- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (July 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385537603
- ISBN-13: 978-0385537605
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (709 customer reviews)
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#52,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #53 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > True Crime > Espionage
- #68 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > International & World Politics > Russian & Former Soviet Union
- #112 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Specific Topics > Intelligence & Espionage
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The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal Hardcover – July 7, 2015
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"In an era of suicide bombers and ISIS beheadings, the spy dramas of the Cold War can seem tame, almost polite affairs. Central Intelligence Agency officers who worked in the Soviet capital complained about operating under “Moscow rules,” meaning the relentless scrutiny of the K.G.B. And they knew that any Soviet citizen caught spying faced certain execution. Still, there were rules. Those rules may actually be a reason that David Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy, about Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet radar expert who spied for the C.I.A., is such an engrossing tale. The story played out over several years, almost entirely on the streets of Moscow, in a twilit chess game that pitted American intelligence officers against their Soviet counterparts."
—New York Times
“The Billion Dollar Spy is one of the best spy stories to come out of the Cold War and all the more riveting, and finally dismaying, for being true. It hits the sweet spot between page-turning thriller and solidly researched history (even the footnotes are informative) and then becomes something more, a shrewd character study of spies and the spies who run them, the mixed motives, the risks, the almost inevitable bad end."
"[A] dramatic spy vs. spy story, complete with a trove of trade-craft tricks, is the grist for Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman's scrupulously reported The Billion Dollar Spy, a true-life tale so gripping at times it reads like spy fiction ... Hoffman interviewed key players and gained access to more than 900 pages of long-secret CIA files and operational cables to fill in a crucial gap in the Cold War espionage canon."
—Los Angeles Times
“[The Billion Dollar Spy] packs valuable insights into the final decade of the cloak-and-dagger rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union, which came undone in 1989. It is a must-read for historians and buffs of that era, as well as aficionados of espionage ... Hoffman draws on extensive declassified CIA and FBI files and myriad other sources to chronicle how the United States gained and lost one of the elite spies of the Cold War."
—Christian Science Monitor
"Gripping and nerve-wracking ... Human tension hangs over every page of The Billion Dollar Spy like the smell of leaded gasoline ... Hoffman knows the intelligence world well and has expertly used recently declassified documents to tell this unsettling and suspenseful story. It is an old cliché that any true story about espionage resembles the best of John Le Carré's fiction. That’s especially true here. The Billion Dollar Spy reads like the most taut and suspenseful parts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Smiley’s People. It’s worth the clenched jaw and upset stomach it creates."
"The Billion Dollar Spy not only chronicles the life and motives of [Soviet engineer Adolph] Tolkachev but also provides a rare look at the dangerous, intricately choreographed tradecraft behind old-school intelligence gathering ... What [Hoffman]’s accomplished here isn’t just a remarkable example of journalistic talent but also an ability to weave an absolutely gripping nonfiction narrative."
—Dallas Morning News
"Hoffman excels at conveying both the tradecraft and the human vulnerabilities involved in spying."
—The New Yorker
"David Hoffman is a scrupulous, meticulous writer whose pages of footnotes and references attest to how carefully he sticks to his sources ... His book’s value is in its true-life adventure story and the window it offers into a once-closed world."
"The fine first sentence of The Billion Dollar Spy could almost have been written with an icicle. A work of painstaking historical research that’s paced like a thriller."
"Hoffman [proves] that nonfiction can read like a John le Carré thriller ... This real-life tale of espionage will hook readers from the get-go."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Hoffman carefully sets the scene with both cautious and free-wheeling CIA directors and staff and also provides intimate details that prove fascinating and give human faces to these brave participants, including spies often known by code names and encountered in 'fast drops.' The book’s hero—who gave the U.S. technological information worth billions, with the technology still in use today—is Adolf Tolkachev, a Russian engineer, and Hoffman’s revealing of him as a person and a spy is brilliantly done, making this mesmerizing true story scary and thrilling."
—Booklist, starred review
"Gripping and informative ... Focusing on Adolf Tolkachev, who served as a spy inside the Soviet Union for more than 20 years before being betrayed, the author sets out to write the story of a spy and in so doing, chronicles Cold War espionage and an overall compelling tale that draws on secret documents from the CIA as well as interviews with surviving participants. Hoffman succeeds on both accounts."
"This painstakingly researched tale reads like le Carré"
“David Hoffman has written one of the best real-life spy stories ever told. This is a breakthrough book in intelligence writing, drawing on CIA operational cables—the holy grail of the spy world—to narrate each astonishing move. Hoffman reveals CIA tradecraft tricks that are more delicious than anything in a spy novel, and his command of the Soviet landscape is masterful. Full of twists so amazing you couldn’t make them up, this is spy fact that really is better than fiction.”
—David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and author of The Director
“A fabulous read that also provides chilling insights into the Cold War spy game between Washington and Moscow that has erupted anew under Vladimir Putin. The Billion Dollar Spy is an espionage thriller worthy of John Le Carré but much more than that. It is also an evocative portrait of everyday life in the crumbling Soviet Union and a meticulously researched guide to CIA sources and methods. I devoured every word, including the footnotes.”
—Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
“A scrupulously researched work of history that is also a gripping thriller, The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman is an unforgettable journey into Cold War espionage. This spellbinding story pulses with the dramatic tension of running an agent in Soviet-era Moscow—where the KGB is ubiquitous and CIA officers and Russian assets are prey. I was enthralled from the first instance of a CIA officer ‘going dark’ all the way to the terrible, tragic climax.”
—Peter Finn, co-author of The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book
“The Billion Dollar Spy reads like the very best spy fiction yet is meticulously drawn from real life. It is a gripping story of courage, professionalism, and betrayal in the secret world.”
—Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador in Moscow, 1988-1992
About the Author
David E. Hoffman is a contributing editor at The Washington Post and a correspondent for PBS's flagship investigative series, FRONTLINE. He is the author of The Dead Hand, about the end of the Cold War arms race, and winner of a 2010 Pulitzer Prize. He lives with his wife in Maryland.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Billion Dollar Spy was a Soviet engineer named Adolf Tokachev who provided the US with a prodigious volume of technical data about the USSR’s military capabilities from 1977 to 1985. He served as chief engineer of one of several research and development institutes serving the Soviet air force. Under the noses of his bosses and the KGB alike, he brazenly supplied photographs of many thousands of pages of top-secret data to the CIA, enabling the US to counteract every technical advantage achieved by the USSR in its most advanced combat aircraft. An assessment by the US government of Tokachev’s “production” placed the value at two billion dollars, and that was undoubtedly a conservative estimate. There seems to be little question that Adolf Tokachev was the CIA’s biggest success story ever in human intelligence — at least among those the agency has revealed to researchers. His portrait hangs in CIA headquarters to this day.
Hoffman tells this amazing story with great skill and in minute detail. The book reads like a top-flight spy novel, reeking of suspense. But what is most surprising (at least to me) is the insiders’ picture of CIA operations. To call the agency bureaucratic would be a gross understatement: every single action taken by Tokachev’s handlers and every single word they communicated to him was first painstakingly reviewed not just by the head of the Moscow station but also by his boss, the head of the agency’s Soviet division — and often by the Director of the CIA himself. More often than not, the agency big-wigs second-guessed their field staff, denying multiple requests for money to compensate Tokachev, for the cyanide pill he demanded in case he was discovered by the KGB, and for the spyware he needed to photograph top-secret material he had spirited away from his office at the risk of his life. Yet, as Hoffman writes, “Tolkachev’s material was so valuable back at Langley that he was literally ‘paying the rent’ — justifying the CIA’s operational budget — and helping the agency satisfy the military customers.”
That bureaucratic meddling was the first surprise. The second was the picture of tedium and frustration suffered by Tokachev’s handlers. Pulling off a single exchange of material at a dead drop might require weeks, with the effort aborted several times for fear of KGB surveillance. Face-to-face meetings with the engineer were often even more fraught with fear. Months went by between meetings, sometimes by design, sometimes by misadventure. On a couple of occasions, Tokachev’s wife inadvertently opened the attic window he used to signal for a meeting, creating confusion and anxiety within the CIA station. And the technology designed by the agency’s answer to James Bond’s “Q” sometimes malfunctioned.
Third, though by no means a surprise, is the picture Hoffman paints of the damage suffered by the CIA at the hands of its long-time director of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton. When his close personal friend, Kim Philby, defected to the Soviet Union after decades of extraordinarily high-level spying, Angleton apparently went off the deep end into paranoia. (Many of his coworkers thought he was nuts.) As Hoffman writes, “Angleton’s suspicions permeated the culture and fabric of the CIA’s Soviet operations division during the 1960s, with disastrous results . . . If no one could be trusted, there could be no spies.” Hoffman adds that, for Angleton, “everything was labeled suspicious or compromised . . .”
It’s not a stretch to imagine that the CIA opened up its records on the Tokachev affair as a public relations move to counter all the dreadful publicity it has suffered over the past decade and more. After all, such records are normally classified for fifty years, and Tokachev’s career for the CIA ended only thirty years ago.
It’s also sobering to consider the agency’s success with Tokachev in a larger context. As Marc Goodman revealed in his recent book, Future Crimes, Chinese government hackers succeeded in stealing top-secret US military data worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
David E. Hoffman is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning contributing editor to the Washington Post.
At the beginning, I hesitated in buying this book, since I read Barry Royden’s internal monograph (good, but objectively less detailed) on the operation issued in 2003, but in the end I decided to purchase the book hoping to find some missing aspects of the aforementioned account. I didn’t regret since the volume is laced with startling revelations - about double agents, human dimensions and problems, covert operations, human and technical operational capabilities, spying techniques and betrayals.
For the first time, we get an in-depth story about the Adolf Tolchacev (codename CK Sphere, later GT Vanquish) operation, one of the CIA’s most productive agents, who driven by anger and vengeance, provided United States with intelligence it had never obtained. What makes this operation more audacious was the fact that all 21 personally meetings between him and his six case officers (last three of them “deep cover” officers) happened in a surveillance-heavy environment of the omnipotent KGB.
The book is fast-paced and starts in the “Prologue” part with such a meeting which took part in December 1982, introducing - apart the case officer W. Plunkert – a CIA device, simply called Jack-in-the-box (JIB), designed to escape from KGB surveillance. Throughout the book’s 21 chapters the author uncovers several espionage techniques to “move through the gap”, that is, avoid blanket surveillance, and allow CIA to carry out its life-and-death meetings with its valuable source:, identity transfer/deception and street disguise, out-of-country scenarios, JIB or surveillance detection runs. Among electronic devices the book reveals Discus, Buster SRAC device, IOWL or Iskra. Cameras, such as Tropel T50/100, a wonder of optical engineering, or Pentax ME 35mm and Molly are also presented.
Next to Tolkachev’s profile, stand those of his handlers, no doubt, CIA’s crème de la crème: J. Guilsher, D. Rolph, W. Plunkert or “deep cover officers” such R. Morris and P. Stombaugh. (and John Yeagley, not mentioned in the book). Their dedication and sacrifice were amply described in the book; for their huge contribution, perhaps they should be called “billion dollar case officers”. Their patience, quick decisions and attitude help enormously to run this operation. In the opposite corner, in my opinion, stand DCI S. Turner “strange” decisions not to pursue Tolkachev initiative, almost close not to have such a crown jewel of human source.
No doubt, Tolkachev was a complex and delicate man to handle with many switches or problems; the author presented the long debates about his money demands, suicide-pill request, exfiltration plans or the difficult moments of that risky relationship.
In addition, there is a good presentation of the Moscow CsOS namely R. M. Fulton, G. Hathaway, B. Gerber or C. E. Gerbhardt; oddly, there is not a single paragraph about Murat Natirboff, who held this position from 1984 to 09.1986.
Mr. Hoffman dedicated a good portion of the book for presenting the Cold War context or previous cases or other operations. It is a sound idea: the readers can find compelling details about Penkovsky, Popov, Golitsin, Ogorodnik or Sheymov cases among others.
Moreover, the author also addresses to a technical operations conducted in that period - CK Elbow wiretap (later GT/Taw, I guessed); sadly, there were no details about GT Absorb, in my opinion, an equally interesting operation.
Finally, in chapter 16 (“Seeds of betrayal”), the author takes the readers inside the motives, frustrations and problems of E. Howard in revealing Tolkachev’s identity to the Soviets. He betrayed not only this source, but also a variety of CIA tradecraft procedures and capabilities: CK Elbow, JIB or his “deep cover” colleagues’ identities. CIA also made a huge mistake in protecting their source by losing three pages from a top-secret Tolkachev document, a fact revealed on page 238.
The formidable impact of Tolkachev intelligence is summarized in “Note on the intelligence” section: he delivered design and capabilities of radars deployed on MIG-23/29 fighters and MIG-25/31 interceptors, plus SU-27 multirole fighter and IL-76 AWACS. No wonder, after 1985 the Soviets started a long process to modify their radars and avionics, developing a long series of updates for MIG-29/31 or SU-27. Moreover, he compromised the technical deficiencies of the Soviet SAM radars to intercept penetrators at low altitudes (B-1 B bomber or cruise missiles). Never before a U.S. intel source opened such a window on Soviet intentions and capabilities. As the author stated, his intelligence produced a major impact on the training of US pilots and ensured that US would enjoy almost total air superiority over Soviet-built fighters for more than two decades.
The book is filled with 30+ B&W photos, showing, mainly, A. Tolkachev and some case officers.
In the conclusion part -“Epilogue”- the author analyses the application of the Tolchacev vast intelligence in a short aerial combat episode during Operation Desert Storm.
The study concludes with a very useful four-page “Note on the intelligence”, complemented by „Acknowledgements”, an extensive „Notes” section (32 pages) and the usual index.
Energetically written and lucid, it makes an ideal lecture for all Cold War enthusiasts, buffs and pros alike. Highly recommended!
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