George Kisevalter (4 April 1910 – October 1997) was a CIA operations officer who handled both Major Pyotr Popov, the first Soviet GRU officer run by the CIA, and Colonel Oleg Penkovsky.

Early life[edit | edit source]

George Kisevalter was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of a Russian Army munitions expert [1] and grandson of a Russian deputy finance minister.[2] In 1915, the elder Kisevalter, accompanied by his family, was sent to the United States in order to purchase weapons for the Tsar. The Bolshevik Revolution forced the Kisevalters to remain in the United States, where they eventually took US citizenship.

The Kisevalters settled in New York City, where the young George attended Stuyvesant High School.[3] In 1926, he entered Dartmouth College to study engineering. Among his classmates was Nelson Rockefeller.[1]

Introduction to Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Kisevalter spent much of World War II as an army officer involved in supporting the Soviet war effort through the Lend-Lease Program. His first experience with intelligence came in 1944 when, as a fluent Russian speaker, he was assigned to military intelligence in order to work on Soviet intelligence projects. Because of his growing expertise in Soviet matters, as well as his German language skill, Kisevalter was one of the officers who interviewed Major General Reinhard Gehlen, after the latter's surrender to the US military.[1] Gehlen had been the German chief of intelligence for the eastern front, and was well versed in Soviet military and political affairs.

Popov and Penkovsky[edit | edit source]

Kisevalter had a brief civilian career before joining the CIA. By 1953, he was a branch chief in the Soviet Division of the Directorate of Operations. Also in 1953, a major of the GRU named Pyotr Semyonovich Popov contacted American intelligence in Vienna and offered to spy for the United States. Kisevalter was selected as Popov's handler. Based in Vienna, Austria, Kisevalter spent the next five years handling Popov, who provided the United States with detailed information on Soviet military plans and capabilities. During the period when he spied for the United States, Popov was considered to be "the CIA's most important agent."[4] Kisevalter's involvement came to an end with Popov's capture and subsequent execution in 1959.

In 1961, Kisevalter was assigned to handle another GRU walk-in, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky. For almost two years, Kisevalter and the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) jointly handled Penkovsky, who provided them with vital information on Soviet missile capabilities. Penkovsky's information was critical to the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, in 1962, Penkovsky was arrested by the KGB and subsequently executed.

Later Career and Retirement[edit | edit source]

After Penkovsky's execution in 1963, Kisevalter continued to be involved in agent recruitment and handling, including the cases of KGB walk-ins Anatoliy Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. Golitsyn's information precipitated a mole hunt by the CIA's counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. Golitsyn also claimed that the second defector, Nosenko, was in fact a KGB plant. This led to Nosenko's incarceration in solitary confinement for several years. Kisevalter apparently "never accepted the case for a mole in the CIA or the argument that Nosenko was planted by the KGB"[1]

Kisevalter's final assignment before his retirement in 1970 was training new CIA operations officers. He received the CIA's highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal. In 1997, when the CIA celebrated its 50th anniversary, Kisevalter was designated one of its 50 Trailblazers.[1] He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Ashley, Clarence (2004). CIA Spymaster. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.. 
  2. Berlinski, Claire (December 2004). Spy vs. Spy: there's a lesson to be learned, still, from the great Cold War spy George Kisevalter. Weekly Standard. 
  3. Peake, Hayden B.. "The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf Intelligence in Recent Public Literature". https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol49no1/html_files/bookshelf_10.html. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  4. Andrew, Christopher (1996). For the President's Eyes Only. New York: Harper Collins. 

See also[edit | edit source]

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