Sandy JOHN MABEY Mabey
INT: Um, did he have a sense, an understanding, of just how valuable he was to you lot?
JB: Oleg at one point it was... I believe it was our second meeting in London, appreciated the value and extent of the information he was giving to us, because he gave each of his case officers a gift and that gift was a horn of plenty. It was about six inches long, but we knew exactly what he had in mind when he gave it to us, that he knew that he gave us a lot of information that was extremely valuable.
INT: He had a rather strange plan, I believe, to place tactical stuff around. Tell us about that.
JB: The biggest surprise I ever gotten from Oleg was at our meetings in Birmingham, England. At one point, he said, if we wanted to, we could provide him with small type of nuclear bombs that he could place in garbage cans and strategic points in Moscow, because it was his view that he could destroy ninety per cent of the military planning in the Soviet Union by the placement and disposition of these bombs. We listened to him, but of course we did nothing about it and we never would have done anything about it, but it was fascinating that... he thought of that. And if I may jump ahead, when he was caught, I was convinced in my mind that he gave us one signal that to us meant that the Soviet Union was going to attack us with missiles and he wanted us to respond similarly with missiles to destroy the Soviet Union and to cause the bombing of Moscow and his own death.
INT: I'm going to come on to that... I'm going to come on to that later. It's an extraordinary story. We talked about how he was able... I mean a lot of what he's helping you to do is, isn't it, defensive work, but was he of assistance in helping the Americans in targeting Russia? Was that of benefit to you? To learn where to hit in the event that there was a war.
JB: Unless I lost a lot... my memory is very poor. I don't think he gave us that in terms of militarily where to hit.
INT: OK, OK, in that case we'll move on...
JB: There's really nothing to say there.
INT: No problem, no problem.
INT: Tell us about the last time you saw him. I mean, 'cos I'm curious to know sort of whether you had a sense that maybe it'd be better if he just stayed, you know, and whether he was going back to danger.
JB: The last time I saw Oleg Penkovsky was in Paris, in the spring of 1962. he was always aware of the fact - and we told this to him at every meeting - that if he ever felt that he was in danger, he was quite willing to stay and defect to the West at any particular point that he was with us, either in London or in Paris. I never had the feeling that he was in danger, otherwise I would have insisted that he stay. In fact, forced him, if I had to kidnap him! But I never really had the feeling that he was, at that time, our last meeting in Paris, I never felt that he was in danger.
INT: When he went back to Moscow, how did you communicate with him? What were the methods by which you continued to get this intelligence take from?
JB: Well, there are several ways of communication with him. We communicated with him by way of radio, but more importantly, because he was doing a lot of Minox work with his little Minox camera, he gave some of them to Greville Wynne, the British businessman who used to come to Moscow for his own business purposes on several occasions, but there for a long period and probably too frequent a period, he was meeting with Janet Chisholm, the wife of... which is a mistake, I think, of an MI6 officer, because I would never have used the wife of a CIA officer to meet with him in a park as she did. But he met with her for about thirteen times over... a period of about thirteen weeks, I meant, one meeting a week and that I thought was too frequent. I tried to urge Shergold to cut down on the meetings, but I couldn't persuade him to do that. It's in a sense like being married and your wife has equal opportunity to sell this house, but you can't sell it without sell her signature and I couldn't get the meetings to slow down without Serge's signature.
INT: What was the volume of the intelligence take from him overall? I mean, is there a way you could put in terms of how many photographs or how much documents or whatever?
JB: Well, over the period of the two years we worked with Oleg, he provided us with a little over ten thousand pages of Minox photographs of secret and top secret documents. it's hard for me to quantify what he told us orally, 'cos some of them were so important that even one sentence might have been worth a thousand pages of secret information. But he gave us a lot of oral information, either in writing or orally at our meetings in London and Paris.
INT: Did you ever get an impression that the quality of his material was deteriorating, that he might be compromised, that maybe towards the end he was being used by the KGB to feed information to you? Did you ever worry... I know you worried about it in the abstract, but did you ever look at the stuff and say, this is not as good as the stuff we were getting from him before, maybe there's something wrong?
JB: We had people, even though I was a case officer on the American side, but we had people in CIA and MI6 who looked at his material to see if there were any changes in the quality, in the value of the information and at no point did they ever say, hey, this is going down in quality, watch out. It was extremely valuable all the way through.
INT: I want you to tell me about this message he gave you, the nuclear alert message. just tell me about it again, don't refer to the fact that you've said it already, because there are a couple of things I'd quite like you to cover in that. I mean just make it plain to us, you know, about... you'd obviously had a conversation with him some time before, in which you said, oh and listen, if there's ever going to be a real nuclear problem, you know, you can ring our bell, as it were, with this message. I mean, if I've understood right. I mean, you need to explain that to us and that he then in fact did take that step and try and explain - I know it's a bit of a problem, Joe - but string it together so that we realize what he was saying in that message and you said, I think, before, that in his position you might have done the same, it's a bit like Solomon bringing the temple down, isn't it, you know? I mean, it's an Armageddon, it's a terrible thing. Just explain to us this interesting bit of the history.
JB: Well, when we working communications with him, besides the human contacts and the radio contacts, we had to have special signals from him in the case that he couldn't meet with anybody, but could, by way of telephone, give us the signal and it wasn't until we learned later that after he was captured that a signal came through that the Soviets were sending missiles over or planned to send missiles to the United States to attack us. of course, none did, but in my own mind I knew - and there's no question about it in my own mind - that this was Oleg's way, that he'd told the KGB that that signal meant something else, that it might draw somebody else out of the embassy, but in his own mind he knew that if the United States knew that the Soviets were going to attack militarily that they, the United States, might take pre-emptive strike and send over American missiles into the Soviet Union and cause the destruction of the Soviet Union and his own life, presumably, since he knew he was going down.
INT: So this was, in effect, not actually for a nuclear war, he was actually saying, let's drop the big one on Moscow.
JB: That's it exactly, yeah. Did I make that clear?
JB: In our dealings with Penkovsky, communications was, of course very important, and besides the human dealings with him, by way of Greville Wynne and Janet Chisholm, and the radio transmissions to him, we had to have signals from him in the event he could not meet a human being or could not transmit to us in any other way something very, very important. And one of them was that the Soviets were planning to declare war on the United States and were ready to have a pre-emptive strike on the United States with missiles. Of course, there were no missiles, but that signal was given and in my own mind I am convinced that he gave the Soviets the wrong meaning for that particular signal, as if to say that if you give the signal, it'll bring out more Americans out of the embassy for a particular meeting or whatever purpose he told them, and in fact it was a desire on his part to destroy the Soviet Union since he was himself destroyed.
INT: I still don't think we're quite clear, I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. I mean, have another go at it. It is the sense that he presumably felt that he was doomed.
JB: He was doomed, yeah.
JB: Since Oleg was in the grasp of the KGB and he knew he was doomed and he knew darned well that he was doomed to be executed, because no man could do as much as he did for the West without being executed and he felt that he was going to get at Khrushchev and the rest of the Soviet bureaucracy. And so he clearly, in my mind, told the KGB that a particular signal meant something, probably like somebody in the embassy, the American Embassy, coming out and doing something or meeting with somebody or whatever. Whereas, in actual fact, it meant that it was a signal to us, to the American intelligence that the Soviets were going to attack us militarily and send over their missiles and since he knew he was doomed, he figured that he might as well take the Soviet Union down with him. Is that better?
INT: I think so. It's such a complicated story.
JB: Well, when Penkovsky was in the hands of the KGB, he knew he was doomed and he knew that he would be executed, that there'd be no such thing as life imprisonment, as there is in the United States. and so he gave the Soviets a particular signal that we had given him, but he misled the KGB, as if that particular signal meant that somebody else in the embassy would be involved in a particular activity or would come out for a meeting and the KGB could then grab that American. Whereas, in fact, what it meant was that... the signal was that the Soviets attack the United States with missiles and he expected... it was his intention that the United States would then respond and maybe preemptively strike first and hit Moscow and the rest of the Soviet cities in the Soviet Union with American missiles and destroy the Communist government for good.
INT: Tell me when you knew he was caught. I'm really curious to know this. How did you know that this had gone wrong, that he was actually...?
JB: Well, we knew that the case was over when our man... see we'd gotten a signal from Penkovsky that a dead drop was loaded and then we sent Dick Jacobs to service that dead drop he was arrested and as soon as that happened, we knew the case was over, it was dead and that Penkovsky was in the hands of the KGB. Punkt!
INT: What did you figure, what did you know that that would mean for him? I mean, I'm talking about this process of interrogation and did you fear for torture, did you think there'd be a trial? I mean...
JB: Well, knowing the KGB, we knew that he was in for many, many hours, days and weeks of interrogation and hard interrogation, very hard interrogation. And if you were to look at his figure... his face during the course of the trial, you'd know he'd been through hell. And he probably figured he might as well tell 'em most everything, most everything, not everything, but most everything. He kept the identities of his old case officers secret and when the Soviets published a book on the Penkovsky case and the trial, they couldn't identify the four case officers, 'cos he figured we might possibly save his life and I tried to save his life. I tried to keep him from being executed. I prepared a plan, with letters to go to the four KGB residencies in Paris, London, Rome and Denmark, and four GRU residencies in four other cities, telling the Soviets that we had information that if they executed Penkovsky we would embarrass the hell out of the KGB and the hell out of the Soviet Union. And there was no danger in that plan, but the lack of gutlessness in the CIA, they wouldn't let me go through with that plan. And I've never forgiven some of those people, higher ups, whose names you know. 'Cos there's no loss, nothing to be lost. And we could have possibly saved his life.
INT: So the basic thing that he kept your identity under all that pressure, he kept your identity.
JB: Oh, we were the only Americans and British he knew. Sure he would.
INT: Why do you think that there was not a bid made to save him? I mean, he must have worried about this... I mean...
JB: The only... all right. I had a plan. I've told you about this plan. OK. I wrote this plan on several pieces of paper, with photographs to convince the Soviets that we were indeed legitimate. And I sent that plan to chief of SR division, who would normally take it up Dick Helms. That memorandum arrived back on my desk a week later with no signatures or initials on it, as if it had never left my office. Then I talked to Jim Angleton about this plan and his stupid remark, response to me, was, we in CIA never directly converse with the KGB, [inaudible] but cannot be. As much as that man did for us, for the United States and the western world, the UK and everybody else, and the billions of dollars worth of information he gave us, of course it's worth... even if there was some risk, but there was absolutely no risk, the only risk was to have some kid take the memo to the Soviet Embassy and give to the guard, that was the only danger.