A KGB officer working under diplomatic cover at the Soviet embassy in Helsinki, Golitsyn defected to the Central Intelligence Agency in December 1961 and proved to be one of the most influential defectors of the Cold War. As well as identifying several Soviet spies active in the West—including Hugh Hambleton, Georges Pacques, and Elsie Mai, a Finn inside the local British consulate—and extensive penetration of the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE) in France with a spy ring code-named SAPPHIRE, he also revealed the existence of a sophisticated disinformation scheme intended to mislead the West about the Kremlin’s long-term objectives. His interpretation of Moscow’s Machiavellian strategy was articulated in his book New Lies For Old, and Leon Uris based his novel Topaz on Golitsyn’s revelations of the SAPPHIRE network. Under the sponsorship of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff, he was resettled in Florida and encouraged to visit Allied security and intelligence agencies to advise on countermeasures.
Golitsyn was to become controversial because the adherents of his theories, including James Angleton, gave him unprecedented access to operational files in a search for moles, and the subsequent investigations disadvantaged the careers of several intelligence professionals, including Peter Karlow, David Murphy, and Alexander Sogolow, who came under suspicion. Golitsyn also propagated the idea that the KGB would dispatch false defectors to discredit him, and acceptance of this led to the lengthy interrogation of Yuri Nosenko in 1964, although the only evidence to suggest the KGB ever adopted such a risky tactic was the example of PROLOGUE.
After his daughter died in 1974, Golitsyn contemplated suicide, but then pursued his theories with even greater vigor. He denounced Courtney Young and Guy Liddell of MI5 and Harold Shergold of the Secret Intelligence Service as Soviet moles and claimed that Oleg Penkovsky had been a skillful KGB manipulation from the outset.
He also identified Isaiah Berlin, Sir Rudolf Peierls, and Victor Rothschild as British VENONA spies and named Averell Harriman and the veteran CIA case officer George Kisevalter as long-term KGB agents.
Furthermore, he named the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire’s deputy chief as a spy, code-named GARMASH, and insisted Dmitri Polyakov (TOP HAT) and Aleksei Kulak (FEDORA) had been deliberately planted on the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Originally from the Ukraine, Golitsyn had met Josef Stalin and Georgi Malenkov in 1952 when he was a 26-year-old lieutenant and had undergone a political transformation when Nikita Khrushchev exposed Stalin’s crimes in February 1956. Two years later, after a spell in a counterintelligence section dealing with the United States, he participated in the abduction in Vienna of Tremmel, the leader of an émigré organization, and in 1960 was posted to Helsinki, whence he eventually defected.