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Declassified - Trigon: KGB Chess Game. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 19, 2016 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:12] MIKE ROGERS, CNN HOST: As a former FBI agent and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligent agencies. My name is Mike Rogers.

I had access to classified information gathered by our operatives, people who risked everything for the United States and our families. You don't know their faces or their names. You don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure. Until now.

MARTI PETERSON, CIA CASE OFFICER: You would look at me and see a nice lady, probably a very happy person, very outgoing, an older woman who has a retired life and goes to church. But my life was not normal. It was a lie.

Everyone thought that I was just a mom. They never knew what I was actually doing, because I lied to everyone about who I was for almost 32 years. But I didn't do it for the thrill of it, I did it because I had to do it.

October 19th, 1972, I became a widow. After that, I needed to work. I thought about it and I had spoken foreign languages, I had lived overseas and I had a master's degree, so I decided to apply for CIA. It wasn't that easy, though. They wanted to make me into a secretary but I said, "No, I really wanted to be a case officer. I really want to do covert operations." And eventually, I became a CIA officer during the Cold War.

JAMES OLSON, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: People today don't realize how serious the Cold War threat really was. I don't think it's an exaggeration that our survival was at stake. They were antithetical to all the values that we held as a country. We were democracy. They were totalitarianism. We were faith, they were atheism. So it was a real battle. It was often what we called Manichean struggle between good and evil.


RONALD RAEGAN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man have predict this eventual domination of all people on the earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world.


OLSON: Ronald Reagan called them the evil empire. I don't think that was too far-fetched. The nuclear threat was real. In our relationship with the Soviet Union, we felt very strongly that we could have gone over the edge. We almost did.

[22:05:08] PETERSON: When it comes to nuclear war or the threat of it, what really matters is knowing what's in your adversary's game plan.

OLSON: If our policy makers are operating in the blind, if they are basing their decisions on their fears, their notions of the Soviet Union that weren't valid, that could have been really dangerous. So they needed intelligence on the Soviet Union and we weren't getting it at that time because our Soviet operations were obstructed by KGB surveillance. They were always there. So our job was to get human sources undercover, on the ground in Moscow. So we were looking all around the world for Soviet recruits who were vulnerable to our approaches to our blind agents who we thought we could turn. And we found one in Bogota.

PETERSON: We became aware of him through a telephone tap that CIA had on the Soviet Embassy.

OLSON: He was doing things in Bogota that showed that he might be vulnerable.

PETERSON: He womanized, he liked parties, he was fast and loose with money.

OLSON: All of those things we saw, and clearly he was not a real communist. He wasn't a true believer.

PETERSON: So we arranged for a meeting with him in the Turkish bath in the Hilton hotel.

OLSON: We started talking to him. He wanted a better life. He wanted to do something that he could really believe in. Ideologically, he was clearly on our side. He didn't like communism. He believed that the American system was superior. All of those things kind of came together. We realized we could make a deal with him and we did. And that was Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a foreign ministry official for the Soviet Union. Of course, the first issue that came up, we needed a code name for him. We certainly couldn't refer to him in the cable traffic as Ogorodnik. It wouldn't be secure. So, tight from the beginning, he became Trigon.

We knew that he was scheduled to rotate back to Moscow in a very short time. That was going to be our payoff. That's where he was going to have the access that was going to make a lot of difference. But the big issue was, can we handle him after he returns home?

PETERSON: Moscow was considered the most difficult place in the world to operate.

OLSON: We never done it before. How can we operate in Moscow under the noses of the KGB and get our job done without getting caught? In terms of risk, it was life and death.


OLSON: By 1974, we had recruited Trigon, a foreign ministry official for the Soviet Union, and he was scheduled to return to Moscow. Now we got him recruited. The big issue was, can we handle him after he returns home?

PETERSON: Moscow was considered the most difficult place in the world to go out and collect intelligence from agents on the street.

OLSON: In Moscow, you've got to understand the KGB was all powerful.

OLEG KALUGIN, KGB, RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL: I spent almost 40 years in the KGB. My most important job was to watch my own citizens. I mean, dissidents, people who for some reason or another, unhappy. That was my job.

And Moscow was the capital of the country, the headquarters of the security and intelligence. We had total control at that time.

OLSON: The KGB ran that city. They had virtually unlimited resources. The number of people that they threw at us in terms of surveillance and technical coverage was unbelievable.

KALUGIN: The KGB kept an eye on all foreigners who came to Moscow. Plus the Soviets who had contacts with the foreign organizations, total surveillance of everyone.

OLSON: They were everywhere. They controlled every institution. They had people in every housing block.

KALUGIN: At the time of the Cold War, the KGB was really the most powerful organization in the world.

OLSON: So once Trigon went back to Moscow, he was in a cooling off period. He's being alert to any indications that he was under suspicion. We wanted to do that before we ran the risk of actually operating with him in Moscow. If he were captured, it was a question of survival.

KALUGIN: Well, all of the traitors in the Soviet system would just be sentenced to death. You will not live anymore.

OLSON: It was dangerous for our people, too. But we needed that intelligence and Trigon was our chance to show that we could operate successfully in Moscow. To do that we had to evade KGB surveillance and the one idea that we had was to use a woman because we knew that the Russians did not use women for dangerous operations themselves.

KALUGIN: There were no women in my time in the Soviet intelligence or counterintelligence.

[22:15:00] They were technical personnel, providing all the necessary documents, making copies, you know, going to pick up a lunch for you. Women were thought, sort of, not quite reliable so they would pick up only men, no women.

OLSON: We thought, let's use their male chauvinism against them. Let's find the right woman, someone who is bright and disciplined and tough and who can learn in diary (ph) tradecraft and who can be very deeply inside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow under deep cover and that was Marti.

PETERSON: In 1975, I was trained in the hot summer of Washington, D.C., and I took Russian language, I learned how to spot surveillance on the street, I took covert pictures.

OLSON: She was a natural. She had a real aptitude for clandestine tradecraft.

PETERSON: During my training, I read about Trigon. In the file, I remember reading that Trigon (ph) believed he could change his system from within. I think deep down in my heart I really believed that I could do that, too.

Because at that time, the men in CIA were the case officers. They were the people in the field, but I knew I could do as well as anyone else.

OLSON: She was the first woman that we had assigned behind the iron curtain. Marti was the breakthrough.

PETERSON: Then, it became show time and I became the person I had trained myself to be.

When I arrived in Moscow on November 5th, 1975 as that Lufthansa airplane landed, it was cold and the snow was piled on the side of the runway and when they opened the door, I put on my heavy coat and I looked out at the front of the airport and I thought, "You have committed yourself to two years here working by yourself doing the secret work on the street in the heart of Moscow, in the heart of the world of communism. Oh, what have I done?"


PETERSON: In 1975, I was assigned to Moscow to work with a CIA covert agent called Trigon. But before I began to work with him, the most important job I had was to establish myself as a low-level administrative person within the embassy.

I went to my house, I bought a car, I did whatever it was that young women in Moscow would do. And that was the role I wanted to sell to my colleagues in the embassy as well as to anyone watching me outside of the embassy. Because I knew that the KGB could be anyone there.

OLSEN: KGB surveillance look like ordinary Russians. They had a good mix of young, old, well-dressed, bum-mighty people. They made a point of mixing up the profiles to make it hard for us to get a fix on them.

KALUGIN: Well, the KGB could be anyone, you know. That was just -- it's a matter of imagination.

KGB provide these people with all of the necessary equipment and camouflage if they needed it. No problem.

PETERSON: The KGB owned the city and they followed everyone everywhere. So I didn't want to be anyone -- anyone noticed so that no one suspected that I was eventually going to work with Trigon. But I also was just trying to be who I was.

You have to present a person that you can sustain, and I was parting (ph) Marti. I drank Carlsberg beer and enjoyed the social scene in Moscow. That's what filled the KGB camera. I was selling that role to them. And that took maybe three or four months.

OLSON: Marti was comfortable in Moscow, so we realized that now was the time to begin operating. Let's see if they will ignore her, if they will underestimate her, if they will not surveil her, because we need to get somebody free of surveillance to handle Trigon. We needed somebody to get black, as we call it.

PETERSON: Going black in Moscow means that you get out without surveillance following you.

So, to verify that I was without surveillance following me, I wore my SR-100, a radio receiver of the single radio frequency, the KGB surveillance teams used to communicate between themselves. I had a wireless earpiece and I would listen as I drove away from the embassy. And when I was with a man, I could hear on my SR-100 as the KGB reported to one another the location of this man.

[22:25:11] But when I went out by myself, I would hear absolutely nothing. They weren't following me.

OLSON: Her next step, we needed a communications plan for Trigon. The trade craft we devised to work with Trigon in Moscow was primarily dead drops. A dead drop is a pre-cased hiding place where an agent can put down a concealed package, mark a signal and then the other comes and picks up the package and marks the signal to indicate that the package had been recovered.

The choice to use dead drops avoided the risk of having the two people together at any point, but they still have to be done extremely discretely, extremely carefully. Espionage is not a game. It's a serious business. It's life and death. People get killed on both sides.

PETERSON: In order to make dead drops, you have to show up at a certain place at a certain time knowing that Trigon wouldn't have a schedule of deliveries. The only thing we could determine to do was drop a concealed message inside a cigarette lighter through the fly window of his car.

In the lighter, there was a schedule of drops and locations where he would find his next drops. Putting a drop into an agent's car is more dangerous because that car has an identity, attached to it. You can look at the license tag and look it up and say, "Trigon owns that car."

Trigon's car was parked in front of an apartment building and there were always people out on the street. And it was so very scary, like walking on a lighted stage. You knew everybody was watching you.


I was next to a C.I.A. covert agent's car and there were always people out on the street. It was so very scary because that car has an identity attached to it. You can look at the license tag and look out in and say Trigon owns that car. But I leaned up against the car and I just tucked it in that little front window. When I put the lighter in the car, I heard the lighter fall to the floor and I knew he would find it. We knew that Trigon then could begin to communicate regularly with us.

OLSON: There were enough, a lot of people that did not believe that women belong in this business but Marti was the perfect choice. She was a tough, disciplined, superb case officer. Her trade craft was impeccable she was the right person at the right time.

PETERSON: Before Trigon returned to the Soviet Union, he asked whether we would provide him L-pills, lethal pills for him to have and use to commit suicide in the event that he was arrested. Because he knew he would face a long and brutal interrogation and he didn't want to have to do that.

OLSON: We were taken aback by that. We didn't want to be a party to a potential suicide. So we put him off, they keep coming back to us and he became very insistent. I don't think we had any choice. We didn't want to lose him. We really had to proceed because this was a very valuable operation.

PETERSON: The first package we devised to provide to Trigon was on May 1st.

OLSON: We have a variety of consumer devices. His consumer devices can look like a piece of brick or a dead bird or a dog excrement, something that can lie there and disturb without tracking attention.

PETERSON: I would put that package down for him next to a land pole. Trigon would have a sketch of that area and know what number the land pole was then I would leave the area and he would come and pick that up. And inside would be the spy materials. The package contained a black fountain pen which had the rest of where a poison into barrel (ph). And the second black fountain pen where he had his miniature camera.

The site was along a road that ran through this park Furberry (ph). I got to where I was to place his package and I saw no one. So I put the package down and walked them to the embassy. An hour later, Trigon came to come and pick up the package. I was relieved that and we had come through on that promise. Now Trigon had the L-pill and the pen with the camera in it and he could start communicating with us regularly.

[22:35:01] Trigon worked in classified areas in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he saw all the telegrams sent from every Soviet Embassy around the world and he could photograph the documents right there in his office with his miniature camera. OLSON: It was indescribable when we first got our packages from Trigon. He was producing intelligence that went right to the President's desk that went right to the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. They loved what they were getting from Trigon. He was right on target for our most serious concerns about the Soviet Union.


GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES, 1974-1977: Only from a position of strength can we negotiate a balanced agreement to limit the growth of nuclear arms and minimize the threat of nuclear confrontation.


PETERSON: At the time, the Soviet Union and the U.S. were locked in a dreadful conflict over nuclear weapons.

OLSON: We were trying to engage in arms control talks. We were fighting for our country's security.

PETERSON: Even with treaties, people still had a button to push if things got to that point. So what's in your adversary's mind was highly important and when you're gaining the intelligence from a covert agent about that adversary, then you've got the advantage. And he could read what Anatoly Dobrynin the ambassador from the Soviet Union in Washington, D.C. was saying about his meeting with American officials.

OLSON: What are their negotiating positions? What are their views on arms control? How much can we trust him? Is Dobrynin reporting accurately back to Moscow or isn't he? Trigon answered all those questions first. In our businesses, he got a whole lot better than that. So we really struggle with Trigon in Moscow.

PETERSON: Trigon and I never met. But I remember once I went to put down a package in the woods and I looked up in a long range away, like across two streets, there was a man standing there. And I thought that's Trigon waiting for the delivery of his package. He's as curious as I was. I knew I couldn't leave that package there on the ground without watching it. So I sat down in a bush and I drew my legs up close under me and waited for him to come into the woods. As he walked down the path, he was about four feet away from me. My heart stopped when I saw him as I was afraid he would see me sitting there in the bush but he didn't see me. He walked to the package. He picked it up and he left a package in the same place for me. And that night, I was as close to him as I would ever be.

OLSON: We were running with Trigon for a little over two years. It was unbelievably productive until about the spring of '77.

PETERSON: In April, I went to pick up a dead drop as I always did in the same place near the land pole. Nothing seemed different about that drop. So I put the package down for Trigon and then -- well, I had been instructed after an hour, so to go back and check to make sure he had picked it up. The package I had put down was still there. It was devastating, you know, then we had to say, what happened? Why wasn't he there? You know, is he sick or has something happened to him?

OLSON: Who knows? There are a lot of innocent reasons why he might miss the dead drop? But we were very worried that Trigon was gone.


OLSON: Trigon was extremely well placed sitting there in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the American section with access to their communications.

To see the quality of the intelligence that he was able to provide to us. It was mind boggling. It was a very effective, efficient operation until he missed a dead drop.

Whatever was that happened, it really was kind of suspicious. We were hoping against hope that the operation was still valid. We weren't ready to give up on Trigon. This was a very valuable operation. We didn't want to lose it by seeing ghosts or seeing problems that didn't really exist. So, we had to go forward.

PETERSON: He always had a schedule of several drops many months down the road, so he had the next scheduled drop.

OLSON: His next drop. We went into it knowing that there could be problems. But we really had to proceed.

[22:45:06] PETERSON: It was July 15th. I left my apartment about 7:00 that night. I was to arrive at the dead drop side at 10:00. The dead drop location was supposed to be on the bridge over Moscow River on a railroad bridge over Moscow. Before I went, I drove for 2.5 hours around Moscow. I was wearing the SR-100 to make sure that I had no one following me.

About 9:00, I parked -- I walked through the park, I stopped, I sat on park benches. I looked around and I saw no surveillance. I walked up to the railroad bridge where the site was located and I saw across the street three men. They turned and walked into the path that headed into Novodevichy cemetery.

I thought, well, they may be just casuals out for a walk. So, I continued to the bridge. I walked up the 47, 48 steps to the top of the bridge. I turned and walked on the pedestrian walkway to the center of the tower where I took the package out of my purse and slid it in to a narrow window to my right and I listened and looked to see whether anyone was around. And I saw no one.

I returned back through the tower and back down the stairs. I was about the fourth from the bottom when those three men appeared again walking across the street at quite a pace. The middle man saying, "Stand out, so she doesn't run." The two fellas grabbed me by the arms. I hadn't been grabbed like that since I was 4 years old.




PETERSON: I was angry. I kicked, yelled, I grabbed my purse. And as I did, I drove the man's hand into where the SR-100 was hooked on. Eventually, they got the Velcro undone and the SR-100 was out. By this time, a van had come from underneath the railroad bridge with all of these people piling out of a van.

One of them was a photographer with a big camera and a big flash. They then put me into the van and we drove away. We drove to Lubyanka prison, not a place any CIA officer wants to be going into the back door.

KALUGIN: Well, the cage of the building was notorious in some ways, because it was a jail for in where they had tortured people, I mean, you know, and sometimes kill them.

PETERSON: We walked into the interrogation room. It was a large table with two microphones setting up in the middle of the table. They put the dead drop down in the middle of the table on a piece of propped newspaper.

They've then began the interrogation. The chief interrogator was a very angry middle-aged man. He was the only one, it appeared, as we got farther into this, that knew anything about Trigon or the arrest.


MARTI: I don't understand you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you been doing at the bridge?

MARTI: I don't understand you.


PETERSON: And I told him I knew nothing about it. After about an hour then, they opened the dead drop, which was there in the middle of the table, and started taking the items out of the dead drop. One of the items was a black pen. I knew that black pen had a camera in it, but the chief interrogator laid the pen aside up on the corner of the paper and he said no one touch this.

[22:50:15] I sat there and remembered we gave Trigon a black fountain pen which had the reservoir poison in the barrel, the L-pill for him to use. And it became very clear to me he thought this pen had the poison in it there as well. And I'm thinking this is not good. Something awful has happened to Trigon.


[22:54:30] PETERSON: The safety signal I always had was to show up at a certain place, at a certain time. And if I didn't show up then, there was trouble. That night, of course, I didn't show up because I had been arrested. And I spent that night being interrogated, but for Trigon's safety, I told them absolutely nothing, nothing that could incriminate him.

[22:55:02] And then after a long time, they said because I was an American working in the embassy, you may leave. "Persona non grata," to be thrown out of the country. They would never let me back and I would never go.

OLSON: When I walked into the USSR desk on that Saturday morning and everybody was crying and I learned that Marti had been ambushed, I knew instantly as everybody also did, what that meant.

The KGB already knew in advance when and where that dead drop was to take place. The only way they could have set up that ambush is if they had prior knowledge. That meant that they had Trigon's communications plan. That meant that they had Trigon.

PETERSON: The source reported to us on June 20th, the KGB went in to Trigon's apartment and they arrested him. And he said, I will provide you with a full written report about what I have done, a confession. He said, get me a pad of paper. They handed him the paper and his pen. He began to write and then he bit down on the barrel of the pen, which had the reservoir of poison in the barrel. And he expired right before their eyes. I cannot imagine the strength of that man to commit that suicide there with everybody watching him.

OLSON: That was devastating. That was like a death in the family. Everybody was crying. I was crying. I was crying. I really can't explain to you how profound that moral obligation is that we feel to our agents to do everything in our power to protect that person. The KGB found out about Trigon in what was probably the worst possible way. We believe that Trigon was betrayed by someone who was working for the CIA. That's heartbreaking.

PETERSON: You know, when I was arrested, I didn't know how they found out about Trigon. And I have to tell you, even though intellectually I know that it wasn't something I've done, I will never be relieved because I was charged with protecting his safety. That's what I've committed myself to doing.

OLSON: The legacy of the Trigon case is very clear. We made history in that operation by for the first time handling a well-placed agent in Moscow itself. We hadn't done that before. Trigon was the beginning of what turned out to be a golden age of intelligence in Moscow.

And secondly, we made history by using a woman for this dangerous, high-risk operation. It was a whole new era at the CIA after Marti Peterson. Barriers were broken down, stereotypes were broken down. The CIA finally began a much wiser, much more effective use of women case officers in the CIA.

I often think of Marti as a pioneer. She was a superb case officer. She was a role model for all of us who followed, men and women. I think we were all more successful in our craft by looking at what Marti had done under difficult circumstances and she did it so professionally and she did it so successfully. I think that's going to be Marti's legacy. PETERSON: I am proud of what we all did in Moscow. And despite being arrested, despite the notoriety because of the Trigon operation, I continued to work very successfully for 32 years as a covert CIA officer.