Popov, Petr Semenovich


Popov, Petr Semenovich
(1916–1960)
   An early victory for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Cold War was the recruitment and running of Petr Popov, a GRU lieutenant colonel who volunteered to work for American intelligence in Vienna in the early 1950s. Popov’s motivations were personal and ideological: he was disgusted with the regime’s treatment of peasant families like his own, he coveted a Western lifestyle, and he was deeply fond of his American case officers.
   Popov was run successfully first in Vienna and then in Berlin for more than five years by the CIA, and he provided detailed information about GRU espionage and illegals, including the names of more than 650 GRU officers and scores of illegals operating in the West. In 1957 he identified Walter and Margarita Tairov, who had been dispatched to New York as illegals. The Tairovs were able to avoid surveillance by U.S. counterintelligence and return to the East. The Tairov case may have alerted Soviet intelligence that it had a mole in its officer corps.
   Popov also provided hundreds of documents on Soviet military policy toward NATO and Germany. A CIA officer involved in the case stated that Popov “produced the most valuable intelligence on the Soviet military of any source in that period.” The KGB afteraction report on the Popov case estimates that his reporting saved the U.S. government more that $500 million in its scientific and technical programs.
   Popov came under suspicion in 1958—probably as a result of either George Blake’s treachery or close KGB scrutiny of the Tairov case. He was arrested in October 1959 and interrogated severely. When the KGB tried to run him under their control to entrap a CIA case officer, Popov showed tremendous presence of mind and courage; he slipped the American officer a note stating that he was under Soviet control. Rumors reached the West that following his trial Popov was fed into a furnace while still alive. The story, like many Cold War stories, appears to be fiction. Popov was shot in June 1960.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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