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Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer- The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames Hardcover – December 28, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's not surprising that a book on spying would be tinged with irony. Midway through this gripping but soberly written expose on the Cold War spy game, the author, a former KGB agent, recalls some advice he gave back in the 1990s to former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who wanted to know how Cherkashin was able to recruit CIA agents like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen as KGB spies and whether it was possible to prevent treason. "The only way to be entirely safe is to remove people from intelligence gathering," Cherkashin offered-an intriguing comment given the recent renewed emphasis on human intelligence. But throughout the book, Cherkashin proves his point, showing just how porous these agencies are and how operatives deftly remain effective as spies for both sides. Recruited in 1985, Ames and Hanssen made the initial overtures to the KGB, and Cherkashin was there to receive them and their boilerplate motivations for wanting to cross over-money and a sort of renegade patriotism that resolves itself by punishing the very country they serve. While Cherkashin's relationships with Ames and Hanssen are explained, almost more intriguing is the picture he paints of a time when spying was predominantly a human intelligence affair ripe with sex and blackmail. The author, who clearly believes in respect for the enemy, sometimes sounds like an apologist for his country's actions, as well as the actions of Ames and Hanssen. But this lack of sentimentality is what makes the book stand out. 16 page photo pull-out.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Cherkashin, a retired senior KGB officer, working with Feifer, a former Moscow correspondent for Radio Free Europe, gives readers an insider's view of the spy business from just after World War II through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This is at once fascinating and chilling. Cherkashin emphasizes the painstaking, plodding nature of spy work, but he also spikes his account with the stuff of a le Carre thriller: secret meetings, paranoia over others' reactions, and tales of blackmail and seduction in the service of turning selected targets into KGB agents. Although the focus is on Soviet spycraft, Cherkashin's story--especially the recruitment and handling of Americans Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen--is interlaced with details about U.S. spying and counterspying. Cherkashin's perspective on Ames' and Hanssen's psyches and on what led to their downfalls is especially riveting. Read this not just as a spy expose but also as a social history of an especially volatile period in Russia. Connie Fletcher
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009688
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Cherkashin was a senior KGB figure in numerous Soviet outposts all over the world during the 1970s and 80s. He had a very important stint in Washington DC where he "handled" Aldrich Ames, one of the most damaging spies in the history of the United States. The tone of this interesting book is neither adversarial nor arrogant; Cherkashin certainly didn't write this memoir in order to make himself look like the most important KGB operative in the history of the USSR, and for that we should all be thankful.

Cherkashin worked his way up through the ranks of the KGB and along the way we are exposed to the different units of the KGB, what their roles were, and the figures that led them. Sometimes the terminology and names can get a little overwhelming to those like me who aren't fully versed in the language of the spy game. Then again, I doubt there are many people, outside of ex-CIA and FBI personnel, who wouldn't have any difficulty.

Brushing aside the frequent but not too distracting names and titles, this book could easily be called "Spycatching for Dummies". Cherkashin talks candidly about the methods of recruiting a spy (hint: blackmail works wonders), handling a spy (hint: stroke their ego), and what to do when something goes wrong (hint: find a scapegoat). Machiavelli would have been proud.

That said, I really liked Cherkashin's style, everything is delivered very matter-of-factly and one is left with the distinct impression that he is telling the truth about a lot of things. He talks about the information that Ames and Hansen handed over to the Soviets and the damage that it did to US intelligence collection. What is even more amazing is that Ames and Hansen both forked over secrets for so long a period.

If you're a fan of LeCarre or James Bond films, you'll definitely enjoy this book.
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Format: Hardcover
In the words of Victor Cherkashin, "Aldrich Ames (CIA) was worth every penny of the $2.7 million he was paid." Moreover, Ames was indeed the "deadliest" KGB spy because he unmasked the CIA's intelligence network in the Soviet Union. However, Robert Hanssen (FBI) "was much more important (to the KGB) because he allowed the KGB to penetrate U.S. intelligence to such a degree that the KGB came to regard him as the greatest asset, surpassing Aldrich Ames," according to the author. Ironically, both Americans were "walk-ins," and were never actively recruited to betray the United States.

"Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer," by Victor Cherkashin is an outstanding narrative of how former CIA agent Ames and how former FBI agent Hanssen gave the KGB the "mother lode" of information on the United States intelligence efforts against the former Soviet Union. To America, Ames and Hanssen were monsters...but the author demonstrates how in the eyes of the KGB both men were heroes. Interestingly enough, Ames declares he cooperated with the KGB because, "he worked for an agency that deliberately overestimated Soviet Union capabilities to wrangle more money for its own operations." Hanssen basically cooperated with the KGB because he loved the danger of it and truly thought he was much too smart to get caught.

This book covers much territory. The author reports the unmasking of Soviet spies Ronald Pelton, the NSA cryptologist, former Navy sailor John Walker, and Edward Lee Howard. Cherkashin makes mention of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard but only in his description of 1985 as the "year of the spy." In conclusion, the author does an excellent job of describing how a series of lucky breaks dramatically altered the landscape of U.S. - Soviet espionage. He also does a professional job of explaining the Soviet spy strategy of observation, orientation, decision and action. Highly recommended.

Bert Ruiz
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Format: Paperback
There is a large number of books dealing with Ames and Hanssen, and Cherkashin is the latest in a long line of former intelligence officers to write his memoirs. However, of all the accounts I have read, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Many of these books are very dry. Here, the writing style is engaging and accessible, and allows Cherkashin's personality to show through. There's a lot of interesting background as to how Cherkashin got started with the KGB, and some of the operations he was involved in to entrap foreign businessmen in Russia during the late 1950s and 1960s, prior to moving into foreign intelligence in Beirut.

It seems one of Cherkashin's motives in writing this book was to set the record straight. In another memoir, not available in English, another KGB officer named him as the one who gave Aldrich Ames up to the Americans for money. Cherkashin goes to some lengths to reject this accusation and establish his loyalty to his former service and country.

There are some mysteries he discusses. Was Vitaly Yurchenko a real defector or was he sent to confuse the CIA by giving up Ron Pelton and Ed Howard in order to draw attention away from Hanssen, Ames and a suspected (but as yet undiscovered) fifth mole? In the main text, Cherkashin gives the impression Yurchenko was a real defector who changed his mind. But he also mentions that Yurchenko "kept the Americans guessing for years" which, possibly, was the whole point. Interestingly to this day Yurchenko refuses all interview requests and has remained in Russia.
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