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Posted at 12:10 AM ET, 07/ 8/2010

Past Russian spies have found post-swap life gets a bit sticky

By Jeff Stein

Russia's accused spies could be posing soon for stamp designers in Moscow instead of prison intake photographers here, if a swap deal comes through and the Kremlin follows its tradition of honoring its secret agents.

Ever since the depths of the Cold War, the Kremlin has used postage stamps to showcase operatives who managed to steal some of the West's most guarded secrets, from atomic bomb designs to diplomatic cables to sensitive technical information, before they were arrested.

Their stories are as well known in Russia as the legend of Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale is here.

And while life in Moscow may be duller than New York, Boston, New Jersey, Seattle and Washington, D.C., where the 11 Russians charged last week allegedly lived as long-term, deep-penetration agents, it won't be too bad, either, if their predecessors' experience is any guide.

Their main worry will be keeping their minds.

“Throughout the Soviet era, such agents were rewarded with adulation,” the New York Times noted recently. “Illegals like Rudolf Abel and Konon Molody” -- the Cold War spy known in Britain as Gordon Lonsdale -- “became such national heroes that the External Intelligence Service, or SVR, still posts their biographies on its Web site.”

Abel, an ethnic German whose real name was Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, was probably the most famous Russian spy ever unearthed here -- until last week.

Arrested in New York in 1957, Abel was swapped five years later for Gary Francis Powers, the U-2 spy pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Abel died from lung cancer in 1971, a national hero.

In the last days of the Soviet Union, in 1990, he was honored with a stamp.

At least four other of Moscow's "illegals" in the West, and the infamous British double agent Kim Philby, who barely escaped capture by London's spycatchers, were also so honored.

And in general, they lived comfortable lives after they returned home -- on the outside.

In 1969, Heinz Felfe, a former Nazi SS officer who, in postwar years, spied for Moscow while he headed the West German office of Counter-Intelligence, was exchanged for three West German students who were held on charges of spying on the Soviets for the CIA.

After recovering on the Crimean from eight years of prison, Felfe settled in East Germany, lectured on criminology at Berlin’s Humboldt University, and leisurely wrote his memoirs, published in 1986. He died in his bed in May 2009.

Likewise, Karl and Hana Koecher had a soft landing in communist Czechoslovakia after they walked across Berlin’s famous Glienicke Bridge in a swap for Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky, in 1986.

He, in particular, had earned it: In the 1970s and ‘80s, he not only penetrated the CIA as a Soviet double agent, he survived suspicions by his own service that he was working for the Americans all along.

“After the exchange, Koecher and his wife received a hero’s welcome from the [Czech government] for their dedication to the communist party, a new Volvo car and a new villa near Prague,” according to a countryman's account. “Koecher was employed at the CSAV (Czech Academy of Sciences) and as an analyst at the Prague Institute for Economic Forecasting.”

But the espionage infamy reportedly grated on Hana, who, with her husband, had been a well-known denizen of Washington’s “swinging” scene during their assignment there, according to author Ronald Kessler. In 1995 a Czech court rejected her complaint “that publicizing information about her spy activity is damaging her business in Prague.”

Likewise, the lives of two other former Soviet spies, Morris and Lona Cohen, who stole atomic secrets in the United States and Britain during and after World War II, eventually turned sour.

Known in the West by their aliases, Peter and Helen Kroger, they were rewarded with a dacha and honors after they were swapped in 1969.

“The Cohens were awarded the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of Friendship of Nations for their espionage work,” according to one account. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they also were given the title of Heroes of the Russian Federation by the Yeltsin government.”

But their emotional lives remained unsettled, according to the British espionage writer Nigel West.

Thanks, but no thanks

“After their release the Krogers lived as honored guests of the KGB at a dacha outside Moscow, refusing to learn Russian and declining all outside contact with their families in the U.S. or the Western media,” West wrote.

“While Helen Kroger's ideological commitment to the cause remained undimmed,” he added, “Peter was evidently dismayed by the harsh austerity of life under a totalitarian regime and was especially critical of Leonid Brezhnev. In 1991 they broke their silence and consented to be interviewed for a Soviet television program, in which neither Helen Kroger's strong Brooklyn accent, nor her domination of her husband, seemed changed by the years.”

She died in 1992, Morris in 1995.

Similarly, the spy known as Gordon Lonsdale, swapped during the Cold War, turned morose after his own hero’s welcome.

"For Molody, life back in the Soviet Union was not a happy one," according to an obituary in London's Daily Telegraph.

He became “particularly critical of the way trade and industry were handled,” according to another account. “As a result he was given a post of minor importance and took to drinking.”

Lonsdale “died during a mushroom-picking expedition in October 1970,” his obituary said. “He was 48.”

The biggest spy swap in history came in 1985, when Marian Zacharski, Poland's most famous spy, walked across the Glienicke Bridge as the key player in a swap for 23 Westerners jailed for espionage in East Germany and Poland.

Zacharski had lived in the United States from about 1977 until his arrest in 1981, during which time he became president of a machine tool company, giving him access to important industrial and trade secrets.

He, too, was honored upon his return. But eventually things turned bad. Prosecutors in Warsaw charged him with flagrant mismanagement of a chain of hard-currency exchange stores, and police wanted to question him about illegal car trading.

But then Zacharski proved that old spies don’t necessarily fade away. After all, they know how to vanish.

In June 1996, he left for Switzerland, never to be seen again.

In 2008, Polish TV did a six-part series on his life.

Anna Chapman, the sensational star of Russia's current batch of suspected spies, can probably look forward to a TV show, too -- on top of a postage-stamp portrait -- whether she survives happily or not.

Most of them don't.

By Jeff Stein  | July 8, 2010; 12:10 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts, Military  | Tags:  Anatoly Shcharansky, Anna Chapman, Gordon Lonsdale, Hana Koecher, Heinz Felfe, Helen Kroger, Karl Koecher, Kim Philby, Marian Zacharski, Peter Kroger, Rudolf Abel  
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Next: Spy swap is 'all but unprecedented'


Spies in other countries who live here and spy on us (yes, your country you live in, the US) deserve to live a terrible life once released. To spy on such a naive and trusting country as the US seems wrong, so wrong!

Posted by: sws408 | July 8, 2010 3:09 AM | Report abuse

They're trying to swap the Harvard spy before his connection to Kagan surfaces.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 8, 2010 3:58 AM | Report abuse

The know-how transfer by the universities and Silicon Valley and Wall Street has been the greater betrayal.

Posted by: OldAtlantic | July 8, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Karl and Hana Koecher were also featured in a Washingtonian magazine piece in the early 1980s. In that article, it was speculated that the suburban Virginia sex parties they attended included members of the Reagan Administration.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 8, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

To quote an old blues song: "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself..."


• When will naive Obama officials wake up and smell the Homeland-led multi-agency fusion center police state that's entraining them?

Your comment to a political blog may look like it's been posted for all to see -- but if you've been extrajudicially and unjustly "targeted" by a multi-agency Homeland-run fusion center censorship regime, your posting could be re-directed and "black-holed" by way of a "man in the middle" cyber- attack.

Here's a veteran journalist's proof that the U.S. government imposes ideologically-driven censorship on "targeted" Americans -- and why naive officials of the Obama administration apparently have no clue about the wholesale constitutional and human rights violations that continue on their watch:
OR (lede articles and links therein)

Posted by: scrivener50 | July 8, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

"And while life in Moscow may be duller than New York, Boston, New Jersey, Seattle and Washington, D.C.,.."

what was the last time you were in Moscow?

Posted by: kouropatkina | July 8, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Who wood of thought the US would be releasing known spys instead of executing them. Oh, I forgot, we have a president that only knows the laws of the jungle, not the constitution!

Posted by: SavedGirl | July 8, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

So what about Sir Roger Hollis, then director of Britain's spy agency MI-5. Was he a spy for the Soviets as some in the agency believed, or was this all whipped up by bureaucratic disputes. I also believe that Anthony Blunt, the queen's art conserver, named up to 12 from Cambridge that he recruited. Were they rounded up, or was this dropped, too?

Posted by: edwardallen54 | July 8, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

SavedGirl: The specific spy exchanges referenced in this piece took place under Eisenhower, Reagan, and Nixon. Are you really that dumb that you think Obama was responsible for events in 1957, 1986, and 1969?

Posted by: 7900rmc | July 8, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

The truth is that “Russian Spies Get Harsher Sentence Than Water-Boarding".
More inhumane than capital punishment. Is the Obama DOJ going rogue on Obama?
This revelation comes from
Some originality is welcome among the anodyne treatment by the mainstream press.

Posted by: JohnGalt9 | July 8, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

SavedGirl your ignorance is front and center. When will educated individuals learn to stick to facts (evidently your not educated) and stop being so personal. You live in the U.S. where spies and everyone else rome around freely. If your so saved how could you be so racist. Pray you make it to heaven!!

Posted by: hawk_dc1 | July 8, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Abel, Kim Philby and the others cited were successful espionage agents. This bunch of clowns did nothing who got no intelligence whatsoever for their country. The end result of the fiasco was that Russia had to release 4 undoubted American spies. It was a net win for the US. I doubt these people will be receiving daschas, hosting television shows and having their names put on stamps. They are probably heading for the Gulag.

Posted by: Afraid4USA | July 11, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Oh come on. Abel, Kim Philby and the others cited were successful espionage agents. This bunch of clowns did nothing for their pay and got no intelligence whatsoever for their country. All they did was cause embarrassment.

The end result of the fiasco was that Russia had to release 4 undoubted American spies to the Americans. It was a net win for the US.

I doubt these people will be receiving daschas, hosting television shows, receiving medals or having their names put on stamps. They are probably heading for the Gulag.

Posted by: Afraid4USA | July 11, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Great article! As a member of the Associaiton For Intelligence Officers (AFIO), I wrote an article on my DECLASSIFIED SECRETS-2 site about Col. Ryszard Kuklinski. He was a Russian double agent working for the CIA. I invite all to read about this incredibly brave man. The articles entitled "(A-O) THE SPIES I MEET: DOUBLE AGENT COLONEL RYSZARD KUKLINSKI". Enjoy!

Posted by: Robert61 | July 11, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

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