Yuri Nosenko

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Yuri Nosenko
Born(1927-10-30)October 30, 1927
Nikolaev, Ukrainian SSR (now Mykolaiv, Ukraine)
DiedAugust 23, 2008(2008-08-23) (aged 80)
Espionage activity
RankAccording to his first handler, Tennent Bagley, he originally claimed to be a Lieutenant Colonel.

Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko (Russian: Юрий Иванович Носенко; October 30, 1927 – August 23, 2008)[1] was a KGB officer who defected to the United States in 1964. Controversy arose in the CIA over whether he was a bona fide defector and he was held in detention for over three years before he was finally accepted as a legitimate defector by the CIA. After his release, he became an American citizen, working as a consultant and trainer for the CIA.


Nosenko was born in Nikolaev, Ukrainian SSR (now Mykolaiv, Ukraine). His father, Ivan Nosenko, was USSR Minister of Shipbuilding from 1939 until his death in 1956. During the Second World War, Nosenko attended naval preparatory school, intending on a career in shipbuilding, like his father. After the war, he attended the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), graduating in 1950. On graduation he served in Naval Intelligence until he transferred to the KGB in 1953. In the KGB, he worked primarily in the Second Chief Directorate, which was responsible for internal security.[2]


The below passage is taken verbatim from the declassified CIA document referencing Nosenko's defection and subsequent treatment.

Yuriy Ivanovich Nosenko, an officer of the KGB, defected to a representative of this Agency in Geneva, Switzerland, on 4 February 1964. The responsibility for his exploitation was assigned to the then SR Division of the Clandestine Service and he was brought to this country on 12 February 1964. After initial interrogation by representatives of the SR Division, he was moved to a safehouse in Clinton, Maryland, from 4 April 1964 where he was confined and interrogated until 13 August 1965 when he was moved to a specially constructed "jail" in a remote wooded area at [redacted] The SR Division was convinced that he was a dispatched agent but even after a long period of hostile interrogation was unable to prove their contention and he was confined at [redacted] in an effort to convince him to "confess."

This Office together with the Office of General Counsel became increasingly concerned with the illegality of the Agency's position in handling a defector under these conditions for such a long period of time. Strong representations were made to the Director (Mr. Helms) by this Office, the Office of General Counsel, and the Legislative Liaison Counsel, and on 27 October 1967, the responsibility for Nosenko's further handling was transferred to the Office of Security under the direction of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, then Admiral Rufus Taylor.

Nosenko was moved to a comfortable safehouse in the Washington area and was interviewed under friendly, sympathetic conditions by his Security Case Officer, Mr. Bruce Solie, for more than a year. It soon became apparent that Nosenko was bona fide and he was moved to more comfortable surroundings with considerable freedom of independent movement and has continued to cooperate fully with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and this Office since that time. He has proven to be the most valuable and economical defector this Agency has ever had and leads which were ignored by the SR Division were explored and have resulted in the arrest and prosecution [redacted] He currently is living under an alias; secured a divorce from his Russian wife and remarried an American citizen. He is happy, relaxed, and appreciative of the treatment accorded him and states "while I regret my three years of incarceration, I have no bitterness and now understand how it could happen."[3]

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Nosenko contacted the CIA in Geneva, when he accompanied a diplomatic mission to that city in 1962. Nosenko offered his services for a small amount of money, claiming that a prostitute had robbed him of $900 worth of Swiss francs. He claimed to be deputy chief of the Seventh Department of the KGB, and provided some information that would only be known by someone connected to the KGB. He was given the money he requested and told $25,000 a year would be deposited in an account in his name in the West. Then, at a meeting set up in 1964 he unexpectedly claimed that he had been discovered by the KGB and needed to defect immediately. Nosenko claimed that the Geneva KGB residency had received a cable recalling him to Moscow and he was fearful that he had been found out. NSA was later, but not at the time, able to determine that no such cable had been sent, and Nosenko subsequently admitted making this up to persuade the CIA to accept his defection, which the CIA did.[citation needed]

Assertions about the Kennedy assassination[edit]

Nosenko claimed that he could provide important negative information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, affirming that he had personally handled a review of the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, who had lived in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s.[4] Nosenko said that, while the KGB had conducted surveillance of Oswald, it had never tried to recruit him. This issue was critical because KGB involvement with Oswald might suggest Soviet involvement in the Kennedy assassination, a prospect that could have propelled the Cold War into a nuclear war.[citation needed] Nosenko insisted that after interviewing Oswald it was decided that Oswald was not intelligent enough and also "too mentally unstable," a "nut" and therefore unsuitable for intelligence work. Nosenko also stated that the KGB had never questioned Oswald about information he might have gained as a U.S. Marine, including work as an aviation electronics operator at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan.[citation needed]

Concerns that Nosenko was a triple agent[edit]

The CIA's Soviet Union division suspected that Nosenko was a KGB plant. One reason was that although he finally admitted that he was only a captain instead of a lieutenant colonel (claiming he had exaggerated his rank to make himself attractive to the CIA), the official KGB documents he had initially provided were examined by the CIA and proved that Nosenko was indeed a lieutenant colonel.[4] A second reason was that an earlier KGB defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, had predicted that the KGB would send someone after him to try to discredit him. Many inside the CIA thought Nosenko fitted this picture, partly because one of Golytsin's main claims was that the KGB had a mole deep in the CIA and Nosenko claimed there was not.[5] Nosenko was seized by CIA officers in Washington and from 1964 to 1967 was subjected to increasingly harsh and hostile interrogation methods, including being held in solitary confinement in a CIA safe house in Clinton, Maryland, in an operation approved by CIA Director John A. McCone.[6][5]

The situation was made more complex by another alleged defector controlled by the FBI, codenamed Fedora, a KGB agent who posed as a Soviet diplomat to infiltrate the United Nations and provide false information to the Americans. Fedora was later revealed to be a KGB colonel named Victor Mechislavich Lesovski. Fedora confirmed Nosenko's story about Oswald and that he was indeed a KGB colonel and genuine mole.[7] At that point, the Nosenko issue evolved into an interservice confrontation. To the CIA, Nosenko was not a genuine KGB mole because he was found to have lied about his grade and his recall orders to the USSR. But the FBI accepted him as genuine, as agreeing that Nosenko was a KGB plant would consequently compromise the credibility of Fedora, the only Soviet source corroborating Nosenko's story.

Two lie detector tests conducted by the CIA suggested that Nosenko was lying. Nosenko claimed that the results of the first polygraph were prearranged in a way to break him, while prior to the second polygraph, he was examined by a doctor who "inserted a gloved finger inside Nosenko's rectum and, over his protests, wriggled it around for some ten minutes. The doctor suggested he liked the "degradation." Nosenko said that this was done to anger him and stimulate his blood pressure, a key factor in affecting polygraph readings."[8] Moreover, Nosenko confessed that he had lied to the CIA about his military rank.[citation needed] However, Nosenko passed a third polygraph test given in August 1968, which also included questions about Oswald.[9]

Part of the evidence against Nosenko was from the work of defected KGB Major and CIA agent Peter Deriabin. Deriabin had worked in the same parts of the Soviet KGB where Nosenko had claimed to have worked, but found the details of Nosenko's stories (which changed over time) to be unconvincing. Years after the incident, Deriabin still believed Nosenko was a KGB plant.[10]

Peter Deriabin noticed many inconsistencies and errors in Nosenko's accounts:

  • Nosenko "could not describe in detail how such a [KGB file] check is done..."
  • Nosenko, having ostensibly served as a security officer for delegations, "could not even explain how Soviet citizens are checked... before going abroad."
  • Nosenko "knew so little about day-to-day procedures... that one can only conclude that he had never been a KGB officer, at least not in Moscow..."[10]

When the interrogations led to no substantial results the interrogators were changed, and after a new team was brought on, Nosenko was cleared of all suspicions and released with pay. The question of whether Nosenko was a KGB plant is controversial, and those who handled him initially still believe that his unsolicited walk-in was designed by the KGB to protect a Soviet mole threatened by Golitsyn's knowledge, and his defection by a Soviet desire to discredit the idea of a connection between the Soviet Union and the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald.[10][11] Others have argued Nosenko was ultimately regarded as an authentic defector through misinformation from another KGB-agent that was thought to be a genuine defector, code-named Fedora.[12] Fedora corroborated Nosenko's authenticity and allegations, specifically that he was indeed a Lt. Colonel of the KGB and that he indeed received recalling orders just before fleeing to the USA.[13] Nosenko confessed later after failing to pass successive poly examinations that he was in reality a KGB captain, while, after NSA revealed that no recall orders ever reached Geneva Soviet embassy, he confessed that he also lied about that.[14]

Nosenko has later claimed to have been tortured and even at one point, he said during interrogation, he was given LSD, and it almost killed him. The guards revived him by dragging him into the shower and alternating the water between hot and cold.[citation needed] These claims have been denied by Richard Helms who was Director of Central Intelligence during the most intense part of Nosenko's interrogation.[citation needed]

Golitsyn's defection led the KGB to notify fifty-four Rezidentura to temporarily suspend all meetings with important agents.[15] The KGB also made significant efforts to discredit Golitsyn by promoting disinformation that he was involved in illegal smuggling operations.[15] After five years, in 1967, KGB assassination and sabotage section under Viktor Vladimirov finally discovered Golitsyn's CIA hideout in Canada and attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate him.[citation needed]

Nosenko's case officer was Tennent H. "Pete" Bagley, both when they first met in Geneva in 1962 and subsequently when he defected in 1964. Bagley, subsequently chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Russia ("SR") Division and Division Deputy Director, wrote a book that was substantially about the Nosenko case.[10] In response to Bagley's book, other members of the intelligence community have re-examined the Nosenko case and repeated Bagley's concerns.[citation needed] CIA operations officer George Kisevalter, well regarded for his prior handling of Major Pyotr Popov, the first Soviet GRU officer run by the CIA, and a native Russian speaker, was detailed to assist Bagley. In 2013 Bagley wrote another book, revealing new details he acquired by comparing notes with Soviet KGB Chief Sergey Kondrashev.[16] Bagley says he had always suspected that Nosenko might be a plant and was glad to have this confirmed by Kondrashev. Both Bagley and Kondrashev expressed surprise that CIA had accepted Nosenko as genuine for as long as they had, despite more than 30 warning signs.


On March 1, 1969, Nosenko was formally acknowledged to be a genuine defector, and released, with $80,000 worth of financial compensation from the CIA.[4] He was also provided with a new identity to live out his life in the South of the US.[4]

The harsh treatment he received as part of the early US interrogation was one of the "abuses" documented in the Central Intelligence Agency "Family Jewels" documents in 1973.[17] In an internal note at the CIA in 1978, then DCI Stansfield Turner, referring to Nosenko's solitary confinement, stated:

The excessively harsh treatment of Mr. Nosenko went beyond the bounds of propriety or good judgment. At my request, Mr. Hart has discussed this case with many senior officers to make certain that its history will not again be repeated. The other main lesson to be learned is that although counterintelligence analysis necessarily involves the making of hypotheses, we must at all times treat them as what they are, and not act on them until they have been objectively tested in an impartial manner.[citation needed]

The case has been examined in several books, and the 1986 movie Yuri Nosenko: Double Agent starring Tommy Lee Jones. The movie depicted the intense debate over whether Nosenko was an actual defector.

He exposed John Vassall, a British civil servant already revealed as a KGB agent by Golitsyn and eventually charged for spying in 1962, and Robert Lee Johnson, a U.S. Marine in Berlin arrested in 1964.

Nosenko lived in the US under an assumed name until his death.[18]

17 audio files of interviews of Nosenko during the investigation of the Kennedy assassination were made public by the National Archives on July 24, 2017.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pincus, Walter (August 27, 2008). "Yuri I. Nosenko, 81; KGB Agent Who Defected to the U.S." Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2012-05-16.
  2. ^ Mangold 1992, p. 162.
  3. ^ CIA.govPublic Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b c d Stout, David (2008-08-27). "Yuri Nosenko, Soviet Spy Who Defected, Dies at 81". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  5. ^ a b "Yuri Nosenko". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-10-02. Retrieved 2019-09-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Epstein, Edward Jay (July 1982), Disinformation
  8. ^ Posner 1993, p. 41.
  9. ^ Posner 1993, p. 42.
  10. ^ a b c d Bagley, Tennent H. (2007), Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games, Yale University Press
  11. ^ Helms, Richard; Hood, William (2004), A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency, Presidio Press, ISBN 0-8129-7108-6
  12. ^ Epstein 1978, p. 263-264.
  13. ^ Ashley, C., 2004,CIA spymaster, Gretna, LA: Pelican, p. 279
  14. ^ Ashley, C., 2004,CIA spymaster, Gretna, LA: Pelican, p. 282
  15. ^ a b Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (1999). The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465003129.
  16. ^ Spymaster, Tennent H. Bagley, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, Delaware, 2013
  17. ^ James A. Wilderotter (1975-01-03). "Memorandum: CIA Matters" (PDF). National Security Archive. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
  18. ^ Express (Washington Post), August 28, 2008, p.6
  19. ^ "National Archives Begins Online Release of JFK Assassination Records". 23 July 2017.