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Comrade J and the Cold War that Never Ended

Wikimedia Commons / Morten Oddvik

Comrade J and the Cold War that Never Ended

Sergei TretyakovWhen 10 alleged Russian spies were recently arrested before being deported in a spy swap arranged by the CIA, many found the events anachronistic, a throwback to a previous era. One person who would not have been surprised was Sergei Tretyakov.

Tretyakov worked with the SVR (a successor of the KGB ) and from 1995 to 2000 was responsible for covert operations in New York City and at the United Nations. In 2000 Tretyakov became one of the highest ranking Russian intelligence officers ever to defect, saying he felt serving corrupt Russian leaders like Vladimir Putin was immoral and he wanted a better life for his young daughter. He characterized his own defection as the largest failure of Russian intelligence in its history and reputedly received one of the largest sums ever granted a foreign defector, when the United States government arranged for him to receive in excess of $2 million and re-settle his family in an undisclosed location.

In 2008 he worked with journalist Peter Earley to tell his story in Comrade J.: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America after the End of the Cold War.

Tretyakov died in early June 2010 in Sarasota, Florida, at the age of 54. His death, however, wasn’t announced until just last week. Some have speculated that Tretyakov was somehow involved in exposing the spy ring in New York that saw 10 operatives arrested and deported. Given the timing of his death, some have speculated that foul play is involved. They cite the case of Alexander Litvinenko, former Russian intelligence agent who ran afoul of state security and died in London after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210 in 2006. But Tretyakov’s widow Helen asserts that the FBI autopsy found no evidence of foul play.

What would Tretyakov himself think of all of these cloak and dagger conspiracy theories surrounding his death, these intelligence games that seem a throwback to a previous era? He’d likely argue that they’re not of another era at all.

“The Cold War never ended, it’s transformed,” Tretyakov told Reuters in 2008. “It’s like a virus mutating.”

Originally published July 12, 2010.