July 01, 2010

The Spy Who Was Abel

on february 10, 1962, two spies walked past each other on Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, not meeting one another’s gaze. They were pawns being exchanged on the Cold War chessboard.

Walking west was the famous U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who, on May 1, 1960, had been shot down over the Soviet Union while on a reconnaissance flight from Peshawar, Pakistan to Bodo, Norway. Powers had pled guilty to espionage and been sentenced to ten years in a Soviet prison. But the man walking east remained largely a mystery to American authorities, despite months of investigation and five years in prison. At the time of his arrest, he identified himself as Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, yet he had used documents in the names of Emil R. Goldfus, Martin Collins, and Andrew Kaoytis, while his informants and subordinates referred to him simply as Mark.

Even after he returned to his own country, where he received numerous regalia and was proclaimed one of the Soviet Union’s most famous “illegals,” he had a hard time keeping his own name. Soviet authorities wanted him to go down in history as Abel – the name of a longtime friend. But, at home in Moscow, as his daughter Evelina (who died subsequent to this interview) told Nikolai Dolgopolov, he was William Fisher:

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