Was Yuri Nosenko a KGB mole?

A readeader asks:

Do you still believe Nosenko was a true defector, Jeff?

Have you read Tennent H. Bagley’s “Spy Wars,” or even his 35-page PDF “Ghosts of the Spy Wars”?

Yes, I did read Bagley’s Spy Wars. I also interviewed him. And yes, I do believe Nosenko was a true defector.

I think Bagley was wrong, for two reasons: lack of a plausible suspect and lack of damage to CIA operations.

Remember Angleton’s theory that Nosenko was a dispatched defector is inextricably bound up in the theory that Nosenko was dispatched to protect a mole already working inside the CIA as of January 1964.  So the  reader’s question is really two, was Nosenko a mole? And, if so, who was he protecting?

As I asked in THE GHOST

if there was a mole burrowed into the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, as the Angletonians claimed, who the devil was it? And what damage did he do?

James Angleton
James Angleton oversaw the surveillance of Oswald

Those who argue that Nosenko was a controlled defector need to answer these two questions. I was especially convinced by George Kisevalter, the most experienced CIA officer handling Russian defector. Kisevalter always vouched for Nosenko’s bonafides.


“Kisevalter’s opinion was not idiosyncratic. In 1997, he received the agency’s Trailblazer Award recognizing him as one of fifty top CIA officers in its first fifty years, an honor Angleton did not receive. There was never any doubt in Kisevalter’s mind about the bona fides of Yuri Nosenko. Three subsequent reviews by senior CIA officers reached the same conclusion. So did Cleveland Cram, the former London station chief who wrote the definitive study of Angleton’s operations.. So did Benjamin Fischer, a career officer who became the agency’s chief historian.

“The Great Mole Hunt or Great Mole Scare of the late 1960s turned the CIA inside out ruining careers and reputations in search for Soviet penetrations that may or may not have existed,” Fischer wrote.

The dissenters from the institutional consensus about the Mole Hunt were mostly officers who had served Angleton on the Counterintelligence Staff. The Angletonians, as they called themselves, were a dogged bunch. Bill Hood and Pete Bagley asserted that the clandestine service was never penetrated during Angleton’s watch–which is true. They also claimed that the CIA’s operations against the Soviet Union were not unduly harmed by the Mole Hunt–which is not.

Yuri Nosenko and wife
Exonerated mole suspect Yuri Nosenko and wife.

Angleton and his acolytes would speak many words in his defense and write more than a few books. They cited scores of statements by Yuri Nosenko that they said were not credible or misleading, and indeed, Nosenko had exaggerated and embellished as defectors often do.  But if there was a mole burrowed into the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, as the Angletonians claimed, who the devil was it? And what damage did he do?

The CIA has learned from hard experience what happened when the Soviets succeeded their operations: agents were arrested and executed. But even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the opening of significant portions of KGB archives, the Angletonians could not identify any operations compromised by the putative mole [allegedly protected by Nosenko]. They could not even offer up the name of a single plausible candidate. After the passage of five decades, the likeliest explanation is that there wasn’t a mole.”


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