Penkovsky Papers

Title:                  Penkovsky Papers

Author:              Oleg Penkovsky

Penkovsky, Oleg (1965). The Penkovsky Papers: Introd. and Commentary by Frank Gibney. Foreword by Edward Crankshaw. Translated by Peter Deriabin Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

LCCN:    65024909

DK266.3 .P4



  • Name also spelled Penkovskiy

Date Updated:  October 12, 2016

The Penkovsky Papers created quite a stir–a bit more than The Pentagon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg) when they came out–particularly among intelligence professionals. This explosive book records the secret life and adventures of one the greatest spy of the 20th century–Oleg Penkovskiy–and reads with the excitement of the greatest of suspense novels. As a top ranking Russian officer, Penkovsky sank into the depths and rose to the heights of international intrigue. He encounters an exciting, shining, and sinister new world. The rumors spread that women and alcohol are his constant companions. Possessor of world-shattering secrets, he is in danger of exposure. So strong are these secrets, that he very likely alters forever the world’s balance of power.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

In 1976, the final report of the Church committee of the U.S. Senate investigating intelligence activities officially confirmed that The Penkovsky Papers were prepared by CIA personnel who used actual materials made available by this important U.S. and British penetration into the USSR’s military intelligence, armed forces, and ruling hierarchy. This report ended over ten years of debate about the authenticity of the papers (for one early doubt of the original version of the papers’ “odyssey and authorship,” see Blackstock’s Agents of Deceit[2]). Victor Zorza, the Soviet expert, was one of the critics of the papers’ true authorship, as was John Le Carré. Wise and Ross in The Espionage Establishment[3] imparted the telling comments and views of the U.S. Department of State that “the genuineness of the material was placed in doubt by the way the book was created along with damage to one of the greatest intelligence coups in years.’’ Pincher in Inside Story[4] claims British defense and intelligence authorities had opposed publication of the book and had wanted no association with it. The reasons given by the Senate report for its appearance were “operational,” presumably having to do with the propaganda war.

Penkovsky provided material of great intelligence significance that in some instances is still of analytical value to Western intelligence and in others is of pertinence to current intelligence questions. Consequently, intelligence scholars would benefit from a new effort-one that would put the valid and verified Penkovsky material contained in these papers in its original form and context, rather than leaving them neglected because of their official sponsorship and the original means used to publish them. Similarly, the introduction and commentary of Frank Gibney, despite his assurances of the papers’ authenticity, contain some very knowledgeable and perceptive comments. See Wynne’s Contact on Gorky Street[5] for the memoirs of the British intelligence agent who handled Penkovsky. De Silva in Sub Rosa[6] explains the reason for the rebuff of Penkovsky when he first approached the U.S. embassy in Moscow. For varying views of the value of Penkovsky’s intelligence, compare Cline’s Secrets, Spies and Scholars[7] with certain observations outlined in Pincher’s Their Trade Is Treachery[8].

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[9]

The story of a Soviet GRU officer who provided information of tremendous importance to British and American intelligence while continuing his service in the Soviet Union. The case constitutes one of the more significant Western intelligence coups in recent times and offers great benefit for those career intelligence officers who study it.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[10]

Ostensibly the memoirs of a Soviet colonel of army military intelligence working as a departmental deputy chief in Moscow, who provided information to U.S. and British intelligence from April 1961 to August 1962. The information included details on secret Soviet troop deployments and technical details on weapons developments, as well as information on political and economic capabilities and intentions. Penkovskiy provided the information in microfilm form (some five thousand photoprints, according to Soviet counterintelligence) to his British intelligence contact and handler, Greville Wynne. During three trips to London and Paris, Penkovskiy furnished volumes of specific information on current events in extensive debriefing sessions arranged by American and British intelligence. Arrested by Soviet counterintelligence, Penkovskiy was tried in Moscow along with Wynne, who had been arrested in Budapest while trying to reach Moscow for yet another contact with Penkovskiy. Penkovskiy was sentenced to death and Wynne was given a jail sentence. Later Wynne was traded for Soviet intelligence operative Gordon Lonsdale (see Greville Wynne’s Contact On Gorky Street[11] in chapter 14, section E).

While there is no doubt that Penkovskiy was a valuable source of secret information on the USSR at a critical time, there has been much skepticism that the memoirs were actually written by Penkovskiy as claimed; many believed they were compiled by CIA and British intelligence personnel as a cold war weapon against Soviet intelligence and the Soviet system. The controversy was ended in 1976, by the publication of the final report of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities[12] (Church Committee). The Senate report stated that the book was prepared by CIA personnel who drew on actual case materials. Publication rights to the manuscript were sold to the publisher (who was unaware of CIA interests) through a trust fund which was established for the purpose. See chapter 4, section A, U.S. Congress, Senate, for reference to the Church Committee report.

Further review by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[13]

Ostensibly the memoirs of Soviet army colonel Oleg Penkovskiy who for sixteen months provided information to U.S. and British intelligence on secret troop movements, weapons development, and political and economic capabilities. Although Penkovskiy was a bona fide source of information, handled by British agent Greville Wynne, the book was actually written by personnel of the CIA (and perhaps British intelligence as well). See chapter 14, section C for main annotation.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 360-361

[2] Blackstock, Paul W. (1966). Agents of Deceit: Frauds, Forgeries And Political Intrigue Among Nations. Chicago: Quadrangle Books

[3] Wise, David (1968) and T. B. Ross. The Espionage Establishment. London: Cape

[4] Pincher, Chapman (1978, 1979). Inside Story: A Documentary of The Pursuit of Power. New York: Stein and Day

[5] Wynne, Greville (1968). Contact on Gorky Street: A British Agent’s Own First-Hand Account of His Mission to Moscow. New York: Atheneum

[6] De Silva, Peer (1978). Sub Rosa: The CIA And The Uses of Intelligence. New York: Times Books

[7] Cline, Ray S. (1976, 1982). The CIA: Reality vs. Myth. Originally published as Secrets, Spies, And Scholars: Blueprint of The Essential CIA. Washington DC: Acropolis Books

[8] Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

[9] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 49

[10] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 148-149

[11] Wynne, Greville (1968). Contact on Gorky Street: A British Agent’s Own First-Hand Account of His Mission to Moscow. New York: Atheneum

[12] Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976). Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to the Intelligence Activities United States Senate, Hearings Before the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of U.S. Senate. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

[13] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 156-157


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7 Responses to Penkovsky Papers

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