Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Martha Peterson and TRIGON

Martha Peterson on her
1975 Russian driver license
The story of CIA operations officer Martha Peterson Shogi and her work related to Soviet spy Aleksandr Ogorodnik is quite remarkable and also sheds some light on how the two communicated in Moscow.

Martha 'Marti' Peterson, née Denny, met her first husband John Peterson at Drew University and married him in 1969. John enlisted as Green Beret to serve in Vietnam and was later hired by the Central Intelligence Service for covert operations in Laos. In 1971, Martha and John travelled to Laos. John was killed one year later in a helicopter crash during a mission Laos.

In 1972, the CIA recruited Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a Soviet diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Bogota, Colombia. He was given the codename TRIGON. Ogorodnik provided the CIA with communications between Soviet ambassadors in South America, giving the CIA an insight in Soviet foreign politics. In 1974 he was recalled to Moscow to work at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His new job provided him access to communications and reports of Soviet ambassadors from all over the world. The CIA struck gold.

Aleksandr Ogorodnik
Before leaving to Moscow, the CIA provided him with a pen with miniature camera to photograph documents, a schedule to make dead drops, special carbon paper for invisible writing and trained him in the use of these materials. Ogorodnik also insisted on having a suicide pill, to use in case he got caught. CIA provided him with such so-called L-pill, concealed in a pen.

Martha Peterson returned to the Washington after her husbands death and applied for a job at the CIA. She was hired as CIA operations officer and agreed to be sent to Moscow. She received operational training and took a Russian language course. Peterson arrived in Moscow in November 1975. At the age of 30 she became the first ever female CIA officer to be stationed in Moscow and was now responsible for the exchange of communications and spy items with TRIGON.

Peterson had an important advantage over here male CIA colleagues. The Soviet Intelligence Service did not believe that an American female would be a CIA officer and assumed that she was a low level clerk. Peterson was therefore never under surveillance and, in contrary to other CIA officers, could travel around Moscow without being followed.

Peterson never met TRIGON in person. He delivered photographed documents and messages through pre-arranged dead drops, mostly in parks. After extensive surveillance detection runs she collected the content of the dead drop a short time later, at the same time supplying him with a new pen-camera with film, instructions and one-time pad duplicates through that same dead drop which he in turn collected later on.

TRIGON used the one-time pads to decrypt messages that he received trough CIA numbers station broadcasts from West Germany. During such operations, Peterson always wore an SRR-100 surveillance receiver to intercept and detect KGB surveillance communications.

In early 1977, the CIA started worrying about the quality of the material that TRIGON provided and grew concerned about his security. Eventually, on June 26, TRIGON failed to retrieve a dead drop and there was no more communications. TRIGON neither showed up after a numbers station broadcast, instructing him to meet at a pre-arranged location on July 14.

In the evening of July 15, after the usual surveillance detection runs, Peterson arrived at the Krasnoluzhskiy railroad bridge over the Moscow river, near Lenin Central Stadium. At 2230 hours she placed a dead drop package, concealed as a hollow piece of concrete, in a niche in one of the bridge’s towers. As soon as she walked out of the tower she was grabbed by three men who immediately strip-searched her, took photos and put her in a van that drove straight to Lubyanka prison in KGB headquarters.

KGB photo of Martha Peterson's apprehension at the Krasnoluzhskiy bridge

Martha Peterson during the interrogation at Lubyanka prison
Peterson's arrival for interrogation was filmed (see video at 48:58). She was interrogated while all items from the dead drop package and her SRR-100 receiver were displayed in front of her.

The U.S. Consul was summoned to Lubyanka prison to explain who she was and what she was doing. The KGB had no other choice than to release Peterson because she had a diplomatic status as vice consul (which of course was a cover for her CIA work). She was returned to the U.S. embassy and flown to Washington the next day. Declared persona non grata, Martha Peterson would never return to Russia.

The displayed espionage items, retrieved from the dead drop, and the SRR-100 receiver

In 1978, the Soviets released the story in the Izvestia newspaper and the heavily publicised spy case also ended up in U.S. press. The Soviets alleged that Peterson smuggled poison to kill a Soviet citizen that interfered with a spy's criminal activities (see Washington Post archive June 13, June 15 and June 21, 1978). These accusations at the height of the Cold War were later proven false by the KGB itself.

The fate of Aleksandr Ogorodnik was unknown until the Soviets aired the 1984 TV series TASS Is Authorized to Declare (also on Youtube). Its script was almost a copy of TRIGON’s story. In that movie, the spy committed suicide during interrogation with a pill from his pen. KGB accounts confirmed that Ogorodnik was arrested a month before Peterson got caught. During interrogation, he pretended to write a confession, took the special pen and quickly used the L-pill.

However, even today accounts vary on what actually happened to Ogorodnik and some even believe that he was killed by the KGB. We will probably never know the real story. The CIA believes that Karl Koecher, an agent of the Czechoslovak intelligence service StB that infiltrated the CIA as translator and analyst, betrayed TRIGON to the Soviets.

Martha Peterson continued to work as CIA officer in operations, including 10 years of foreign assignments, married her second husband Joseph Shogi in 1978 and retired in 2003 after a distinguished 32 year career in the Agency.

More about Martha Peterson at her website Widow Spy, which is also the title of the book she wrote about her CIA career and the TRIGON case. The CIA published a short Featured Story on TRIGON. CNN's DECLASSIFIED page tells how she revealed her secret spy life to her kids, including several images of her Moscow era They also aired Trigon: The KGB Chess Game.

An account of Peterson's arrest is found at the The Espionage History Archive which also has the Russian view on the death of Aleksandr Ogorodnik. There's also a Russian documentary. More information about the equipment, used in this spy case, is found at the Cryptomuseum website. Numbers-station.com published TRIGON Numbers Station and on my website there's more on number stations and the use of one-time pads.

But who can explain everything better than Martha Peterson herself. The Spy Museum published the podcast Caught by the KGB where she tells about how she was captured by the KGB. Below her fascinating account (direct link) of her time in Moscow as case officer with many details on TRIGON. Highly recommended!

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