Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GRU General Dmitri Polyakov

GRU General Polyakov
Dmitri Fyodorovich Polyakov, major general in the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, was the highest-ranking Soviet officer ever to have been recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Hardly known to the public, Polyakov was without a doubt the most important and influential American intelligence asset of the Cold War era.

Born in the Ukraine in 1921, Polyakov graduated from Artillery School in June 1941, the same month that Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. He served as an artillery officer in the Second World War, where he received decorations for bravery. After the war he studied at the Frunze Military Academy and received GRU courses after which he entered the GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence). In 1951 he was sent on his first mission for a five years tour to New York with the Soviet Military Staff Committee of the United Nations.

In 1959, on his second tour in New York, Polyakov approached FBI counterintelligence agents and offered them to work as an informant. Within the FBI he was known by the codename TOPHAT. Because of his intelligence value, Polyakov was turned over to the CIA, who gave him the code names BOURBON and ROAM. As a Soviet officer, he had access to reports on missiles, tanks, military procedures and the Soviet way of thinking.

As a GRU officer, he was able to identify all GRU officers abroad, and how and where they were operating. As a high ranking GRU officer, he also had access to Soviet economic and foreign policy, information that grew in importance as he climbed up in the GRU ranks. Polyakov proved to be the crown jewel of the CIA, providing extremely valuable inside information to U.S. intelligence. In 1980, Polyakov retired as GRU officer, ending a 21-year career as a spy for the United States.

By the end of 1985, the CIA's Soviet-East European Division, controlling intelligence assets in the Soviet Union, started losing their agents. Some were arrested, others disappeared. Despite draconian security measures to protect these sources, one operation after the other was lost, and the CIA had no idea what was going on. It triggered one of the largest mole hunts ever in the U.S. intelligence community. Meanwhile, the CIA believed that Polyakov slid through the net because, as a dedicated sportsman, he continued to write articles for a Soviet hunting magazine.

Polyakov at his trial
However, suspicion arouse in 1986 when his publications came abruptly to an end. The CIA had already cut contact with Polyakov for security reasons and had no idea what was going on. It was only in 1988 that General Polyakov's true fate became known, when the Soviet newspaper Pravda published his execution. Already in 1986, he was arrested by the KGB, put on trial and sentenced to death for treason.

It would take a joint CIA/FBI team nine years to find the mole that gave their agents to the Soviets. On February 21, 1994, the FBI arrested Aldrich Hazen Ames on charges of espionage on behalf of Russia and the former Soviet Union. He was the CIA counterintelligence branch chief for Soviet operations in 1983. It was only 2001, after the arrest of FBI counter-intelligence agent Robert Philip Hanssen on February 18, that it became clear that Polyakov was betrayed by both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, two of the most damaging spies in the American history.

On the National Archives website, there are two interesting interviews, one with Sandy Grimes, CIA expert on Soviet intelligence, and another with John Mabey, FBI counter-intelligence agent, about their involvement in the Polyokov case. Elaine Shannon published Death of a Perfect Spy on Time.

See also the posts on Aldrich Ames spying and GRU Directorate Russian Military Intelligence.

Update: Examiner published the story of Polyakov's granddaughter.

Below, the Cold War Spies episode on Aldrich Ames, the mole who betrayed Polyakov to the Soviets. It shows video footage of Polyakov's arrest (6:40) and his trial (8:00).

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