Episode 12



Hayley Atwell tells the story of Adolph Tolkachev, one of the CIA's most prolific Russian assets, with his handler David Rolph. David's task was to keep this priceless information flowing, but first he had to make sure the KGB weren't onto him.
Read the transcript →

True Spies Episode 12: The Billion-Dollar Spy

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? 

This is True Spies Episode 12: The Billion-Dollar Spy. 

DAVID ROLPH: A person in Tolkachev’s position if - for whatever reason the operation is compromised - if he is arrested or caught there's no doubt that the penalty would certainly be the death penalty for Tolkachev.

NARRATOR: Adolph Tolkachev was a Soviet avionics radar engineer who became disaffected with the Soviet system and volunteered his services to the United States. For nearly a decade, during the 1970s and early 80s, he supplied the US with highly sensitive Soviet military secrets.

DAVID ROLPH: When we asked the consumers, in this case, the US military, what was the value of this information? They indicated that conservatively in 1980, Tolkachev had saved the United States over $2bn in research and design costs.

NARRATOR: The story of Adolph Tolkachev is one of espionage, tradecraft, and the relationship between an agent and his handler. A story of clandestine meetings, spy cameras, and secret codes - all in the KGB’s own backyard. A story of betrayal that ends in tragedy. First, let’s meet the man who was Tolkachev’s handler in Moscow during his most prolific years of passing Soviet secrets to the US. 

DAVID ROLPH: My name is David Rolph. I was a CIA Operations Officer for over 23 years. My first tour was as an operations officer in Moscow. And during the course of my career, I went on to become chief of station in both East Berlin and Moscow.

NARRATOR: Moscow 1979. The height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The 1980 Summer Olympics were boycotted by the US. The tension between the two countries was building. Despite problems with failed harvests and poverty, the Soviet Union was pouring money into the arms race. The US had started work on its Star Wars defense system and the Soviets had to keep up. The US military had to stay one step ahead of Soviet plans, and David Rolph’s relationship with Adolph Tolkachev would be the key that unlocked Moscow’s military secrets.

David arrived in Moscow just as Tolkachev had started to produce intelligence. He’d been issued a camera - a Pentax 35mm - and had just passed 170 rolls of film containing top-grade military secrets to the CIA. Blueprints of the latest airborne radars, avionics, guidance systems, and fighter designs. In particular, he provided details of ‘look down’ radars that would spot the low-flying bombers and cruise missiles the US was preparing to deploy in the event of war. The intelligence he passed on would tip the advantage to the US.

What motivated Tolkachev to betray his country? He was haunted by past wrongs done to his family. He spied not for cash, but because his wife’s family had suffered brutally during Stalin’s purges. He wanted revenge. He stated to the CIA he wanted to cause as much damage as possible to his motherland. The CIA didn’t find Tolkachev. He found them. He would hang around at gas stations looking for cars with US [diplomatic] plates. He’d leave notes, time and time again until, finally, the message got through and the CIA took notice. In one note, he’d included copies of top-secret documents. The CIA was jolted into action. This was valuable information. The CIA recruited Tolkachev and he began producing the goods. He would take documents home to photograph - plans, specifications, and test results on existing and future Soviet aircraft missiles. He’d capture classified material in the bathroom at his office and go into work early and stay late to gather as much intelligence as possible. When David arrived in Moscow he was given the job of keeping Tolkachev productive.

DAVID ROLPH: Now production was starting and we were still working through means to improve his production and maximize it. I was going to be living and working in the shadow of Adolph Tolkachev.

This was a once-in-a-life-time asset. There was more on the line than just secrets.

DAVID ROLPH: The risks to us in the Tolkachev operation were as high as they could be. The stakes could not be higher. Tolkachev was a highly cleared engineer with access to very damaging information. We wouldn't be handling him inside the Soviet Union unless he was of that caliber, very high access, full clearances. A person in Tolkachev’s position - if, for whatever reason, the operation is compromised if he is arrested or caught - there's no doubt that the penalty would certainly be the death penalty for Tolkachev. My whole entire focus was on doing whatever I had to do to keep doing Tolkachev safe.

NARRATOR: So David, a rookie recruit to the CIA, is sent to the Moscow station. It’s his first assignment and he’s being sent to a ‘denied area’ at the height of the Cold War.

DAVID ROLPH: A denied area is one where the counterintelligence service and capabilities are so pervasive that normal operations as we normally would, in a more benign area, those operations are denied to us. The best way to probably understand this, in terms of human intelligence operations in a normal, let's say more benign environment is... the CIA goes about recruiting people who might be willing to share information, and let's say, right-out spy for us. But it's a process. You, as a diplomat, let's say you are assigned to the embassy. You go to cocktail parties. You go to the country club, or play tennis, or whatever it might be, and you meet people. You're constantly going over your Rolodex, so to speak, of contacts, some just friendly neighborhood-like contacts. Others, members of the government. And you are spotting. You're looking for people who might be willing to help us and you're assessing them. During this spotting and assessing you develop them. You take them to lunch. You get to know them and build your relationship with them. 

And this is the classic way the CIA goes about its work - spotting, and assessing, and developing people who eventually - if the decision is made to recruit them - they're recruited and brought on board as sources of information. None of this happens in the denied area, like the Soviet Union. If a surveillance team is following you and you take a prospective recruit to lunch, they'll be there with you, and they'll identify this person you're developing and trying to move forward with that is impossible because everybody you're dealing with is under the scrutiny of the counterintelligence service.

NARRATOR: In other words, this is a place where you are up against extremely capable and dangerous counterintelligence services. A place where there is no privacy and nothing happens without the KGB knowing about it. Here, none of the usual operational rules apply. David’s job was to keep the information flowing under these highly challenging circumstances, starting with arranging his first meeting with Tolkachev. Let’s step away from Moscow for a moment. You’re about to meet one of the most important spies the US has ever recruited. But how did you get here?

DAVID ROLPH: My career started in the military. I entered the military and I went into military intelligence. This was the time at the end of the Vietnam War. Things were winding down. Many people were being released from the military. I got out of the Army and went back to graduate school. But as I progressed through my academic experience, looking at all the career options, nothing really appealed to me. There was an itch that I had to scratch. And what it was all involved in, I realized, was my desire to stay actively involved in intelligence activities and intelligence operations. And where to do it? I just left the military so that was not an option. And I turned to the Central Intelligence Agency. 

NARRATOR: David applied for a job with the CIA. You know the drill by now. The pages and pages of form filling, arduous written tests, the polygraph, a year of waiting. He passed - and was offered a job.

DAVID ROLPH: After you enter the CIA and begin training you come to a point where you are given the opportunity to at least submit a request that will indicate where you want to focus as far as your career in operations. You could say: “I'd like to go to Africa, or the Near East or East Asia.”

NARRATOR: So he wrote down his choices: Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.

DAVID ROLPH: So, I really didn't differentiate. That's the only place I wanted to go. There was no question in my mind when I finally got in and accepted at the CIA that I would be assigned and become involved with the Soviet operations and the Russian operations.

NARRATOR: It started with a passion for all things Russian.

DAVID ROLPH: My fascination with the Soviet Union and the country… It's complicated. It's not that I consider them the evil empire or the main enemy - although I certainly did perceive them as a threat to US security - but all my education, my Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, and my involvement on a professional level always focused on the Soviet Union. I had taken years of language training which culminated with a year out at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California - all focused on and studying Russian. So my interest in the Soviet Union was a fascination that goes beyond just operational activities. I am well-versed in Russian literature, Russian music, and art. I've always had a kind of a love affair with Russian people and things Russian.

NARRATOR: Okay, we’re back at that first meeting between spy and handler: Moscow 1980. Even that has to be a meticulously planned operation. David has to be sure the meeting is in secret with no KGB surveillance. The operation is too important to risk it being blown. Lives are at risk. How do you do it? What do you need to know? What experience can you draw on?

DAVID ROLPH: The absolutely, positively, most critical thing as a case officer you have to do is to understand and confirm your surveillance status. If you have surveillance, you absolutely cannot go to a meeting with an agent. So, it is absolutely critical that you do whatever you need to do to fully confirm what your status is. Now, there are many ways of going about this, many ways of setting up your methods to determine your status. And we have all these are called generically SDRs - surveillance detection routes - and you use the SDR to confirm your status. As I said, if the status is you are covered, you abort. I mean you park the car, and get out, and walk home. But just as soon as you've determined the status, you have surveillance, you realize the operation that night is going to be aborted whether you stop at another store and then go home or wherever you're doing. And in Moscow, like a lot of denied areas, surveillance detection routes, it's a little misleading because it's not just hopping in a car and driving across town and saying: “Did I see anybody?” But in a very complex, pervasive, difficult environment, we have a few little curveballs and monkey wrenches we can throw in that are designed to help us to more quickly and accurately determine our status.

NARRATOR: Curveballs and monkey wrenches, eh? Go on…

In the case of Tolkachev - who, you couldn't get an asset with more priority - we used disguise extensively. 

David Rolph walking out of the embassy was not going to walk far without picking up obvious surveillance. It just wasn't going to happen. 

DAVID ROLPH: So I couldn't, in this case, leave the embassy as David Rolph. We had to throw in some little monkey wrench so that when I left the embassy, as far as they were concerned, David Rolph was still up in the building someplace, and somebody else had left.

NARRATOR: It’s not as simple as putting on a disguise. It’s not just that you have to look like someone else. You have to actually become someone else.

DAVID ROLPH: The disguise technique that I used in the Tolkachev case was identity transfer, and identity transfer simply gave me the opportunity to walk out of that embassy as somebody else.

NARRATOR: So he couldn’t be himself. Who would he be?

DAVID ROLPH: We determined that we had some technical officers in the station. They were never involved in an operational activity like meeting agents. And because they were technical support officers, when we looked at the pattern of surveillance that they had, they had relatively frequent breaks and surveillance where they would leave and just simply not have it. That would never happen with me. I always had it. So the trick was to allow me to leave the embassy looking like one of them. If I could fool them, and they thought that it wasn't Dave leaving the embassy but it was Joe, then we might get away with it. Of course, once we left the embassy, we'd have to do a full route on the ground but at least this would give us a sort of an edge upon them. In my case, the individual who was my donor - in other words, the person that lent his identity to me - was one of our technical officers, the assistant technical officer. And he and the chief technical officer made a very regular habit of driving out in the evenings, leaving the embassy in this van they have, and go into various stores around town and little shopping trips, maybe to pick up a couple of tools or a hammer, nails, a saw... whatever it was, but they'd established this pattern. And it was clear to them that, in many cases, when the two of them left the embassy, they didn't pick up any immediate surveillance.

NARRATOR: Here’s where espionage becomes a family affair.

DAVID ROLPH: So what we decided to do was, my wife and I would come in from our home or apartment dressed like we're going to a dinner party. Once we got inside the embassy, we would walk up through the labyrinth of stairs and corridors to the residential area, and instead of going to the dinner party that one of the Air Force attaches was hosting to give me an excuse that I had a dinner party, we wouldn't go to the attache’s home. We actually went to the apartment of this deputy technical officer.

NARRATOR: So now David puts on the disguise that had been prepared to make him look like the deputy technical officer. The real tech officer stays in the flat with David’s wife. For six hours they sit in absolute silence. They weren’t supposed to be there. And the KGB would be listening.

DAVID ROLPH: Once I was all dressed up as the deputy technical officer, the chief tech came by the apartment and - addressing loudly his assistant - he said: “Don, you're ready to go.” And Don, the actual deputy said: “Yep, I'm ready. Let's head out.” And I went out with the chief technical officer. We got in the vehicle. He was driving, I was in the shotgun seat. And we drove out of the embassy. And when you drive out of the embassy, you go right past the militiaman who's standing in a booth at the gate of the embassy. But when we left, we kind of both waved to him, and I kept my head down a little bit, and out we drove. And it didn't look like it raised any suspicion that the two of us were out on the street, and our challenge then was to confirm, did we get away? Or did they radio in and decide to put a team on us regardless?

NARRATOR: Now you have to use all your expertise and training to determine your surveillance status. Are the KGB watching you? If so, you abort. You never shake off the KGB. The best you can hope for is to be dark, ‘black’, determine they are not watching you in the first place. How would you do it? Any ideas? What is going to help you? How do you out-maneuver these tenacious opponents on their own turf?

DAVID ROLPH: The most important thing for you to do is to know the city, know the area of operations intimately, know the modus operandi of the opposition service. How do they cover you? How do they change positions as you park the car? And then you have to depend on your tradecraft. And I would joke with people very frequently that if I ever lost my job with the CIA, I could become a Moscow taxi driver because I knew the city so intimately and so well. It's something you just had to do. I know as I leave the embassy, where there were little alleyways and little parking nooks that the KGB often used to put out vehicles as stakeouts. And so, as I drove past these little alleyways and nooks, I’d look in the rearview mirror, and if I have a car that has the look - the type of profile that a KGB surveillance vehicle might - I kind of make a mental note of that. If they're using a lot of these little jiggly cars, and I pass two alleyways that I know from my own experience, they frequently hide in and I see a car pull out of one or the other, I make this mental note that: “Okay, this could be a possible surveillance.” When I come to red lights, and every car behind me is sort of pulling up as far as they can go, and yet I see one car, pull over to the side of the road… he's not allowing himself to pull up behind me or to get close to me, but he pulls over to the side of the road and the light turns green, and he comes off the side of the road, that completely unnecessary maneuver….

NARRATOR: So you’re watching your rearview mirror. Analyzing every move the car behind you, next to you, makes. Do you have any advantage?

DAVID ROLPH: The one benefit that you have when you're doing, or one of the benefits when you're doing an SDR, is that you know where you're going. It's a planned route, okay? And they don't. So everything they are doing is simply a reaction to what you're doing. 

NARRATOR: So, you have to look out for a KGB tail. But there’s technology to help too. 

DAVID ROLPH: We had small miniature radios, where we could put an earpiece in our ear, and there were many, many surveillance frequencies, but chances are we might be able to pick one up. They had a bunch of codes, numeric codes that we had listened to for years. And actually, by hook and crook and patience, we were able to translate these codes. A right turn would be number eight ‘vosyem’, a left turn would be a number five ‘phyat’. If you're going over a bridge, they go over a bridge the code was ‘syem’, seven.So if I'm driving down the road, and I really haven't actually confirmed vehicle surveilling me, if I come to a bridge and go over the bridge, and I hear on the radio: “Phyat, phyat, phyat, 555”, well, they're following somebody who just went over a bridge. It might not be me, it might be coincidence, but I come off the bridge, and I turn right, I hear: “Phyat, phyat, phat, vosyem,” and I know what they're saying is their target, whoever he is, just went over a bridge and turned right. So after a short period of time, by listening to these numeric codes, if all their numeric codes jive and directly relate to what you're doing, even if you haven't physically seen them, you can draw a conclusion that all likelihood, they're talking about me, and they're following me. As a matter of fact, in some places in Moscow, if they have an observation post on a very high building, they might be able to track you for two or three miles, just by using that observation post.

NARRATOR: You have to be sure you’re free from surveillance. How do you make the decision? If you’re wrong, the life of the asset is over and so is your career.

DAVID ROLPH: It's not any one thing that tells you you're safe, that you confirm. It's a combination of all of your observations, a decision that's based on all of those things you have observed. You put them all together and say: “You know, I cannot say that I had anybody following me in the car. I really didn't notice anybody on foot or in my public transportation phase.” And, you know: “When I look back at the last three hours or four hours of all my activity, and I try to put it together and think of things that I saw, or maybe, and the composite is ‘Dave, you haven't seen anything. You heard nothing on the radio, you didn't see any suspicious activity, no cars deploying this way or that.’” And you tell yourself, based on all these observations, putting them all together: “I am black, I am free of surveillance.”

NARRATOR: So far so good. You’re black. But now you have to make contact with Tolkachev. The first face-to-face meeting. But what if it’s not him? How do you make sure this is your asset and not a KGB ambush?

DAVID ROLPH: As I approached the meeting site, maybe 100 meters short of the site, I saw this person walking in front of me. And things started clicking in my mind. He was shorter than I was. He was a little bit stooped over. He was moving along ploddingly, but definitively, and I said to myself: “Wait a minute. I think that's Tolkachev.” So what takes us at that point is… I've never met Tolkachev, I've seen some pictures of him. But we do have what we call is 'oral bonafides'. Where, or a parole where I will say a known phrase, and this phrase only means something to the asset. The asset will then come back with his half of the parole. By the use of this parole both of you know that you're meeting with the right person. In this case, I walked up behind him before he even turned around and I said (in Russian): “Greetings from Kathy. Greetings from Katya.” And he turned to me and looked at me and he said (in Russian) which basically means: “Pass along my greetings to Katya from Boris.”

NARRATOR: They had established contact. They were free from surveillance. For David, the single most important thing he had to do was to reassure Tolkachev and establish trust. David knows from Tolkachev’s previous handler that he likes to talk. Spying is a lonely job. David spends most of the meeting listening. Then, production is handed over - in this case, handwritten notes, copied classified documents, and exposed film. David gives Tolkachev additional film and batteries and David asks: “Is there anything I can do for you?” Tolkachev answers: “A suicide pill?”

DAVID ROLPH: The bottom line is that Tolkachev understood the risks and he knew that if the worst came to pass, he would be arrested. He would be put in a very, very, very stark prison and probably interrogated and tortured for about a year before they would walk them into a room, put a gun to the back of his head, and shoot him. And armed with the knowledge that he would be tortured and shot if he was captured or compromised, he came to the conclusion that his preference would be to have a means to take his own life.

NARRATOR: Taking your own life rather than being captured. Would you? Would that be your preference? The CIA did provide the suicide pill. Reassured he had a means to take his own life if he was ever compromised, Tolkachev’s espionage continued. Tolkachev would use a variety of pre-planned signals to let the CIA know he had information ready to pass on.

DAVID ROLPH: We were handling him personally, meetings on the street. But even personal meetings have to be backed up with a combination of various signals, because you can't just call him on the phone and say: “Hello, let's meet on Wednesday night at 10 o'clock.” There has to be cutouts or signals. In Tolkachev’s case, once he did buy a car, we could use his car as a parked car signal. He would have the option of placing that car in a parking spot every Wednesday afternoon after 3 pm, at which time we'd have an embassy station, wife, or another officer, do a dog walk and walk past it. So car signals.

NARRATOR: Remember these are the days before mobile phones. You can’t just send a text or have an encrypted chat. What else do you have up your sleeve?

DAVID ROLPH: He was on the ninth floor. We could see his apartment building from the ground as we walked past. It was a very, very ornate popular apartment building right on the inner, or the garden Ring Road, in Moscow. And we said: “Look, you have a light on in that window. You have a weak signal, it was actually called ‘sviet’ or ‘light’ and ‘light bulb’”. And he put that on and that told us that at a certain time he was ready for a meeting. So, we had a whole series of signals that would allow him to tell us of his readiness for a meeting. We had the meeting sites themselves. And they changed regularly, where we’d normally pick a meeting that was not too far from his apartment so it would allow him to walk to it conveniently and get back home at an early hour. All meetings, of course, were handled after dark. We always use the cover of darkness to help us blend in a little better and not take the chance of standing out.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Tolkachev’s secrets were being analyzed back in Washington. Rolls and rolls of film documented a top-secret surface-to-air missile, computer logic for radar systems, and logs of technical reports. It would allow the US to accurately judge the status of Soviet military high-tech. Tolkachev had become ‘The Billion-Dollar Spy’. By now, David’s time with Adoph Tolkachev was coming to an end. It was time to move on to his next assignment. At this point, the CIA was worried that Tolkachev was pushing too hard, taking too many risks. But he wanted to keep going. He was now trying to get into files and systems he didn’t have easy access to. He missed a few meetings. What did this mean? Were the KGB on to him? Tolkachev reported that he, too, was worried.

DAVID ROLPH: Tolkachev came to us - and this was a bit of time after I had departed the station - but he came to us very concerned that there was something wrong. There was some security investigation that was being conducted. It had people in his Institute being interviewed and asked questions, desks being searched. And he didn't know if this had anything to do with him. But he certainly suspected that there might be something going wrong. He was clearly near the center of a firestorm of a counterintelligence investigation.

NARRATOR: Something was wrong. Tolkachev knew it. He felt it. He reported to his new case officer that he had destroyed all his equipment. He had been paid by the CIA in roubles, which he had buried at his country home. He dug up the money and destroyed it. How do you feel? What else can you do? You hope you’ve destroyed everything that links you to the CIA. But you’re still terrified. If you’re caught, you will be killed. What are your options? Tolkachev started to take the suicide pill to work and keep it under his tongue at every meeting he was called to in case the KGB were waiting. Imagine. One bite and you die. Eventually, the storm passed, however, he was about to be betrayed.

DAVID ROLPH: There was a CIA officer who was another young, first-tour officer. He had been given the opportunity of getting ready for an assignment to Moscow. He was reading in on cases that he was told to become familiar with and then - due to some very unfortunate and unexpected circumstances, the result of a polygraph test - the Agency decided that they were not going to send him to Moscow. As a matter of fact, his services in the Agency would be terminated. He was a very proud young man, a very driven young man who could see his career in the CIA crumbling in front of his eyes. And he became very bitter and vengeful about a turn of events that he felt was unfair. And he decided to take revenge. And his revenge was, what he basically did was he decided to go to the Soviets and sell information, offer himself up in their service as a spy. His name was Edward Lee Howard. And he, of course, was a trained CIA officer. He understood tradecraft. He knew how the system worked. And we never would suspect, at the time, that he would actually go so far as to sell information to the Soviets.

NARRATOR: Remember MICE? The classic motivations for betraying your country? Money, ideology, compromise... ego. So Edward Lee Howard, rejected by the CIA, takes what he knows to the KGB, leading them right to Tolkachev’s door.

DAVID ROLPH: But one thing in retrospect that we now understand is Howard did not know Tolkachev’s name. He did know the institute, that we had a penetration at a particular institute... and he also knew the location of this giant apartment building that Tolkachev lived in, so this information was passed to the Soviets. Well, it doesn't take rocket scientists to understand or figure out that if you know the building a person lives in and if you know that he works in a certain Institute, there can only be so many people who fit that description.

The net was closing in on the most important spy the United States ever had inside the Soviet Union. It’s 1985. Tolkachev and his wife had taken the weekend away at a small cottage they had renovated in the countryside, north of Moscow. While they were away, the KGB had searched their apartment. Tolkachev had left his suicide pill behind and they found it. While driving home to Moscow in heavy drizzle, Tolkachev and his wife were stopped by a roadblock.

DAVID ROLPH: The KGB had the traffic policeman set up a roadblock that looked like just a normal traffic stop, breathalyzer tests, you know, looking for traffic violations. Tolkachev, of course, like everybody, pulled over. And the KGB team, the arrest team that was in place, as they approached his car, he got out of the car to show his driver's license or whatever it was. Of course, they surrounded him and arrested him.

NARRATOR: The KGB had him. It was over. He was taken to the KGB’s notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow. He was interrogated for a year. Take a moment. Imagine what a year inside prison would mean for a traitor to the Soviet Union. Tolkachev never did get to use the suicide pill. In the hands of the KGB, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. He was executed. It was a strategic loss to the United States, yes, but a personal loss to David.

DAVID ROLPH: I've lost friends before. I've lost family members. But with Tolkachev, it was different. It was like a punch in your gut. It was a hollow, empty feeling, that, which was combined with: ‘Is there anything that I could have done differently myself to have prevented this? To have mitigated in any way?” I, of course, knew there wasn't that, but you couldn't help trying to come up with reasons where: “How could I have done it differently?” Was he a friend? No, but what was he? He was a man that I respected as much - if not more - than any other human being I've come to know. A man who was totally and fully committed to what he was doing, dedicated as much to the completion of his mission as I was. So he was a person I fully identified with. He was a person who I couldn't have had a higher respect for what he was doing to his commitment. To his dedication, and so I really felt a very deep sense of emptiness and loss. And that will stay with me, I'm sure, for the rest of my life.

NARRATOR: The United States would never again get another asset as important, as valuable, as Tolkachev. But he continued to be immensely valuable, even posthumously.

DAVID ROLPH: The material that he had produced over the six years that he actively cooperated with us was so voluminous that when he was arrested, and he was executed, there was still material that hadn't even been exploited, translated, and exploited as intelligence yet. So the work, the process to evaluate and disseminate Tolkachev’s production, went on for at least seven or eight years after his death. And, in addition, the material that he was producing was directly related to the development of Soviet radar and fighter systems that went beyond what we now know as the Soviet Union. The material he was producing in the early 80s was forward-looking material that projected Soviet developments out into the mid-90s. So you had an asset that wasn't simply producing information that focused on what was happening today. But information on material that was on the drawing boards was going to be developed in the future.

NARRATOR: The largest delivery Tolkachev made was 179 rolls of film passed to the CIA in just one meeting. That’s over 6,000 pages of top-secret material. He’d been passing secrets and classified information for six years. The US military put a value on his work after only two years of spying: $2bn saved in research and development costs. After that, Tolkachev’s work doubled, tripled. Priceless.

I’m Hayley Atwell. Join us next week for another encounter with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

David Rolph was a CIA senior operations officer and Russian expert working in the field and at headquarters during his 23-year career. One of his most important assignments was in Moscow during the Cold War where he handled Adolph Tolkachev, an engineer risking his life to reveal Soviet military secrets. 

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