Penkovskiy, Oleg Vladimirovich

(1919–1963)
   As a soldier in the Great Patriotic War, Penkovskiy was rapidly decorated and promoted. A full colonel before he was 30, Penkovskiy joined Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, and was posted to Turkey. He apparently was a complete failure in Turkey; only his connections in the military saved his career. Angry about being relegated to the sidelines, Penkovskiy volunteered to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in Moscow in August 1960, passing a letter through American tourists to the CIA. The letter read: “I ask you to consider me as your soldier. Henceforth, the ranks of your armed forces are increased by one man.” Over the next 22 months, Penkovskiy passed thousands of pages of information about the Soviet military and intelligence services to American and British handlers. The information, codenamed “Ironbark” by the CIA, provided President John F. Kennedy with critical intelligence about the capabilities of Soviet weapons systems during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. This information allowed CIA analysts to identify Soviet missiles in Cuba and provide the president with accurate information about Soviet capabilities and intentions.
   Penkovskiy was caught by the KGB as a result of his tradecraft errors. However, he had by that time operated for almost two years under the eyes of the KGB in the Soviet capital. He was tried and shot in 1963. Following his arrest, eight British and five American diplomats were expelled from the Soviet Union. Penkovskiy’s espionage badly damaged the GRU and caused Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev to fire GRU chief Ivan Serov and appoint a senior KGB counterintelligence officer, Petr Ivashutin, to command the military intelligence service. After Penkovskiy’s fall, more than 300 GRU officers were recalled to Moscow. Penkovskiy’s motivation for betraying the Soviet Union has long been debated. Angry about his position and lack of advancement after the war, he probably acted from personal reasons best known to himself—and his KGB interrogators.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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