"Comrade J" author Pete Earley knows his spies. Among the former Washington Post reporter's previous dozen books are "Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring," a best-seller about what is considered the most damaging spy ring in American history, and "Confessions of a Spy," for which he interviewed Aldrich Ames and his KGB handlers.
In "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War" Earley tells the true story of Sergei Tretyakov, the Russian spymaster who ran his country's post-Cold War espionage operation in New York City from 1995 to 2000 until he defected to the United States. Tretyakov, who personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations, was a double agent for the FBI from 1997 to 2000.
Now in hiding, he was a career KGB man who worked for Russia's SVR -- the successor to the old KGB -- under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. It was the widespread political corruption he saw in their administrations that led him to defect. Among the many secrets Tretyakov revealed to U.S. intelligence was that Strobe Talbott, the influential deputy secretary of state for President Clinton from 1994 to 2001 and now president of the Brookings Institution, was a valuable source of intelligence for the SVR.
I spoke to Earley on March 25 about Talbott and his book, which has received relatively little attention from the mainstream media.
Q: What is your book about?
A: Well, "Comrade J" is about the highest ranking Russian intelligence officer to defect after the end of the Cold War. In other words, Sergei Tretyakov worked for us. He defected in 2000 after working secretly for us for at least three years. He worked for the Yeltsin and Putin administrations, so he brings a completely different view from the old Cold War spy games.
He tells the story that before the end of the Cold War "we were told that our main adversary" - and that was the word that was used - "was the United States, and then NATO and then China. After the end of the Cold War" -- when Bush was looking into Putin's eyes and seeing his soul - "we were told that our main targets" - the change was from "adversary" to "target" - "were the United States, NATO and China." He put it simply by saying, "Who told you the Cold War was over?"
Q: You spent hundreds of hours interviewing Tretyakov. What did he tell you about 1990s espionage?