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TRIGON Numbers Station: The Case of Alexandr Ogorodnik

by: Māris Goldmanis

Alexandr Ogorodnik or Trigon or Trianon

Alexandr Ogorodnik or Trigon or Trianon

On 1984 when relations between US and USSR were at their coldest, Soviet television demonstrated a 10 series spy thriller TASS Is Authorized to Declare… (ТАСС уполномочен заявить) it was a highly sophisticated spy movie that showed the struggle between KGB counterintelligence and CIA. The script was based on novel of the same name by Yulian Semyonov the author of the eponymous spy novel Seventeen Moments of Spring that also made in very popular TV series. One of the main characters were portrayed by Vyacheslav Tikhonov who was the star of the Seventeen Moments of Spring. Seventeen Moments of Spring featured Soviet spy in the highest ranks of Nazi Germany. TASS Is Authorized to Declare features high rank CIA spy inside Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both stories had some historical relevance to the real life events. Also both movies featured the use of numbers stations – in intelligence community understood as coded communications over the shortwave radio. While there is many speculation on what historical personality the Maxim Isaev or SS-Standartenführer Max Otto von Stierlitz is based there is no speculation who was portrayed in TASS is Authorized to Declare. The CIA spy codnamed Trianon (Трианон) who supplies information to CIA about Soviet foreign policy in fictional African country Nagonia, is based on TRIGON or Alexandr Ogorodnik. He was one of the successful CIA agents who worked in Soviet Ministry of Foreign affairs and supplied Americans with valuable information. And as movie showed he indeed was using coded numbers transmissions sent from German Federal Republic. The story of Alexandr Ogorodnik is a tragic story of initial success and grand failure resulting the death of the agent. The story also still leaves many un-answered questions about many details and fate of the agent Trigon. What is known that his case is one of the most known use of CIA numbers station.

Alexsandr Ogorodnik was born in July 22 1939 in a family of high rank Soviet naval officer. Following his father’s steps he received primary education in Sevastopol nakhimovian school (Pavel Nakhimov was famous Tsarist Naval officer) and then went to Leningrad naval war school as cadet, however his poor eyesight failed him and he could not serve in the navy. He then struggled to earn money by working in typography, but his goal was to study in the Institute of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. For a son of a second rank captain with no apartment in Moscow and no backing from party members this seemed an impossible task, but somehow Ogorodnik was accepted into highly prestigious institute. There he mastered the Spanish language, married Aleksandre Arutinjan from the institute. Some Russian authors point that during this time he was involved with KGB and had alias Dmitriyev. Because he was studying in institute for international affairs he was as other students likely under KGB watch as possible work in Foreign Ministry, especially abroad included many dangers for the soviet citzen – defection or recruitment by foreign agency.

And Ogorodnik got in that danger. After gaining PHD in economics and gaining job in Ministry of Foreign affairs he was dispatched to USSR Embassy in Bogota, Columbia 1970. There he served as second secretary  Ogorodnik was no ordinary Soviet citizen, he was prone to vices of the west, loved spending money, could afford his own car and most crucially got a local lover. The womanizer’s victim was staff workers wife Olga Serovo. His betrayal to her wife Alexandra was also contributed by hers failed plastic operation that made him look for more beautiful and intelligent women. His small time affairs and personal car caused him money problems. In the end he decided to secretly borrow and sell one of the cars of the Soviet embassy. He gained money, but his crime was uncovered and he was demanded to repay 800 dollars he gained from selling the embassies car.

This made him in to CIA watch list that was looking for corrupted soviet diplomat or KGB officer. Russian sources state that besides Olga Ogorodnik had affair with Spanish student in Columbian university who was Pilar Suares CIA agent and got pregnant from him. He was caught in photos and was intimidated by Columbian counter intelligence service and CIA. However, note that Ogorodnik never received medical confirmation about Suares pregnancy. American sources while they state that he had pregnant Columbian lover, nothing is said about her identity or whether her pregnancy is false.

American sources that Ogorodnik’s money and women issues were not only reasons for him agreeing to work with CIA. He had strong dislike for soviet system and was motivated to act against it. Then there is another version – Czechoslovak double agent in CIA Karl Koecher who was given high level security clearance and given the job of translating and analyzing documents handed over by CIA agents and transcripts of wiretaps and bugs. He got hold of the CIA plans to recruiting Ogorodnik and tried to hinder operation by writing reports that Ogorodnik is loyal to KGB and wont do such a thing and also reported to Moscow asking to remove Ogorodnik from Bogota. The catch in this theory was that chief of the Soviet counter intelligence was Oleg Kalugin who in late eighties became staunch KGB critic and democratic activist making many believe he was also a double agent. By this theory Ogorodnik considered he did not betray KGB as he was authorized by head of counterintelligence to act as double agent. Other sources counter these claims made by Koecher and state that while he gave information to Moscow about attempt of recruiting soviet diplomat he gave very basic information that did not help to stop the Ogorodnik from becoming CIA agent.

Ogorodnik was recruited in 1973 in Bogota and received spy training there. He received codename CKTRIGON (CK means soviet branch). CIA operative George Sax took the duty of training new recruit. Since Ogorodnik had no spy experience it was thought his training would go for months or even years. Instead he showed high capability and finished training in few weeks. One of his tasks was to learn to use T-100 spy camera that could photo copy up to 100 full-sized documents on a piece of film measuring 4mm wide by 15mm long. It was 3,8 cm long and 1 cm wide and could be masked as pen or lighter. Training took place in Hilton hotel in Bogota, and Ogorodnik also practiced in libraries. In the end Ogorodnik proved his worth and made photos of top secret documents in the Soviet embassy that turned out the be very valuable information. It was demonstrated to the Secretary of state Henry Kissinger who described as the most important intelligence information he ever read while being the head of the State Department.

Meanwhile Ogorodnik had all possibilities in mind so one his demands that cringed his masters was demand for the L-pill. Suicide tablets were rarely used by CIA. Washington denied this request, afterwards Ogorodnik made statement that either he gets the L-pill or he will not work at all. In the end CIA decided to give him the pill – hidden in the pen in common way as the T-100 camera.

On December 1974 his duty in Bogota was over and he was called back to Moscow. There he started working Ministry of Affairs in department of planning of international events. He still had access to secretive soviet documents. By this time Soviet counter intelligence came cross new radio channel coming from CIA radio center in Frankfurt, East Germany that sent numbers station messages to Ogorodnik. According to KGB the coded transmissions took place three times a week. Messages were always sent when Ogorodnik was at home away from duty.

Part of the One time pad used by agent Trigon

Part of the One time pad used by agent Trigon

In Moscow his master was Martha Peterson – first woman ever to serve in CIA station in Moscow. Her husband was army pilot who died in duty in Laos, after his death 1972 she joined CIA. KGB did not considered that a woman could work for CIA in secret mission so she was not under observation. Peterson’s main duty was dealing with dead drops regarding Ogorodnik and supply him with all the necessary tools – one time pads, radio schedule, photo equipment, money, valuables. In case if somebody else finds this dead drop by accident a note was added in Russian with warning: “Comrade! You have stumbled over secret not concerning you. Take the money and valuables. Drop other things in the river and forgot about it all. You have been warned!” This was done so the one who would find this dead drop by chance leaves it and do not report to KGB.

At first Ogordudnik did fine – he gave stable flows of documents, made arranged signals by parking his car at 19:00 to 19:15 near his mother’s house. At once the other station contact Fulton who was assigned to retrieve dead drop in forest noticed KGB observers and was almost caught. On 1976 CIA started notice serious issues. Ogorodnik did not made any contact on February and March. In April Peterson made her first dead drop mission and received the packet however Ogorodnik was not present. On July 21 Peterson brought him a very serious packet containing the L-Pill. It was hidden in pen.

At this time Ogorodnik made one of the darkest things in his time as spy. While this fact is never mentioned in US sources, most Russian sources state that his fiancé Olga Serovo was in suspicion of his spy actions and Ogorodnik feared she might report him. So either he was authorized, or did without it– he is accused of poisoning Olga and faking her death as lethal case of flu epidemic. After Olga’s death he soon made new lover from a family of high rank party member. The marriage was not rushed as Ogorodnik had to ease the situation caused by Olga’s death. Its speculated that his affair with this woman helped the suspicious low rank diplomat to gain the job in Ministry of Foreign affairs in first place.

KGB observed Ogorodnik, noted of him being home during numbers broadcasts was also aware he had brought in a foreign radio receiver from one of his trips as it was accounted in customs. He was followed and his dead drop sites were known. His apartment was secretly searched and codes and radio equipment was found.

It was January 29 1977 9pm when Peterson went for another dead drop and found nothing. Meanwhile CIA operative Fulton encountered stranger who was willing to lead him into provocation. Meanwhile Ogorodnik’s sent material started to appear in bad quality raising suspicions. Head of CIA station Gardner Hathaway ordered to send a shortwave message to Ogorodnik instructing him to leave small red dot on road sign “Careful! Children!” if he is ready for a new meeting with Peterson. On July 15 1977 Peterson went to the place and saw that red dot was strange. It looked like it was stenciled that would require time for an agent. She returned to the station and issued doubts about the signal. She asked for someone else to double check it. Hathaway refused and ordered to carry on.

Location of deadrop where Martha Peterson was arrested

Location of deadrop where Martha Peterson was arrested

It was 6 in the evening. Peterson went to a dead drop. She put on new clothes and hid the CIA radio receiver made for scanning KGB communications, concealed the antenna and placed cordless earbud hidden by her long hair. She made long route with various public transports to lose the tail and in the end made it near the Moscow sport stadium at Luzhniki and went on the rail bridge where dead drop was supposed to be hidden in bridge tower. The coded messages and photo camera was hidden in black asphalt piece. She placed the black asphalt on the ground. As she went down the stairs she saw three men running towards her. She had nowhere to run and she did not want to jump in the river. Shouting “Provocation!” to warn Ogorodnik if he was nearby she resisted the KGB captors with force and gave traumatic blow to one of the captors. In the end she was captured along with dead drop and transported to KGB headquarters the Lubyanka.  After long interrogation she was released, she went straight to CIA station and gave briefing and left Moscow for good on early morning of July 16.

Martha Peterson in KGB headquarters after being arrested

Martha Peterson in KGB headquarters after being arrested

Where was Trigon? CIA learned the terrible truth that Ogorodnik was dead a month before Peterson was arrested. He was caught in his home at 2.00 at night by KGB officers. He then requested to make written statement of his betrayal to the KGB. When they gave him the pen on his desk, while no one was watching he tore out the L-Pill and swallowed it. KGB officers in shock tried to save him, but he was dead in following minutes. That was stated in 2000 by KGB officer Igor Peretruhin who led the case on Ogorodnik. However, there are theories that Ogorodnik was killed by KGB and suicide was faked. The theory was contributed by the fact that during briefing to the KGB chief Yuri Andropov, he gave no dissatisfaction about the fact that Ogorodnik was not caught alive. The question about his death lays hidden in the KGB archives as the photographs from break in are classified.

Radio receiver for scanning KGB communications that Martha Peterson wore on her belt when was arrested

Radio receiver for scanning KGB communications that Martha Peterson wore on her belt when was arrested

During the break in KGB found that for some reason Ogorodnik did not destroyed the used pages of his one time pad. This allowed KGB to gain important facts about his mission. People in Moscow CIA station where in tears learning that TRIGON was dead. Martha Peterson only revealed her spy identity to her two children from the second marriage on 1997. She has written memoirs The Widow Spy and lives in US.

CIA equipment confiscated by KGB associated with the case

CIA equipment confiscated by KGB associated with the case

TRIGON or Alexandr Ogorodnik was one of the most successful CIA spies. There are many dark and unclear things stated about him in Russian sources that shadows his personality. Many of these claims are yet to be verified as the TRIGON’s case is still declassified both in Washington and Moscow. There is a possibility that Russian sources portrays Ogorodnik as immoral and corrupted as typical western agent can be as antitype to an loyal Soviet citizen.  What is clear that this was one of the most known CIA’s use of numbers stations. The pages of the one time pad that Ogorodnik used are published in book Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs. We will look more into known CIA cases in Soviet Union like Oleg Penkovsky and Adolf Tolkachev and their use of coded radio messages in their line of work in future.


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Вячеслав Kеворков. Трианон

«Кардиналы идут в ад» 3. Дороги, которые мы выбираем (окончание)

Олег Котов. О чем не был уполномочен заявить ТАСС

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Clip from TASS is Authorized to Declare showing the use of numbers station

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