Rem Krassilnikov was the KGB spymaster who was responsible for defensive KGB operations against the CIA in Moscow from 1979-1989. He is considered to be the inspiration for John Le Carre’s character “Karla” — the KGB counterpart to MI6’s George Smiley in Le Carre’s Books including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and others.
On March 10, 1986 Michael Sellers was arrested by the KGB in Moscow while conducting a meeting with Sergey Vorontsov, a senior officer of the Moscow Oblast KGB and an agent of the American CIA. At the time of his arrest, Sellers had been serving in Moscow for 21 months and had conducted dozens of operational acts on the streets of Moscow under the nose of the KGB. It was later determined that Sellers and Vorontsov were compromised by Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who was then Chief of Counterintelligence for the CIA’s Soviet Eastern European Division, and who would later be arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following is an excerpt taken from Krassilnikov’s book, recounting the espionage operation that resulted in the death of Sergey Vorontsov and the expulsion of Sellers from the country.
One additional note — Krassilnikov remained a bit of a Soviet propagandist to his death and his contention that Vorontsov did not provide significant information to the CIA is completely untrue. Vorontsov provided a treasure trove of counterintelligence information that saved a number of lives of fellow Russian citizens who were under suspicion by the KGB, and alerted the CIA to compromised or endangered operations in which the KGB was either in control, or closing in on CIA agents operating in the Soviet Union. Vorontsove also provided the first sample of “spy dust” — NPPD, a chemical tracking powder used by the KGB in its pursuit of CIA agents in Moscow. Krassilnikov’s denials concerning “spy dust” are completely inaccurate — the use of the chemical tracking powder has absolutely been verified many times over. So – the point is — Vorontsov was a much more valuable CIA spy than Krassilnikov acknowledges.
Chapter 9: Attack on All Fronts
In the Soviet mass media, under the customary rubric of the 80s, “In the USSR Committee for State Security,” in March 1986, an official report appeared regarding the arrest of an American operative caught in the act. It read:
“March 10. The Second Secretary of the US Embassy, Michael Sellers, was caught in the action of a clandestine meeting with a Soviet citizen recruited by American intelligence. One more espionage action of US special services against the Soviet Union has been foiled. In the course of the investigation evidence was obtained which fully implicates this associate of the US embassy in intelligence activities incompatible with his official status. M. Sellers has been declared persona non grata for illegal espionage activities. The investigation continues in the case of the arrested agent of American intelligence.”
I will decipher some of the phrases of this official report. Michael Sellers, the Second Secretary of the US Embassy was a cadre American associate of the CIA station in Moscow. The arrested agent of American intelligence was a senior operative the USSR KGB directorate for Moscow and the Moscow Oblast, Major Sergey Vorontsov. In the files of the US Central Intelligence Agency, he went by the operations pseudonym of “Kapyushon.”
It is interesting that Vorontsov never did tell the Americans his real name and represented himself to them as an worker of the central apparatus of counterintelligence and associate of the Second Chief Directorate in order to raise his value.
In the book by Pete Early, “Confessions of a Spy,” there are extremely meager lines on the agent “Kapyushon”:
“On March 10, the KGB laid an ambush for the CIA agent handler Michael Sellers, when he was on his way to a meeting place with a spy. The CIA learned his name later on, Sergey Vorontsov. Vorontsov had been a CIA agent since 1984 . He reported how the local KGB directorate monitors the US embassy in Moscow. Vorontsov gave Sellers a spy powder which the KGB sprays on the cars of the American diplomats in order that the counterintelligence service could monitor the persons who drive them.”
That’s all the CIA evidently deemed advisable to tell the journalist. Not much. No circumstances of how they contacted Vorontsov. Nothing about how an American diplomat helped with Vorontsov’s recruitment. No circumstances of the final meeting with the agent by the station operative Michael Sellers, which led to his exposure. But meanwhile, there was something curious about the Vorontsov case.
One summer day in 1984, the telephone rang in the apartment of the John Finney, second secretary of the political department of the US embassy in Moscow. It was late, the diplomat had left work some time ago, and was at home. An unknown man, noticeably nervous, in short phrases as if he had been coached, asked Finney to meet him on an urgent and important matter. It appeared that the unknown person did not doubt that the diplomat would accept his offer of a meeting. Especially since Finney would not have far to travel from his home—just a five minute walk.
The Americans, when there was an opportunity, preferred to travel by car. Finney was no exception, besides which, the car was safer. He did not get out of the car when he arrived at the spot named by the stranger a few minutes later. John Finney was intrigued. He knew the State Department instruction and the instruction of the ambassador to take materials and accept unexpected offers from Soviet citizens, since they could get useful information for the CIA in that way.
John Finney arrived at the agreed spot. It was dark, not a soul around. But then a man stepped out of the darkness and up to the car. He appeared tense, kept lolling around, and quickly stuck a letter through the half-opened window of the car. It contained an offer to provide espionage services to American intelligence. And an attachment—a document rolled up into a tube. An information bulletin from the KGB Second Chief Directorate, an official use only document, was supposed to demonstrate the seriousness of Vorontsov’s intentions and his potential. Finney quickly drove off, and reported to the embassy as usual the next morning. Why attract attention? The American diplomats were trained in the techniques of handling the proposals of “volunteers.”
At the CIA station, Vorontsov’s letter and the bulletin were carefully studied. The supercautious Vorontsov proposed a complex method of communication. In the event that his offer was accepted (the letter spelled out his financial demands), the station was supposed to park a car with diplomatic plates next to a store that he named, in one of the central regions of Moscow. Then he would draw numbers on the wall of one of the buildings, a “coefficient,” which would make it possible to determine the telephone number to get in touch with him. From the letter passed to Finney, the station already knew the other seven numbers, to which the “coefficient” should be added.
The Soviet department of the Operations Directorate, of course, jumped at Vorontsov’s offer, seeing him as a gift of fate. The approval was sent immediately to the station. The car with the diplomatic plate was parked where it was supposed to be, and the station found the numbers at the agreed location, which Vorontsov wrote on the wall of a building. The telephone number of the important volunteer was in the hands of the station. The station associate Grishchek, after phoning Vorontsov, would go to the clandestine meeting later in the evening.
Vorontsov immediately refused to tell the Americans his name; for them he was “Stas,” quite sufficient for phone conversations and meetings. He said he was an associate of the Second Chief Directorate, deceiving the CIA regarding his actual workplace. This was not conspiracy, not caution. Vorontsov was thinking about the prestige of looking like an informed source in the eyes of the CIA. He was able to do this; the American intelligence did not learn of his actual workplace until after he was uncovered by Soviet counterintelligence.
Vorontsov did not accept the communication terms proposed to him by the CIA—dead drops, unilateral radio transmissions, letters to false addresses of the intelligence service in the US did not suit him. He insisted on personal meetings with operatives of the station, with summonses by agreed telephone calls. And he thought up one more trick. The telephone whose number he gave to the Americans was not in his office, but in the office of another associate of the Moscow Directorate. Vorontsov had the pass key; he could use it to get into that office when needed. Late in the evening, when he would get the agreed phone calls, only “Stas” would be in the office, and he would be able to arrange a meeting in a calm and safe situation.
The CIA accepted all of Vorontsov’s terms. An agent in the Second Chief Directorate was in high demand. The CIA was counting on important information; it was supposed to help safeguard the operation of the embassy station in Moscow, and the activities of the CIA against the Soviet Union throughout the world. “Stas” was given the operational pseudonym of “Kapyushon.” Here is a sample of an assignment which the agent soon received: “We would like information from you about Soviet citizens who are under suspicions, being followed, or have been arrested for espionage for the US or other NATO countries; about KGB technical penetration of American institutions; about KGB operations aimed at recruitment of Americans or citizens of other NATO countries.”
The CIA was in a hurry. They were seeking to get from the associate of the Second Chief Directorate that which would justify the risk of working with him on the territory of our country, information about dangers to intelligence activities of the American special services against the Soviet Union. It was in a rush, and did not understand very much: the expected information didn’t come.
The Moscow station held three meetings with the agent “Kapyushon.” The agent was able to satisfy the requests of the American intelligence service in some ways. But his capabilities, understandably, were limited, and he cobbled together a lot of it, thought it up out of whole cloth, in order to justify the money he received from the CIA.
It is hard for me to comment on the statement foisted on Peter Early at the CIA regarding the “spy powder,” allegedly given to the station by Vorontsov. In my view, it is fantastic, and as they say nowadays, “virtual” in nature. I can say that Soviet counterintelligence cannot be accused of using harmful chemical drugs against the American diplomats in Moscow. The counterintelligence operatives had other methods of monitoring the associates of the Moscow station.
The last two meetings with the agent “Kapyushon” were assigned to the station agent handler Michael Sellers. The station had carefully devised a plan to conduct meetings with the “valuable agent,” and Sellers himself demonstrated all the art of a potential actor, a gift for concealment and mimicry. Michael would go to the clandestine agent meet disguised as the American diplomat Ronald Patterson, who was a neighbor of his, and would use the latter’s car, which was kindly supplied by the owner. For conspiracy purposes, Sellers was equipped with a wig and fake mustache; en route he would change hat and scarf, and put on glasses. Before leaving home, Sellers and his wife told their friends over the telephone that Sellers himself would be home and didn’t want to go anywhere. Of course, these conversations were not intended for the Americans.
During his second (and last) meeting with the agent “Kapyushon,” Michael Sellers was caught in the act. With him he had new instructions and assignments for the agent, portable tape recorders for recording conversations with Vorontsov, and money for the spy.
We know of the fate of Michael Sellers from an official report: he was declared persona non grata. The agent “Kapyushon” was brought before the USSR Supreme Court. The court found no mitigating circumstances for his treason.
What prompted Major Sergey Vorontsov to espionage and betrayal of his Motherland? Not ideological conviction, but selfishness and animosity. Animosity against his own leadership, which had demoted him for serious work transgressions.
But the decisive motive was, for all that, his greed. For some reason certain that the American intelligence would pay a lot, Vorontsov decided that he would earn a large sum of money in a short time, after which, he thought, he would stop the dangerous exercise. An erroneous assumption of “volunteers”! The CIA knew how to correlate their benefits from the information supplied by spies to the honoraria which they paid.