By Gus Russo
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In 1978, CIA maverick Jack Platt and KGB agent Gennady Vasilenko were new arrivals on the Washington, DC intelligence scene, with Jack working out of the CIA’s counterintelligence office and Gennady out of the Soviet Embassy. Both men, already notorious iconoclasts within their respective agencies, were assigned to seduce the other into betraying his country in the urgent final days of the Cold War, but instead the men ended up becoming the best of friends-blood brothers. Theirs is a friendship that never should have happened, and their story is chock full of treachery, darkly comic misunderstandings, bureaucratic inanity, the Russian Mafia, and landmark intelligence breakthroughs of the past half century.
In Best of Enemies, two espionage cowboys reveal how they became key behind-the-scenes players in solving some of the most celebrated spy stories of the twentieth century, including the crucial discovery of the Soviet mole Robert Hanssen, the 2010 Spy Swap which freed Gennady from Soviet imprisonment, and how Robert De Niro played a real-life role in helping Gennady stay alive during his incarceration in Russia after being falsely accused of spying for the Americans. Through their eyes, we see the distinctions between the Russian and American methods of conducting espionage and the painful birth of the new Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, dreams he can roll back to the ideals of the old USSR.
Aldrich “Rick” Ames (b. 1941)—In 1962, Ames joined the CIA, where he began working in the SE (Soviet/East Europe) Division with Jack Platt in 1972. He started spying for the Soviets in 1985 (earning $4.6 million). Like Robert Hanssen, he sold out many CIA assets who were friends of Gennady Vasilenko. One major asset destroyed was Dmitri Polyakov (TOP HAT), who had been supervised by Sandy Grimes, who then led the team that was successful in rolling up Ames, with the help of AVENGER (Colonel Aleksandr Zaporozhsky). Arrested in 1994, Ames is now serving a life sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Milt Bearden (b. 1940)—Born in Oklahoma and raised in Washington State, Bearden was recruited by the CIA in 1964 while studying Chinese at the University of Texas, Austin. Bearden was a CIA station chief and covert officer in numerous overseas postings, including Bonn, Sudan, Lagos, Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, before becoming chief of the SE Division in 1985. After retirement in 1994, he became an author and often consults with Hollywood filmmakers, most notably Robert De Niro, on spy films. He is a recipient of the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
W. Lane Crocker (1943–2000)—Crocker was assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) in the 1970s and 1980s. He coordinated the FBI-CIA joint KGB Squad activities with the CIA’s Haviland Smith and Jack Platt. He retired in 1996.
Robert Anthony De Niro (b. 1943)—The iconic New York–born actor is a seven-time Academy Award nominee (two-time winner), a six-time British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) nominee, and an eight-time Golden Globe Award nominee. In 2009, he was among the five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, presented by his friend President Barack Obama. He was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2010. He also produced, directed, and co-starred in the film The Good Shepherd, a history of the early CIA. In the mid-1990s, while researching that project, he came to know and befriend Milt Bearden, Jack Platt, and Gennady Vasilenko.
John Denton (b. 1941)—aka “Mad Dog.” A New Jersey native, Denton joined the FBI in 1969 and was assigned to a crime division in North Carolina. In the late 1970s, he transferred to counterintelligence at the Washington Field Office, where he befriended Dion Rankin and Jack Platt. He retired in 1999, after a thirty-year career, and is an honorary “Musketeer.”
Ron Fino (b. 1946)—A former official of the mobbed-up Buffalo, New York, Laborers’ Union (Local 210), Fino is the son of a mafia boss. For years, he secretly worked as an undercover consultant for the FBI and the CIA, helping put scores of major mafia figures in prison. He became an importer of vodka and used his Russian contacts to try to free Gennady Vasilenko from Russian prisons.
Burton Gerber (b. 1933)—Gerber, a career CIA officer, was the SE Division chief from 1984 to 1989. Prior to that, he had been Chief of Station in Sofia, Belgrade, and Moscow, in addition to operational postings in Germany and Iran. He retired in 1995, after thirty-nine years of service.
Sandra “Sandy” Grimes (b. 1945)—Raised in Colorado, Grimes joined the CIA in 1967 with a degree in Russian. On her first day, she reported to the CIA’s ironically named Ames Building; she became a key “mole hunter” who helped catch turncoat Aldrich Ames. She was an analyst in the CIA’s Clandestine Service for twenty-six years.
Robert Hanssen (b. 1944)—An FBI agent assigned to Soviet and computer sections, Hanssen spied for the Soviets for twenty-two years of his twenty-six-year FBI career. His disclosures led to the executions of numerous CIA assets by the Soviets, including a number of Gennady’s friends. He is considered the most damaging spy in US history. One of the documents he transmitted to the Soviets led to Gennady’s first imprisonment in 1988. Hanssen is serving fifteen life sentences at ADX Florence, in Colorado, a “supermax” prison.
Edward Lee Howard (1951–2002)—After a short stint in the CIA, from 1981 to 1983, Howard was fired, and he subsequently sold out a number of the Agency’s Moscow assets to the KGB. One of those compromised, Adolf Tolkachev, was executed in 1986. Howard was a former student of Jack Platt in his Internal Operations Course (IOC), and he used what he had learned there to evade capture and escape to the Soviet Union in 1985.
Dan Moldea (b. 1950)—Investigative reporter and best-selling nonfiction author, Moldea was Jack Platt’s friend and played an important role in helping Gennady Vasilenko when he was wrongly imprisoned in Russia in 2005.
Leon Panetta (b. 1938)—Panetta has served in high office positions, including secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, and director of the Office of Management and Budget. In 2010, he was serving as President Obama’s CIA Director when he oversaw the spy swap that brought Gennady Vasilenko to the US permanently.
Ronald Pelton (b. 1941)—In 1979, after spending fourteen years at the National Security Agency (NSA), a financially strained Pelton sold out a number of technical spying operations, including Operation Ivy Bells, to the Soviet rezidentura, or station, in Washington, where he was handled by Gennady Vasilenko. KGB turncoat Vitaly Yurchenko outed him to the FBI in 1985. Although sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, he was released in 2015.
John “Jack” Cheney Platt III, aka Cowboy, aka Chris Llorenz, aka Charles Kneller (1936–2017)—A twenty-five-year veteran CIA case officer, Platt is best known for his tenure in the Agency’s SE Division and for his revamping of its Internal Operations Course (IOC). After his 1987 retirement, he volunteered to help the FBI identify the traitors who were destroying assets and twenty years’ worth of technical intelligence.
Molly Marr “Polly” Platt (1939–2011)—Jack Platt’s sister, Polly Platt was an esteemed Oscar-nominated motion picture production designer and executive. She designed such films as The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment, and produced Broadcast News and Say Anything. Polly Platt was the first woman inducted into the Art Directors Guild.
George Powstenko (1926–1990)—A Ukrainian-born radio engineer who immigrated to the US in 1949, Powstenko became a leader in the Washington, DC, Ukrainian community. As a manager of a championship amateur volleyball team, he became very close to Gennady Vasilenko, often serving as his “cutout” liaison to Jack Platt and Dion Rankin.
R. Dion Rankin, aka Tracker, aka Donald Williams (b. 1946)—Rankin was an FBI agent who specialized in interrogation, tracking, and polygraphy. Assigned to the WFO in 1976, he became a close friend of Jack Platt and Gennady Vasilenko. In the ’90s, he worked on the team that ultimately identified Robert Hanssen as an FBI traitor. He is the third “Musketeer.”
Paul Redmond (b. 1941)—Redmond served in the Clandestine Service of the CIA as an operations officer for thirty-three years, from 1965 to 1998, working in Europe, Eastern Europe, and East Asia. He became the Agency’s first associate deputy director for operations for Counterintelligence and supervised the team that identified CIA employee Aldrich Ames as a KGB spy.
Mike Rochford (b. 1955)—Rochford joined the FBI in 1979 after studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. When he was assigned to the WFO’s CI-4 Squad, he investigated Russian spies and played a key role in obtaining the KGB’s file on their prized asset Robert Hanssen.
Haviland Smith (b. 1929)—A twenty-five-year CIA veteran, “Hav” served as Chief of Station in posts that included Prague, Berlin, Langley, Beirut, and Tehran. He pioneered many countersurveillance techniques and other field tradecraft, and became chief of the counterintelligence staff, where he mentored Jack Platt in the late ’70s. Smith retired in 1980.
Michael J. Sulick (b. 1948)—Sulick joined the CIA in 1980, with postings in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Poland, and Russia. He served as Moscow Chief of Station from 1994 to 1996, chief of Central Eurasia Division from 1999 to 2002, and director of the National Clandestine Service (formerly called deputy director of operations), and he helped place Gennady on the 2010 spy-swap list, after which he retired.
Jeanne Ruth Vertefeuille (1932–2012)—Vertefeuille joined the CIA as a typist in 1954, then obtained postings in Ethiopia, Finland, and The Hague. She learned Russian and became an expert on Soviet spies. In October 1986, she was asked to lead the task force investigating the disappearances of the CIA’s Russian assets. Eight years later, she, along with Grimes and others, identified Aldrich Ames as a double agent.
Victor Cherkashin (b. 1932)—Cherkashin achieved the rank of colonel after four decades with the KGB’s Foreign Intelligence Service (now the SVR). Following postings in West Germany, India, Austria, and Lebanon, he became the counterintelligence chief at the rezidentura in Washington, DC, where he supervised, among others, Gennady Vasilenko. He retired from the KGB in 1995 in order to focus on his family and his international security consulting business, Alpha-Puma.
Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov (b. 1950)—A politician and statesman, Fradkov was the prime minister of Russia from March 2004 to September 2007. He also was the head of the SVR from 2007 to 2016 and negotiated the 2010 spy swap with his CIA counterpart, Leon Panetta.
Vladimir Kryuchkov (1924–2007)—From 1974 until 1988, Kryuchkov headed the foreign intelligence branch of the KGB, the First Chief Directorate, which oversaw covert intelligence gathering. From 1988 until 1991, he served as chairman of the KGB and was the leader of the abortive August 1991 coup.
Sergei Lavrov (b. 1950)—Diplomat Lavrov was the Russian representative to the United Nations from 1994 to 2004. He is currently the foreign minister of Russia, in office since 2004. He negotiated a “reset” with the US that facilitated the spy swap in 2010.
Valery Martynov (1946?–1987)—In the early 1980s, Martynov was a Line X (scientific espionage) KGB agent based in Washington, DC, where he was a colleague of Gennady Vasilenko. He was flipped by the FBI in 1982 and given the code name PIMENTA, before he was betrayed by Hanssen and Ames in 1985 and executed by the USSR in 1987.
Sergei Motorin (1946?–1987)—In the 1980s, Motorin was a Line PR (military intelligence) KGB agent and, like Martynov, worked out of the Washington, DC, rezidentura, where he became a good friend of Gennady Vasilenko. He was flipped by the FBI’s CI-4 Squad in 1980 and given the code name MEGAS. Also, like Martynov, he was sold out by both Ames and Hanssen. He was executed in 1987.
Vladimir Piguzov (d. 1987)—Piguzov was a KGB agent and CIA asset code-named JOGGER, recruited in Indonesia in the 1970s. After he was reassigned to the KGB school in Moscow, he furnished the Agency with background intel on KGB trainees, including Gennady Vasilenko. Although it is widely believed that he was betrayed by Ames, Jack Platt contended that Edward Lee Howard had identified him to the Russians.
Dmitri Polyakov (1921–1988)—Polyakov was a member of the GRU (Soviet military intelligence). His FBI code name was TOP HAT. Handled by Sandy Grimes at the CIA, Polyakov provided the US with valuable military information for decades. He was betrayed by Ames and Hanssen, and executed in 1988.
Aleksandr Nikolayevich Poteyev (b. 1952)—Poteyev was an SVR officer assigned to Department S (coordinating foreign spies). In the 1990s, he was posted to New York, where he was recruited by the CIA. In 2001, he sold out Russia’s “Illegals,” their unregistered agents who had been living in the US under phony “legends” for many years. They were not arrested right away because US authorities wanted to keep an eye on them. Weeks before the Illegals were arrested in 2010, Poteyev disappeared in the US with his estimated $2 to $5 million bounty. According to one Russian news service, Poteyev passed away in July 2016 carrying out an assignment.
“Anatoly Stepanov” (b. circa 1948) (pseudonym)—KGB counterintelligence (LINE KR) officer who worked with Gennady both at the Yasenevo HQ and the DC rezidentura in the seventies. In the eighties, he obtained a high-ranking position in Department S (Illegals). Before leaving the KGB after the fall of the USSR, Stepanov made off with the KGB’s file on their prized US double agent (Robert Hanssen) and later sold it to the FBI for a reported $7 million. He lives in the US under a new identity.
Gennady “Genya” Semyovich Vasilenko, aka ILYA, joint CIA and FBI code names MONOLITE and later GT/GLAZING (b. 1941)—Vasilenko was a volleyball champion and KGB Line KR (counterintelligence) officer assigned to the DC rezidentura in the late 1970s. Twice arrested and imprisoned by the KGB/FSB, he was falsely accused of being a CIA asset. He was a close friend of Jack Platt.
Dmitri Yakushkin (1923–1994)—After attaining a degree in economic science, Yakushkin joined the KGB, rising to the rank of major general. In 1975, he was assigned to be rezident (similar to the CIA’s Chief of Station) at the Washington, DC, Soviet Embassy. That posting made him the most powerful KGB officer outside the Soviet Union. In Washington, he supervised the activities of hundreds of spies, such as Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Motorin, Valery Martynov, and Anatoly Stepanov.
Vitaly Sergeyevich Yurchenko (b. 1936)—KGB officer Yurchenko was in charge of North America operations at the KGB’s Yasenevo headquarters, where he was a colleague of Gennady Vasilenko. After twenty-five years of service, he defected to the CIA in Rome. He was flown to Washington and debriefed, ironically, by Aldrich Ames. Some in the CIA believe he was actually a “dangle,” pretending to defect to the US; although he outed minor American turncoats Edward Lee Howard and Ronald Pelton as US traitors, he re-defected back to the USSR without giving up Russia’s most prized moles, Ames and Hanssen. Years later, he was awarded the Order of the Red Star by the Soviet government for the successful “infiltration operation.”
Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, possibly AVENGER (b. 1951)—Zaporozhsky was convicted in Russia of having been paid $1 million each by the FBI and the CIA in 1993 for the information that may have led to the arrest of Aldrich Ames. Gennady Vasilenko had known Zaporozhsky since the ’70s, when both worked in the Africa and Asia division at KGB headquarters in Yasenevo. Zaporozhsky was arrested by the KGB in 2001 and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. Released in the 2010 spy swap, he flew back to the US with Gennady. Today he lives in the eastern US.
Aleksandr “Sasha” Zhomov, aka PROLOGUE, aka PHANTOM (b. 1954)—Zhomov was a KGB officer in the Second Chief Directorate (internal counterintelligence) who offered to sell information to the CIA in Moscow in 1987. Over Grimes’s and Vertefeuille’s objections, the SE Division accepted Zhomov, who was, in fact, a “dangle,” sent to protect the USSR’s valuable assets Ames and Hanssen. Zhomov dropped his overture to the CIA in July 1990 after receiving a substantial payment from them. Obsessed with avenging the later losses of Ames and Hanssen, Zhomov became the KGB’s mole hunter, overseeing the arrests and torture of Gennady Vasilenko and Aleksandr Zaporozhsky.
CIA (1947–present)—Established by the National Security Act of 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency is the United States’ civilian foreign intelligence service, obtaining information primarily through the use of human intelligence (HUMINT). The CIA, headquartered on 258 acres in the Langley community of McLean, Virginia, has no law enforcement function, and is mainly focused on overseas intelligence gathering with only limited domestic intelligence collection.
FBI (1908–present)—The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the United States’ domestic intelligence and security service, focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigation. It operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, reporting to both the attorney general and the director of National Intelligence. Primarily a domestic agency, the Bureau maintains fifty-six field offices in major cities throughout the United States and sixty legal attaché (LEGAT) offices in US embassies and consulates across the globe.
FSB (1995–present)—The Russian Federal Security Service (Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) is the principal security agency of Russia and the main successor agency to the USSR’s Committee of State Security (KGB). Analogous to the United States’ FBI, its main responsibilities are within Russia and include counterintelligence, internal and border security, counterterrorism, and surveillance, as well as crime and federal law violation investigation. It is housed in the KGB’s old headquarters building in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square (formerly Dzerzhinsky Square).
GRU (1810–present)—Formally known as the Main Intelligence Directorate, the GRU is the foreign military intelligence agency of the general staff of the armed forces of the Russian Federation. It is Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, deploying over six times as many agents in foreign countries as the SVR, the successor of the KGB’s foreign operations directorate (PGU KGB). It commands more than twenty-five thousand Spetsnaz troops.
KGB (1954–1991)—Headquartered in Moscow’s Lubyanka building, the KGB was a military organization. The Soviet Committee for State Security (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti) was the successor to the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, etc. The KGB’s main functions were foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and domestic operative-investigatory activities. After 1991, KGB operations were divided between the FSB (domestic) and the SVR (foreign).
MVD (1802–present)—Formally known as the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, the MVD (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del) is the interior ministry of Russia. It oversees police, traffic, drug control, and economic crime investigations. The ministry is headquartered in Moscow.
Spetsnaz (1950–present)—Translated as “special purpose,” Spetsnaz are elite tactical special-forces units controlled by the FSB, MVD, or GRU. They carry out anti-terrorist and anti-sabotage operations but are often deployed against Russian counterrevolutionaries, dissidents, and other undesirables. The idea for the units was envisioned decades earlier by military theorist Mikhail Svechnikov in order to overcome disadvantages faced by conventional forces in the field.
SVR (1991–present)—The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki), is Russia’s external intelligence agency and the successor of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. It is tasked with intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation and with negotiating anti-terrorist and intelligence-sharing arrangements with foreign intelligence agencies. The SVR consists of at least eight known directorates: PR (political intelligence); S (illegal overseas agents); X (scientific and technical intelligence); KR (external counterintelligence); OT (operational and technical support); R (operational planning and analysis); I (computer service—information and dissemination); and E (economic intelligence). Its headquarters is in the Yasenevo district of Moscow.
Forced recruitment almost never works because you’ve got somebody against their will and they resent it.
—Jack “Cowboy” Platt, CIA case officer
August 27, 2005,* Great Falls, VA
Oh no, not again, Cowboy thought. Hanging up the phone, sixty-nine-year-old retired CIA case officer Jack “Cowboy” Platt recalled something F. Scott Fitzgerald had written about “the dark night of the soul,” and now he knew exactly what it meant. Sitting in his darkened den in Northern Virginia, Platt stared at a photo of himself together with the subject of the call, his Russian “younger brother” and former KGB man Gennady “Genya” Vasilenko. The framed memento had been taken during a recent Shenandoah Valley hunting trip. Better times, for sure. Tonight’s communication had changed everything and tempted Jack to drive to a location he hadn’t visited in twenty-five years: the ABC Liquor Store just down the road from CIA headquarters in McLean. The bottle had come closer to killing him than the Soviets ever did.
Platt looked at his left hand, mangled by a grenade that had malfunctioned during his stint in the Marines, and thought, Jesus Christ, Gennady was probably cursing me out as they tortured him. The thought was intolerable, because it was Jack’s fault. It was his scheme that had brought them to this. Tipped off by Gennady’s son on the phone call from Russia, Jack then read the sickening details on the Internet. His “best laid plan,” which had quietly succeeded in rolling up one of the United States’ most damaging traitors ever, had blown up in the worst way: Gennady, coincidentally known to his peers as “Russian Cowboy,” had been rounded up and imprisoned in Moscow for the second time. And it was Jack’s fault—again.
In a notorious Moscow hellhole of a prison, confused and terrified, sixty-three-year-old Gennady also recalled his hunting trips with Cowboy. Two days earlier, on the first day of hunting season in the woods surrounding Moscow, he had been at his rural dacha with his mother; his girlfriend, Masha; and their young children, his second family. As the country celebrated its annual Moscow Days, Gennady was in the front yard “playing with the kids” when he caught sight of ten or so black-clad Spetsnaz encircling his property. I am about to become the first victim of hunting season, Gennady thought. As he reached out to shake hands with the sheriff, an acquaintance, the commandos pounced, beating the pulp out of him and breaking his knee in front of his hysterical mother, girlfriend, and children. “If you step one inch in any direction, we’ll shoot you in front of them,” one guard snarled. Then they hauled him off to hell.
Hell for Gennady came in many waves. First he was taken to the local police station, where he was told that illegal explosives had been found at his apartment. All the residences of his immediate family had been ransacked. The troops had “found” more explosives in Gennady’s homes and cars. In fact, the evidence had been planted to frame up the arrest. They even had been secretly coating his car with invisible explosive particles so he would have residue on his fingers. For the icing on the cake, the FSB had planted World War II–era explosives in Gennady’s garage so they could charge him with terrorism.
Finding him at the police station, his oldest son, thirty-five-year-old Ilya, brought him a change of clothes from home, but the only jacket Gennady had at the dacha was the one Cowboy’s FBI friend Dion Rankin had given him years before, the blue one emblazoned with FBI ACADEMY. Just perfect, thought Gennady. They already think I’m with the Americans. He was so anxious to take off his bloodstained T-shirt that he put the FBI sweatshirt on anyway. “Fuck ’em,” he said, uttering Cowboy’s favorite curse, which Gennady had appropriated years earlier.
When FSB thugs came into the room to soften him up with continued beatings, Gennady knew this was not about old gunpowder or boxes of hunting bullets. It was about vengeance. Concussed, he began vomiting and bleeding on his FBI sweatshirt. Drifting in and out of consciousness, lying in a pool of his own blood, he realized that today was his daughter Julia’s birthday.
Assuming their captive was now sufficiently pliable to an admission, the goons got around to the real reason for the brutality: they wanted Gennady to confess to helping the US ferret out an American traitor four years earlier—perhaps the Russians’ most valuable double agent ever. The Russian bureaucracy was in damage-control mode since the asset’s exposure, and they couldn’t just allow those who they thought facilitated the hard-won spy’s arrest to get away unscathed. They had to send a message, and Gennady was that message.
The beatings and mental torture were unending. Throughout it, the police, and later the FSB, had one question: “How did your American boyfriend turn you into a traitor?” And the answer was always the same.
“Yebat’ sebya! Ya ne predatel’!” yelled Gennady. Go fuck yourself! I’m not a traitor!
March 1979, Washington, DC
When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s very difficult to remember that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.
—A sign on Cowboy Jack Platt’s desk at CIA headquarters
Jack remembered racing down Washington’s Capital Beltway in an alcoholic fury to meet the “target” for the first time at a Harlem Globetrotters game, having likely already pounded down his typical twelve to fourteen beers for the day. Appropriate, he figured, because this possible recruit he was going to meet was a hard-partying Russian and the best lead the CIA’s domestic station had had in a while.
- On Sale
- Oct 2, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages