The emergence of modern espionage became more rampant during the Cold War and its was an intricate inter-actions between the agents and spies of the United States of America and the and agents and spies of the Soviet Union. The operations of both sides intertwined with one another. (Cold War Spies. [internet]). While there are recent developments in intelligence gathering and information and data sourcing, human intelligence (or HUMINT) has always been a fascinating segment of the whole caboodle.
This analysis is focused on human intelligence initiatives in general and on the human agent, officer and spy himself in particular, Pyotr Popov, the subject of this paper, was the first ranking officer from the Soviet military intelligence network to have been successfully engaged for his services by the CIA. His story had been documented by several literary and news-form accomplishments. One of these works was written by a former CIA officer himself, Clarence Ashley, who narrated the spy stories of another CIA agent, George Kisevalter, considered one of the most effective case officers in the history of the agency.
After the Second World War, the United States began gathering data and information about the military and other related and allied operations of the Soviet Russia. It was then common to recruit or attempt to recruit Russian officials who were perceived to have turned against their country. A few had been hired and thus became spies or secret agents working for US intelligence efforts. Of course, if the activities of these so-called penetration agents or moles were discovered by Soviet authorities, they could be subject of prosecution and execution for treason by their mother country or nation of origin.
The job was hazardous to one’s life and consisted of dramatic turns, risky confrontations and stressful pressures which were sometimes unbearable. The fear and apprehension of getting exposed, caught and jailed were always there. (Taubman, Philip. The Uses of Tradecraft. May 23, 1982. Books. The New York Times. July 14, 2009. [internet]).. If a spy succeeded in his or her operations, he or she became a hero or heroine in the host country. Reciprocally, he or she became a traitor of his or her mother country or place of roots or origin.
In short, a Soviet spy who worked for the CIA and attained the objective of his assignment would become a hero in the United States. At the same time, he would become a traitor, a betrayer, a Judas, in the nation where he was probably born or to which he owed his bloodline and ethnicity. The mental and psychological complexities that would have affected the person and character and image of that spy or agent were, and still are, hard to imagine in terms of magnitude and were, and still are, mind-boggling. It would be like eating salt and shouting it was sweet or drinking sugared juice and clamoring it was bitter.
The dynamics and circumstances just laid down have to be conveyed in order to understand spies, agents, heroes and traitors. Incidentally, the poor guy Pyotr Semyonovich0 Popov who was executed by the Russian government in 1960 is the chosen fellow in this paper. Popov had the rank of a major in the Soviet spy organization. For about six long years, that is, from 1952 to 1958, he took advantage of his post in the intelligence complex of the Soviet Union. With the bulk of data and information he was able to amass, he forwarded most if not all of these to the United States through the CIA.
The intelligence items included the then military capabilities of the Soviets, their own espionage system and activities and other important and significant data as were related to intelligence matters. It all started when Popov, then under the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence authority, walked in at the Vienna station of the CIA and offered his services. (Pyotr Popov. The 1950s. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. [internet]). The story went that the Russian had his first moves in Vienna when he surreptitiously slipped a letter in the car of a US intelligence officer.
At that time, the operations chief of the CIA in is Vienna station was one William Hood who also made an account of Popov and his activities in another book. Hood was a major player in absorbing Pyotr Popov into the intelligence network of the USA and, of course, of the CIA Popov’s motives was founded on his deep hatred at Russia for the Soviet exploitation of the peasants in the country. The harassment included the family of Popov. With the elements of vendetta inside his heart and his mind, Popov started to find ways as to how he could associate and related with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Once inside, he carried out his spy duties and responsibilities with utmost and apparent loyalty and fidelity to the country which was then considered an enemy of his own country. From Vienna, he later on moved to Berlin where he must have forgotten to realize Soviet surveillance and security monitoring. He had meetings with US agents and would deliver very confidential and top secret classified papers. Some settings in these encounters had Popov enjoying vodka drinking sprees and good old sturgeon delicacy.
Possibly excited and with alcohol in his head, Popov, in those meetings, recklessly gave descriptions of the Soviet military command organization, mentioned names of Soviet spies and other delicate items supposedly within the strict sphere of espionage including stories about illegal agents whom the Russians employed to infiltrate the United States. It was likely that Popov’s own personal negligence paid off. But the pay-off did not redound to his benefit. It became the short-cut to his perdition and, sadly and unfortunately, probably the reason for his own demise.
One such illegal agent was a lady agent trained to intrude into US intelligence system. She was to meet her husband who was already stationed and based in America. Popov, in his capacity as a Soviet intelligence officer, tipped off the US agents about the entry of the woman in American soil. The notice caused the agents of the FBI to scramble for ways to monitor and eavesdrop on her in New York. Unfortunately, the attempts of the federal spies got detected by the couple who reported the whole thing to their senior officers after leaving the country unrecognized.
At this point, it is worthy to note that the woman was once under Popov in East Berlin. Furthermore, it was gathered that the Soviet officers must have also been assisted by their own spy, a Briton working for the Soviets at the time, who accidentally learned that Popov was being used by the CIA The accounts of George Kisevalter were highlighted by the fact that he was Popov’s handler. Kisevalter’s involvement in the case ended when Popov, without the fault of the former, was captured and later on executed in 1969. (Popov and Penkovskiy. George Kisevalter. Wikipedia. internet]).
In is interesting to observe that Kisevalter was himself of Russian blood and origin having been born in Petersburg, Russia, and, ironically or what, his father was a Russian Army munitions expert while his grandfather was once a Russian finance minister. There have been general negative perceptions about the use of human intelligence for the simple reason that agents are human. They have feelings. Their motives are not totally known. Money or passion or power can be the reason for the spy’s motivations. In the case of Popov, there are lessons to learn.
He was a professional spy, no problem. He must have been a skilled agent and surveillance officer. And, without doubt, he was loyal and faithful to the cause and interests of United States of America as against his home country of Russia albeit his hatred against the latter was borne out of personal vengeance. For sure, Popov would not have stayed with the Central Intelligence Agency for those six long years if not for his apparent dedication to work, good performance and evident loyalty. And yet, the smart guy who was Popov got trapped in the net.
To sum it up, the lesson that can be learned from the use of human intelligence (or HUMINT) is the human factor itself. In the ordinary course of things, Popov must have been diligent, efficient and effective in his job commitments and undertakings. But human as he was, boredom and monotony and melancholy must have taken tolls in the mindset. The poor Popov, while in German soil, had his physical and biological needs. The vodka was great and the sturgeon was delicious and a good match. The alcohol can make a person talkative.
The spirit of wine or gin or vodka is tempting and sometimes makes people get excited, passionate and, sadly, careless and reckless. Popov was not an exception. His undesirable disclosures of information and data and other intelligence matters could have been overheard. Vodka sometimes makes you feel you speak softly though you speak loudly. His irresponsible way of delivering classified intelligence documents was the height of absurdity. In short, he messed it up himself. On top of Popov’s human factor connection, there were still other human factor elements in Popov’s story.
The British agent who was actually also treasonously working for the Soviets was also a human. He must have his own personal human motives why he betrayed in favor of the Russians. The FBI agents who panicked after learning the coming of the Soviet lady spy were also human beings. And they could err as any homo sapiens do. Their attempts to monitor the activities of the female agent could have been calculated into discreet and subtle actions. They could have done things in some methodologies that would make the surveillance work effectively without being noticed. They did not. They failed.
They had their own lapses. Those are the lessons which can be learned from Popov’s tales of fantastic clandestine feats and adventures in particular and from human intelligence sourcing in general. But were there really reasons? The HUMINT technique can be effective because of human resources which include talent, skills, expertise, devotion, dedication, hard work, diligence and other characteristics under the category of values, right conduct and good behavior. But these resources of man as a member of the animal kingdom who happens to have intelligence are susceptible to the influence of the whole environment.
The influence can be bad or can be good. A look at probabilities will justify Popov and his shortcomings. First, because he was just a man, he could have become bored because of the monotony and routine character of his job. Second, because he was human, he had to look for outlets or recharging spots for a rewind, so to speak. Because he was human, he tried Vodka, he got drunk, he became talkative, he got his voice in loud volume in disclosing things which could have been spoken in mild and tempered manner. The other humans around had their attentions invited to the noisy Popov. These were the human probabilities.
And these were not impossible. The point is that whether or not lessons are learned from the failures of HUMINT is not relevant. Humans will be humans forever. They are not robots. They cannot be controlled by some remote gadgets. In conclusion, the use of human intelligence in surveillance and espionage will have the same effect as it was thousands of centuries ago. More than two thousand years ago, Judas betrayed Christ despite the fact that he was one of the twelve in the inner circle of Messiah. There will be more Judases. Even the most complex genetic procedure cannot exterminate the Judas in humans, in us.