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on 17 March 2005
In the words of Victor Cherkashin, "Aldrich Ames (CIA) was worth every penny of the $2.7 million he was paid." Moreover, Ames was indeed the "deadliest" KGB spy because he unmasked the CIA's intelligence network in the Soviet Union. However, Robert Hanssen (FBI) "was much more important (to the KGB) because he allowed the KGB to penetrate U.S. intelligence to such a degree that the KGB came to regard him as the greatest asset, surpassing Aldrich Ames," according to the author. Ironically, both Americans were "walk-ins," and were never actively recruited to betray the United States.
"Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer," by Victor Cherkashin is an outstanding narrative of how former CIA agent Ames and how former FBI agent Hanssen gave the KGB the "mother lode" of information on the United States intelligence efforts against the former Soviet Union. To America, Ames and Hanssen were monsters...but the author demonstrates how in the eyes of the KGB both men were heroes. Interestingly enough, Ames declares he cooperated with the KGB because, "he worked for an agency that deliberately overestimated Soviet Union capabilities to wrangle more money for its own operations." Hanssen basically cooperated with the KGB because he loved the danger of it and truly thought he was much too smart to get caught.
This book covers much territory. The author reports the unmasking of Soviet spies Ronald Pelton, the NSA cryptologist, former Navy sailor John Walker, and CIA drop-out Edward Lee Howard. Cherkashin makes mention of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard but only in his description of 1985 as the "year of the spy." In conclusion, the author does an excellent job of describing how a series of lucky breaks dramatically altered the landscape of U.S. - Soviet espionage. He also does a professional job of explaining the Soviet spy strategy of observation, orientation, decision and action. Highly recommended.
Bert Ruiz
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on 29 September 2013
The subject is interesting. Too bad the author and co-author did a not so good in telling the story for an interested laymen, i.e. someone without prior knowledge of all the persons (of which there are plenty) and their relations towards each other, that is presented in the story.
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on 25 October 2008
I found this to be a very credible account of a wise cold war warrior
- speaking of his former job and former adversaries he maintains very mature attitude of understanding and respect as opposed to the bitterness and vulgarity towards the west evident in Putin, who at the time of leaving KGB in early 90s was in a much less senior position than Cherkashin.
- when speaking of his own entity- KGB, Cherkashin picks up on themes that were veru true to the state and the 'state within the state'- e.g. immense pressure from the system on its even most privileged citizens as well as lack of trust in people.
- his credibility is enhanced by modest portrayal of his own role in recruting the top moles. He stresses that the the effective traitors approached KGB themselves and managed the entity much more than were managed by it.
- unlike the book by Litvinenko that I commented on (see my other reviews, this books reads well
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on 27 April 2009
The world of spies shown in this well-written memoir is no more, at least not in so accentuated a fashion. The need now (for the USA and Russia) is for intelligence on other enemies, particularly people like radical Islamists. These people are a lot more difficult to infiltrate. The old-style intelligence officer using diplomatic cover is a bit sidelined in this game, though having said that, it may be that the "walk-in" agents who are usually the most productive and who have best access (like Ames and Hanssen) will be the only ones easily recruited from within Islamic terrorist groupings. It is hard to imagine the typical CIA or SIS (or SVR!) intelligence officer meeting and cultivating a potential Al Qaeda agent at a diplomatic cocktail party lol!

The author is and remains loyal to the memory of his organization (KGB, now defunct in that form) and to Sovietism. His reminiscences not only of Ames but of Hanssen and others are very interesting and include a lot of detail in respect of the handling of those most useful spies. Although the author's emotions are under control at all times, it seems, he does make a few strongly implied or even expressed criticisms, of Gorbachev's useless rule ("a typical Soviet bureaucrat" -- YES!) and of the inhuman and degrading conditions under which Hanssen is now imprisoned in the USA: in a "Supermax" prison, in an underground cell, in solitary confinement, not permitted visitors or even reading material...how cruel and inhuman has America become? Even Stalin did not go that far...

Recommended for those interested in the espionage side of the Cold War.
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on 22 July 2009
If you lived through all the fuss and hoo-ha of the Cold war and want to know what was going on behind the scenes, this is the book. Cherkashin was at the very top of the KGB and his insights are gripping. On the surface, Spy Handler is a quick read, but pause to think as you do so and your own real world experiences of the time suddenly attain a new perspective. Well written, well translated and consistently eye-opening. Great stuff.
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on 29 September 2015
Great read
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on 6 November 2013
Interesting but can it be believed. Is it trying to add some disinformation of its own? Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with this as to who still has spy's in each others services.
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on 7 March 2009
Reading about Russian moles in CIA and FBI directly from a KGB agent was a terrific experience. The page where Viktor Cherkashin asks "Are you Aldrich Ames?" gave me a chill down my spine. His description of communist ideology, Russian KGB politics and handling of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen was terrific. It is a worthy buy and an interesting read.
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on 17 February 2015
spying its one big game sometimes deadly
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