Spy vs. Spy: Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko confronted CIA accuser James Angleton

A new JFK assassination tape found among the new JFK files in the the National Archives yields the previously unknown coda of one of the most famous espionage controversies of the 20th century.

Yuri Nosenko and wife
Exonerated mole suspect Yuri Nosenko and wife in the late 1990s. (Photo credit: Jefferson Morley)

Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer accused of being a Soviet mole by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, confronted his accuser after being exonerated by the CIA.

Angleton told the story to congressional investigators in June 1978. A researcher found the tape in the National Archives and shared it with JFK Facts, which published a transcript for the first time.

Nosenko, a veteran KGB officer, defected to the United States in January 1964 and handed over secrets of the Soviet intelligence service. James Angleton, chief of the agency’s Counterintelligence Staff, and other CIA officers suspected Nosenko was actually a “dispatched agent.”

Angleton thought Nosenko had been sent to infect American intelligence  with misleading information about the KGB’s relationship with accused presidential  assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

As a result,  Nosenko was imprisoned, without legal charges, at a CIA black site, from 1964 to 1968. Held In solitary confinement, Nosenko was not exactly tortured but he was forced to endure harsh living conditions and repeated hostile interrogation from CIA officers who shared Angleton’s theory that he was actually seeking to protect a still-unidentified KGB “mole”  in the ranks of the CIA and obscuring a possible KGB role in JFK’s assassination.

As Christopher Dickey noted in a piece for the Daily Beast, Angleton’s “mole hunt”  “nearly wrecked” the CIA. An internal inquiry in 1968 concluded Nosenko was a bona fide defector who provided valuable intelligence. He was freed and retained by the agency as a consultant.

James Angleton
James Angleton, counterintelligence chief

After the Mole Hunt 

According to Angleton, Nosenko called him at his home in Arlington Virginia sometime after Angleton was fired from the CIA in 1975. Nosenko wanted to know why his chief accuser never spoke to him face to face during the four-plus years of his detention.

Angleton told the story in a closed-door interview with two staff members of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in June 1978. He took Nosenko’s call, but mostly refused to engage on the question of his guilt.

“Nosenko calls me up … and I didn’t know who he was. He said he was ‘George’. The first time he talked to my wife and he finally got me and … he started being very insulting on the phone … he went into … why I’d never met him or this and that.”

In fending off Nosenko’s call, Angleton suggested that the agency’s Soviet Russia division was responsible for Nosenko’s interrogation.

It is true that Soviet Russia division chief David Murphy had formal responsibility for Nosenko but Murphy only detained Nosenko after Angleton forcefully argued that Nosenko was a fake.

Angleton told Nosenko he was responsible for his incarceration.

‘You were under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Division … and um… ‘There was no reason for me to meet you.”

When Nosenko said something about the case against him, Angleton cut him off.

And I said “Look … I don’t have any time for you on this.’

It is hardly surprising Nosenko was angry. It is more surprising that Angleton passed up the opportunity to learn more. He might have posed questions about Lee Harvey Oswald or the KGB connections that Angleton suspected he had concealed.

He might have asked about the putative mole. Instead he said, I don’t have any time for you on this. 

There is no evidence the two men ever communicated again.


Two additional CIA studies, one in the late 1970s and the other in the early 1980s, concluded that Nosenko was a genuine defector, a claim which Angleton and his acolytes continued to dispute.

Angleton died in 1987; Nosenko died in 2008.


You can read and download the Angleton HSCA interview here. 

If you write about the interview, please credit JFK Facts.

And a tip of the hat to Damian Turner, Jim McClure, and Leslie Sharp for the transcription.]










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