Lt. Col. Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko (October 30, 1927 – August 23, 2008) was a KGB defector and a figure of significant controversy within the U.S. intelligence community, since his claims contradicted another defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn, who believed he was a KGB plant.
The harsh treatment he received as part of the early US interrogation was one of the "abuses" documented in the Central Intelligence Agency "Family Jewels" documents in 1973. In 1978 Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner gave an unclassified briefing, including a summary of testimony given to Congress. In his statement, Turner accepted Nosenko's assertion that the Soviets had no connection with Lee Harvey Oswald and, referring to the Nosenko's solitary confinement : "The excessively harsh treatment of Mr. Nosenko went beyond the bounds of propriety or good judgment. At my request, Mr. Hart has discussed this case with many senior officers to make certain that its history will not again be repeated. The other main lesson to be learned is that although counterintelligence analysis necessarily involves the making of hypotheses, we must at all times treat them as what they are, and not act on them until they have been objectively tested in an impartial manner."
Nosenko's case officer was Tennent H. "Pete" Bagley, both when they first met in Geneva in 1962 and subsequently when he defected in 1964. Bagley, subsequently chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Russia ("SR") Division and Division Deputy Director, wrote a book that was substantially about the Nosenko case. CIA operations officer George Kisevalter, well regarded for his prior handling of Major Pyotr Popov, the first Soviet GRU officer run by the CIA, and a native Russian speaker, was detailed to assist Bagley. In 2013 Bagley wrote another book, revealing new details he acquired by comparing notes with Soviet KGB Chief Sergey Kondrashev. Bagley says he had always suspected that Nosenko might be a plant and was glad to have this confirmed by Konrashev. Both he he and Sergey expressed surprise that CIA accepted Nosenko as genuine for as long as they did, in spite of over 30 warning signs.
Nosenko was born in Nikolaev, Ukrainian SSR (now Mykolaiv, Ukraine). His father, Ivan Nosenko, was a Soviet politician and from 1939 until his death in 1956, Minister of Shipbuilding of the USSR. Nosenko attended the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), graduating in 1950, and entered the KGB in 1953.
Nosenko contacted the CIA in Geneva, when he accompanied a diplomatic mission to that city in 1962. Nosenko offered his services for a small amount of money, claiming that a prostitute had robbed him of $900 worth in Swiss francs. He claimed to be deputy chief of the Seventh Department of the KGB, and provided some information that would only be known by someone connected to the KGB. He was given the money he requested and told $25,000 a year would be deposited in an account in his name in the West. Then, at a meeting set up in 1964 he unexpectedly claimed that he had been discovered by the KGB and needed to defect immediately. Nosenko claimed that the Geneva KGB residency had received a cable recalling him to Moscow and he was fearful that he had been found out. NSA was later, but not at the time, able to determine that no such cable had been sent, and Nosenko subsequently admitted making this up to persuade the CIA to accept his defection, which the CIA did.
Nosenko claimed that he could provide important negative information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, affirming that he had personally handled a review of the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, who had lived in the Soviet Union prior to the Kennedy assassination. Nosenko said that, while the KGB had conducted surveillance of Oswald, it had never tried to recruit him. This issue was critical because KGB involvement with Oswald might suggest Soviet involvement in the Kennedy assassination – a prospect that could have propelled the Cold War into a nuclear war. Nosenko insisted that after interviewing Oswald it was decided that he was not intelligent enough and also "too mentally unstable", a "nut", and therefore unsuitable for intelligence work. Nosenko also stated that the KGB had never questioned Oswald about information he might have gained as a U.S. Marine, including work as an aviation electronics operator at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan.
The situation was made more complex by another defector, controlled by the FBI, codenamed Fedora. Fedora confirmed Nosenko's story about Oswald. Fedora, however, was eventually seen to be a double agent for the Soviets. Realizing that Fedora was feeding information that the Soviets intended to put out fed doubt about Nosenko, but did not prove Nosenko was lying, since double agents often provide some accurate information to prove their credibility.
Two lie detector tests conducted by the CIA suggested that Nosenko was lying about Oswald. However, Nosenko believed the results of the first polygraph were prearranged as a way to break him, and prior to the second polygraph, he was examined by a doctor who "inserted a gloved finger inside Nosenko's rectum and, over his protests, wriggled it around for some ten minutes. The doctor suggested he liked the degradation. Nosenko is certain this was done to anger him and stimulate his blood pressure, a key factor in affecting polygraph readings." Moreover, Nosenko confessed that he had lied to the CIA about his military rank. However, Nosenko passed a third polygraph test given in August 1968, which also included questions about Oswald.
Interrogators from the Soviet Russia division suspected that Nosenko was a KGB plant. One reason was that Golytsin had told them that the KGB would send someone after him to try to discredit him. Many inside the CIA thought Nosenko fit this picture, partly because one of Golytsin's main claims was that the KGB had a mole deep in the CIA and Nosenko claimed there was not. Nosenko was seized by CIA officers in Washington and from 1964 to 1967 was held in solitary confinement in a CIA safe house in Clinton, Maryland. Nosenko was also subjected to sensory deprivation and was administered drugs because his CIA handlers believed he was still working in secret for the KGB. Agents also strapped wires to his head, telling him falsely that the device was an electroencephalograph which would allow them to read his mind, while the device was really one that read brainwave patterns. This was a form of psychological intimidation in order to help persuade him to "tell the truth". He was interrogated for 1,277 days.
Part of the evidence against Nosenko was from the work of defected KGB General and CIA agent Peter Deriabin. Deriabin had worked in the same parts of the Soviet KGB that Nosenko had claimed to, but found the details of Nosenko's stories (which changed over time) to be unconvincing. Years after the incident, Deriabin still believed Nosenko was a KGB plant.
When the interrogations led to no substantial results the interrogators were changed and after bringing on a new team Nosenko was cleared of all suspicions and released with pay. The question of whether Nosenko was a KGB plant or not is controversial, and those who handled him initially still believe that his unsolicited walk-in was designed by the KGB to protect a Soviet mole threatened by Golitsyn's knowledge, and his defection by a Soviet desire to discredit the idea of a connection between the Soviet Union and the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald. Others have argued Nosenko was ultimately regarded as an authentic defector through misinformation from another KGB-agent that was thought to be a genuine defector, code-named Fedora.
Fedora corroborated Nosenko's authenticity and allegations, specifically that he was indeed a Lt. Colonel of the KGB and that he indeed received recalling orders just before fleeing to the USA. Nosenko confessed later after failing to pass successive poly examinations that he was in reality a KGB captain, while, after NSA revealed that no recall orders ever reached Geneva Soviet embassy, he confessed that he also lied about that. Since Fedora was surely a Soviet agent and he tried to corroborate Nosenko's counterfeited story, it became obvious that Nosenko was a double agent. Same way, from the time when Nosenco confessed that he lied about his grade and the recall orders, it became obvious that Fedora was also a double agent working for the Soviets. Despite these and other indications, both CIA and FBI administrations choose for a number of reasons to ignore the obvious in either cases.
Nosenko has later claimed to have been tortured and even at one point, he said, he was given LSD, and it almost killed him. The guards revived him by dragging him into the shower and alternating the water between hot and cold. These claims have been denied by Richard Helms who was DCI during the most intense part of Nosenko's interrogation. On March 1, 1969 Nosenko was formally acknowledged to be a genuine defector, and released, with financial compensation from the CIA.
It has been claimed that it was the CIA counter-intelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, who was responsible for the hostile interrogation. Angleton did favor Golitsyn in the disputes with Nosenko, but all those involved in the case at the time, including both of Nosenko's handlers, Tennent Bagley and George Kisevalter, agree it was the SR-division. The case has been examined in several books, and the 1986 movie Yuri Nosenko: Double Agent starring Tommy Lee Jones. The movie depicted the intense debate over whether Nosenko was an actual defector.
Likely the most comprehensive explanation of the case cast in the light of intelligence analysis was written by Richards J. Heuer, Jr., a 45-year veteran of the CIA that worked on the case in the 1980s. The article entitled Nosenko: Five Paths to Judgment, was classified for eight years after its publication in 1987 in the CIA's internal journal Studies in Intelligence. The article details the case with regard to the five strategies taught to analysts for revealing deception and has been used for teaching deception analysis to the last few generations of analysts. Former CIA case officer Robert Baer wrote that "when Nosenko offered a version of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination that didn't fit with the agency's corporate view he was sent to solitary confinement at the farm for three years." He helped expose John Vassall, a British civil servant, charged with spying in 1962, as well as Robert Lee Johnson, an American soldier arrested in 1964. Until his death, Nosenko lived in the US under an assumed name.