I first became in interested in Cold War era espionage after watching the movie ‘Breach’ starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe. The movie chronicles the true story of the FBI’s attempt to bring down Robert Hannsen who is commonly referred to as the worst spy in US History. Hanssen sold US secrets to the Russians for over twenty years and betrayed our country to the tune of billions. “Spy Handler” tells the story of Russian intelligence operative Victor Cherkashin who handled both Hanssen and and the CIA’s Aldrich Ames, who is credited as being the worst spy in that agencies’ history. Reading their stories from the ‘Soviet perspective’ was quite interesting.
There should be no mistake, Cherkashin was loyal and dedicated to the USSR. Throughout the course of this book, Cherkashin goes into great detail concerning his 30+ year career serving in the KGB and I found it quite interesting the lengths both the KGB and the CIA would go to during the Cold War to recruit and handle double agents. Cherkashin’s story depicts a KGB that is marked by paranoia, back-stabbing, and double-crossing throughout the Cold War. Despite this, he chronicles many successes the agency scored over their western adversaries.
The subtitle of this book, however, does seem to be a little misleading. Billed as “the man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames,” Cherkashin actually dod no such thing. According to his own story, Ames and Hannsen more or less fell into his lap. Both men were essentially volunteers who approached the KGB offering information in exchange for money. Cherkashin, however, did play a key role in handling Ames and devised strategies for pulling the spy deeper into the game. Cherkashin seemed to play a smaller role in the handling of Hanssen. In fact, the author only discovered the Hanssen’s true identity in 2001 after his arrest was made public.
The book concludes with the authors thoughts on the role espionage and intelligence should play on the current world stage that should probably be taken into account by the leaders of the CIA and the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency).
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested the Cold War, however, I must warn that Cherkashin has the tendency to ramble a bit and his story seems a little disjointed as times. If you enjoy this type of stuff, it is certainly worth the read, however, for casual readers there are probably better books out there.