Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Good Shepherd: CIA Secrets or Hollywood Sizzle?

Defection of Valentin Mironov

Robert De Niro as William "Wild Bill" Sullivan
Robert De Niro as William "Wild Bill" Sullivan

*Defection of Valentin Mironov. After the war ends, Wilson returns home and is drafted by William "Wild Bill" Sullivan (Robert De Niro) to help found the CIA. One of his first cases involves Valentin Mironov (John Sessions) a Soviet KGB defector. Wilson accepts Mironov's bona fides, even when a second KGB defector appears and claims that the first is a fraud. Both insist that they are the real Valentin Mironov (the second character in the film is played by Mark Ivanir.) Wilson must decide who is lying and who is the real defector. Wilson sticks with the first defector and coldly watches as the second is beaten and tortured in an attempt to force a confession. When those tactics don't work, he is given a dose of LSD and during a psychedelic trip flings himself out the window of a hotel, falling to his death. Later in the movie, Wilson learns that he backed the wrong man. The Valentin, who he has steadfastly supported, is actually a KGB mole and the long dead second defector was legitimate. 

Anatoli Golitsin
Anatoli Golitsin

FACT: Screenwriter Roth has blended three actual events into his script. A few days before Christmas in 1961, Anatoli Mikhaylovich Golitsin, a high-level KGB officer defected to the US via Helsinki. When he was interviewed, Golitsin identified a number of Soviet agents working in the West. He also fed Angleton's growing paranoia by revealing that the KGB had successfully planted a mole inside the CIA whose name began with the letter "K." Golitsin warned Angleton that the KGB would attempt to discredit him by sending a fake defector to the West who would challenge the truthfulness of Goltisin's stories.

Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko
Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko

Sure enough, in June 1962, Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko, a KGB officer defected out of Geneva and immediately made two sensational claims. Nosenko said he had important information about Lee Harvey Oswald's role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Oswald lived in the Soviet Union briefly) and he claimed Golitsin was not a genuine defector, but was a double agent.

In his book, Molehunt: The Secret Search For Traitors that Shattered the CIA, author David Wise describes how Angleton became absolutely convinced that Golitsin was a genuine defector and Nosenko was a liar. Because of suspicions about Nosenko, the head of the CIA's Soviet Russian Division had the Soviet held for nearly three years in a windowless room, with only a bed, chair and washbasin, in a house a few miles from downtown Washington. Nosenko was issued only military fatigues and was forced to submit to unrelenting interrogation. When that endless questioning didn't cause him to change his story, the agency experimented with disorientation techniques, such as gradually setting watches back and manipulating lighting conditions, to convince him it was day when it was really night. The CIA stepped up the pressure by leaving a light burning in his cell, turning off the heat, giving him nothing to read and ordering his guards not to speak to him. But Nosenko didn't crack. Eventually, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director Richard Helms  believed Nosenko, but Angleton never did. The CIA apologized to him and he was paid a lump sun of $150,000 and hired as an advisor for $35,000 per year.

CIA Director Richard Helms
CIA Director Richard Helms

Roth said that he and DeNiro were able to visit Golitsin at his home during a visit arranged by Milton Bearden, a former CIA officer who was paid to be an advisor to the movie. They did not meet Nosenko, who also lives in the US.

Book cover: The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate'
Book Cover: The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate'

Nosenko was never given LSD. The LSD scene came from a completely different episode in CIA history unrelated to Angleton. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the CIA gave mind-altering drugs to hundreds of unsuspecting Americans in an effort to determine if a person's mind could be controlled. Many of the human guinea pigs were mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes. The program was run by Sidney Gottlieb and the definitive book about the experiments is The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate' written by John Marks. On Nov. 18, 1953, a civilian researcher who worked for the Army, was secretly slipped LSD by the CIA while he was attending a conference in New York City. Frank R. Olson became withdrawn and either "jumped or fell" to his death from the 10th floor of a New York hotel. His widow and children were not told that he had been given LSD until 1975 when an oversight commission made the CIA's secret drug program public.

The mystery about Golitsin and Nosenko has never been fully resolved. Golitsin was not unmasked and deported, as suggested in the movie. Angleton's belief of Golitsin — that a mole with the initial "K" was lurking at CIA headquarters — led to him ruining the career of Peter Karlow, an innocent employee. Karlow spent 26 years trying to clear his name and finally succeeded when he was awarded a medal and paid close to $500,000 under a special act of Congress, jokingly called the "Mole Relief Act" inside the agency.

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