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, where John was killed one year later in a helicopter crash during a mission in Laos.
The Source Inside

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 he returned 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 husband's 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.

Marti at the Front Line
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. Moscow was what is called a denied area, a term used by intelligence for a hostile area where conducting operations is extremely difficult due to heavy surveillance.

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. During such operations, Peterson always wore an SRR-100 surveillance receiver to intercept and detect KGB surveillance communications (see also videos below).

After extensive surveillance detection runs, she collected the content of the dead drops, 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.

TRIGON Disappears

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 Downfall of TRIGON

The fate of Aleksandr Ogorodnik was unknown until the Soviets aired the 1984 TV series TASS Is Authorized to Declare. 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. 

The Veteran Tells Her Story

Find at Amazon
Peterson wrote The Widow Spy. The book is a fascinating personal and detailed account of her time in Laos, how she joined the CIA and her work as CIA officer in Moscow. I can highly recommend the book. More at her website Widow Spy.

Eight years after its release, a Russian version of her book was released in October, 2020. Find the Russian version at Labirint (translation).

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 (see below).

The Spy Museum published the podcast Caught by the KGB where Martha Peterson tells about how she was captured by the KGB. She also talks about her life in Moscow in the SPY: The Exhibit video. 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.

The first female CIA officer in Cold War Moscow, is the first part of the Cold War Conversions two-part interview with Marti Peterson. where she tells about her life in Laos with het husband who worked for the CIA, why she returned to the U.S. In part two, Arrested by the KGB and taken to the Lubyanka prison, she tells the harrowing story of exchanging dead drops with TRIGON, how she was caught by the KGB and taken to the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow for interrogation.

More about TRIGON's communications by Andrei Sinelnikov (translation) and there's also the Russian documentary Trianon. Encryption from Beyond.

More information about the equipment, used in this spy case, is found at the Crypto Museum's Martha Peterson page. published TRIGON Numbers Station and on my website there's more on number stations and use of one-time pads.

Declassified Spy Stories - Trigon: KGB Chess Game

Below her fascinating talk about her time in Moscow as case officer with many details on TRIGON. Highly recommended!

Former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez explains some of the tradecraft, used to mislead KGB surveillance in denied areas like Moscow. In the video she also explains the SRR-100 and the pen with suicide pill, used by TRIGON.

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