias and human needs affect everything. The fact that betrayers of ones’ country lie should not be surprising. What they lie about should be even less surprising. Nosenko’s first two polygraphs were interrogations. The third was not believed by an “expert” who seems to have made up his mind before-hand. And, less this author succumbs to similar bias, the Ashley book was written by the good friend of George Kisevalter, a man who deeply believed Nosenko, liked him, and trusted him. Certainly bias affected Ashley’s writing.This controversy provides good arguments for why it is so necessary for a human intelligence enterprise to employ psychologists, unbiased, sober-minded polygraphers, and professional analytical managers who are able to, for the most part, divorce personal bias and presuppositions from their evaluations and conclusions. These lessons from the Nosenko/Golytsin case can be applicable to analysts at all levels and greatly enhance the effectiveness of the United States’ Intelligence Community.
ReferencesArthur, R. (1979, March). “The Analysis of Yuri Nosenko’s Polygraph Examination.” Report to the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-Fifth Congress. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/jfkinfo/jfk8/hscanpol.htm.Ashley, C. (2004). CIA spymaster. Gretna, LA: Pelican.Heisenberg, W. (1927). The Uncertainty Paper. Retrieved October 15, 2009, from the American Institute of Physics, at http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p08.htm.Ockham’s razor. (2009). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/424706/Ockhams-razor.Stout, D. (2008, August 27). “Yuri Nosenko, Soviet Spy Who Defected, Dies at 81.” The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/28/us/28nosenko.html.