Yuri Nosenko, a Soviet KGB agent whose defection to the U.S. in 1964 and subsequent three-year harsh detention and hostile interrogation by CIA officials remains immensely controversial, died Aug. 23 under an assumed name in a Southern state, according to intelligence officials.
No cause of death was reported other than “a long illness.” He was 81.
Nosenko, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet secret police and intelligence agency, personally interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald during his time in the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1962. When Nosenko defected in 1964, he provided the first information that Oswald, the accused assassin of President Kennedy, was not a Soviet agent.
Senior CIA officers at the time, including James Angleton, the agency's counterintelligence chief, and David Murphy of the Soviet division, did not believe Nosenko was a real defector and ordered his imprisonment.
Nosenko initially had made inaccurate statements about his past, and some of his information conflicted with another KGB officer, Anatoly Golitsin, who had defected the year before. As a result, they considered him a plant sent by Moscow to confuse Washington about Oswald.
Richard Helms, then CIA director of operations, in 1966 ordered that a conclusion be reached in the Nosenko case. In 1967, after passing multiple polygraphs, Nosenko was released, and in 1969 he was found to be a legitimate defector. He subsequently became a consultant to the agency, was given a new identity and was provided a home in an undisclosed location in the South.
Last month, several senior CIA officials visited him and presented him with a ceremonial flag and a letter from CIA Director Michael Hayden honoring his service to the U.S., a senior intelligence official said.
During his incarceration, at Camp Perry, the CIA facility in Virginia, the agency kept Nosenko in solitary confinement in a small concrete cell. He often endured treatment involving body searches, verbal taunts, revolting food and denial of such basics as toothpaste and reading materials.
According to Tom Mangold's “Warrior” (1991), Nosenko pinpointed 52 microphones planted inside the U.S. embassy in Moscow and how the Soviets avoided detection of the listening devices.
But his most stunning revelations were about Oswald, notably how the Soviet agency felt Oswald was too unstable mentally to be of much service.
None of this saved Nosenko from a bitter fate. Golitsin stoked Angleton's increasing paranoia about double agents in the CIA and the veracity of defectors, and Nosenko soon began his 1,277 days in custody.
In 1975, Nosenko looked up the disgraced Angleton's number in the phone book to confront him. Angelton was cool and adamant.
“I have nothing more to say to you,” Angelton said.
“And, Mr. Angelton,” replied Nosenko, “I have nothing further to say to you.”