A senior KGB counterintelligence officer, Colonel Yurchenko had been attached to the KGB’s Washington,
D.C., rezidentura, and defected to the Central Intelligence Agency in July 1985 to escape from poverty and an unhappy marriage by requesting political asylum in Rome while on a mission to find Vladimir Alexandrov, a Soviet nuclear physicist who was missing. Yurchenko was flown to a CIA safe house in Vienna, Virginia, for a lengthy debriefing and there disclosed fabulous information, including evidence to identify a former CIA officer, Edward Lee Howard, and a former National Security Agency analyst, Ronald Pelton, as spies for the KGB. He was also able to clear up dozens of loose ends on other counterintelligence cases and reveal the KGB’s latest trade craft, including the deliberate brushing of CIA personnel in Moscow with a radioactive spy dust to enable their movements to be monitored. Unusually, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey
met Yurchenko several times during his debriefings, entertaining him to dinner twice, and was quite unable to resist spreading the good news of the CIA’s impressive coup. Yurchenko was also alarmed when he was told that he might be obliged to appear as a witness in an action brought against the U.S. government by Ewa Shadrin, the widow of the naval defector Nikolai Artamonov. The rather unpersonable Yurchenko, who had been promised total discretion, was understandably dismayed by the leaks and disappointed by his treatment by his CIA Security Division handlers who had failed to show him the respect he felt he deserved, and he redefected to the Soviet embassy in Washington on 31 October 1985 and called a press conference four days later to complain that he had been abducted by the CIA and drugged.
The postmortem conducted by the CIAsuggested that Yurchenko’s considerable personal problems had not been properly appreciated when he approached the Rome station, as they most probably would have been if he had been recruited and run for a period before he simply turned up unexpectedly demanding political asylum and resettlement. The heavy-drinking counterintelligence expert had an exaggerated view of what was in store for him in the United States and was bitterly disappointed when he was rejected by his former girlfriend, Dr. Valentina Yereskovsky, a beautiful blonde pediatrician and the wife of the Soviet consul general in Montreal. The CIAconcluded that it was highly likely that Aldrich Ames, who had been part of his debriefing team, had tipped off the KGB to Yurchenko’s continuing interest in the woman with whom he had previously conducted a lengthy and passionate affair and in whom he remained besotted. Accordingly, when Yurchenko unexpectedly turned up on the doorstep of her apartment in Canada, she had almost certainly been warned to throw him out, which is precisely what she did, protesting that she had no intention of defecting with her two daughters.
Yurchenko’s ludicrous claim to have been abducted and drugged was highly reminiscent of the assertions made by the journalist Oleg Bitov, who had gone unpunished after he abandoned his recent defection to England. Doubtless Yurchenko had calculated that the prospect of major political embarrassment would persuade the KGB to pretend that his feeble excuse had been accepted. This reckoning proved to be correct, for Yurchenko was never prosecuted and was allowed to live out the rest of his KGB career before falling on hard times and becoming a bank guard in Moscow.