Podcast Episode #11 – The Sacrifices of Adolf Tolkachev: A Soviet CIA Asset with David E. Hoffman
Adolf Tolkachev was an avionics engineer who had volunteered to spy for the CIA in 1977. The Agency initially ignored his approaches, believing him to be a Soviet ‘dangle’, a common tactic to bait case officers into revealing themselves. Ultimately Tolkachev proved himself and a relationship began that would be incredibly valuable to the US government. The first face to face meeting with Tolkachev, after months of deliberation, was considered by the CIA to be a watershed event.
For seven years Tolkachev provided insights into Soviet research and development programs, including stealth technology, that led to him being known as the ‘Billion-Dollar Spy’ for the value of his intelligence. He conducted at least 25 high-risk, high-stakes personal meetings with different case officers over the years. Tolkachev was paid well for his efforts but explained via clandestine letters to his CIA handlers that he was a dissident who had fallen in love with the idea of America, though he had never seen it himself. He discussed the possibility of donating some of his remuneration to Soviet dissident groups, since he had no plans for a grand lifestyle.
Tolkachev was ultimately betrayed by Edward Lee Howard, a former CIA employee who failed a polygraph and was fired just before arriving at Moscow Station. He in turn provided the KGB enough information to zero in on Tolkachev. In the video footage you can see the KGB officers put their fingers into Tolkachev’s mouth to prevent him from swallowing a suicide pill. He had been issued one by the CIA but left it at home that day. After months of harsh interrogation, he was given a show-trial, found guilty, and executed all on the same day.
For episode 12 of the Spycraft 101 podcast I spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman about his book “The Billion Dollar Spy”, the definitive work on Tolkachev’s incredible story. In my opinion this is one of my best episodes yet as David is a master storyteller. The episode is available now on nearly all podcasting platforms, large and small.
You can find David’s incredible book here: The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman.