|Martha Peterson on her|
1975 Russian driver license
Martha Peterson, née Denny, met her first husband John Peterson at Drew University and married him in 1969. John enlisted as Green Beret to serve in Vietnam and was later hired by the Central Intelligence Service for covert operations in Laos. In 1971, Martha and John travelled to Laos. John was killed one year later in a helicopter crash during a mission Laos.
In 1972, the CIA recruited Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a Soviet diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Bogota, Colombia. They gave him the codename TRIGON. Ogorodnik provided the CIA with communications between Soviet ambassadors in South America, giving the CIA an insight in Soviet foreign politics. In 1974 he was recalled to Moscow to work at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His new job provided him access to communications and reports of Soviet ambassadors from all over the world. The CIA struck gold.
Martha Peterson returned to the Washington after her husbands death and applied for a job at the CIA. She was hired as CIA operations officer and agreed to be sent to Moscow. She received operational training and took a Russian language course. Peterson arrived in Moscow in November 1975. At the age of 30 she became the first ever female CIA officer to be stationed in Moscow and was now responsible for the exchange of communications and spy items with TRIGON.
Peterson had an important advantage over here male CIA colleagues. The Soviet Intelligence Service did not believe that an American female would be a CIA officer and assumed that she was a low level clerk. Peterson was therefore never under surveillance and, in contrary to other CIA officers, could travel around Moscow without being followed.
Peterson never met TRIGON in person. He delivered photographed documents and messages through pre-arranged dead drops, mostly in parks. After extensive counter-surveillance runs she collected the content of the dead drop a short time later, at the same time supplying him with a new pen-camera with film, instructions and one-time pad duplicates through that same dead drop which he in turn collected some time later. TRIGON could use the one-time pads to decrypt messages that he received trough numbers station broadcasts from West Germany. During such operations she always wore an SRR-100 surveillance receiver to intercept KGB surveillance communications.
In early 1977, the CIA started worrying about the quality of the material that TRIGON provided and grew concerned about his security. Eventually, on June 26, TRIGON failed to retrieve a dead drop and there was no more communications. TRIGON neither showed up after a numbers station broadcast, instructing him to meet at a pre-arranged location on July 14.
In the evening of July 15, after the usual extensive counter-surveillance runs, Peterson arrived at the Krasnoluzhskiy railroad bridge over the Moscow river, near Lenin Central Stadium. At 2230 hours she placed a dead drop package, concealed as a piece of asphalt, in the window of one of the bridge’s towers.
As soon as she walked out of the tower she was grabbed by three men who immediately strip-searched her, took photos and put her in a van that drove straight to Lubyanka prison in KGB headquarters. She was interrogated while all items from the dead drop package and her SRR-100 receiver were displayed in front of her.
|KGB photo of Martha Peterson's arrested at the Krasnoluzhskiy bridge|
|The displayed items of the dead drop and the SRR-100 receiver|
The U.S. embassy officer was summoned to Lubyanka prison to explain who she was and what she was doing. Having a diplomatic status, Peterson was released, returned to the U.S. embassy and flown to the United States the next day. She was declared persona non grata and never returned to Russia again.
|Martha Peterson during the interegation at Lubyanka prison|
The fate of Aleksandr Ogorodnik was unknown for some time, until the Soviets released a movie called TASS Is Authorized to Declare. Its script was almost a copy of TRIGON’s story. In that movie, the spy committed suicide during interrogation with a pill from his pen. KGB accounts later confirmed that Ogorodnik was arrested a month before Peterson got caught. He offered to write a confession, took the special pen and quickly used the L-pill.
However, even today accounts vary on what happened to Ogorodnik and some even believe that he was actually killed by the KGB but we will probably never know the real story. According to the CIAit was Karl Koecher, an agent of the Czechoslovak intelligence service StB that infiltrated the CIA as translator and analyst, who betrayed TRIGON to the Soviets.
The Soviets later on published the story in the Izvestia newspaper and heavily publicised the spy case that also ended up in U.S. press. Martha Peterson continued working CIA officer, married her second husband Joseph Shogi in 1978 and retired in 2003 after a 32 years in the Agency.
More about Martha Peterson at her website Widow Spy, which is also the title of the book she wrote about her CIA career and the TRIGON case. An account of Peterson's arrest is found at the The Espionage History Archive which also has a piece on the death of Aleksandr Ogorodnik. The CIA published a short Featured Story on TRIGON. CNN tells how she revealed her secret spy life to her kids, including several images of her early days. Numbers-station.com published TRIGON Numbers Station. On my website there's more information on number stations and the use of one-time pads.
But who can explain everything better than Martha Peterson herself. The Spy Museum published the podcast Caught by the KGB where she tells about how she was captured by the KGB. Below her fascinating account (direct link) of her time in Moscow as case officer with many details on TRIGON. Highly recommended!