A thin, balding, and reclusive middle-aged Russian by the name of Rudolf Ivanovich Abel was one of the Soviet Union’s most renowned spies during the Cold War of the 1950s…until his cover was blown by an incompetent colleague who wanted to defect to the United States. This is the full account of Abel’s espionage work, his dramatic apprehension, his eventual conviction and its affirmation by the United States Supreme Court, and finally, his surprising release back to Russia.
Rudolf Ivanovich Abel ran KGB operations in the United States for nine years during the Cold War of the 1950s, until one day his true identity was revealed by a lazy, hard-drinking, womanizing colleague who decided to defect to the United States before he was sent back to Russia—and presumably his death—for incompetence in the field.
As the authorities hunted down Abel, the FBI had in hand his tools of trade—hollowed-out bolts and coins used to send tiny coded messages and photographs back and forth to the Soviet Union—but little else in the way of hard leads. After Abel was located, his modest hotel in Manhattan was staked out by the FBI for over a month before he was eventually arrested and tried for espionage.
After his conviction, Abel appealed his case to the Second Court of Appeals, where he argued that the search and seizure of his hotel room was unconstitutional because they were made without a warrant. His conviction was affirmed, and the case proceeded to the Supreme Court, which was sharply divided.
The cliffhanger facing Abel for the next several years was whether he would face the electric chair, remain in prison for the rest of his life, or be exchanged for an American spy held by the Russians. His fate remained in the balance.
Lawyer Kuhne (Business Bribes) delivers a no-thrills account of Rudolf Abel's espionage activities in America from 1948 to his arrest in 1957. A colonel in the KGB, Abel was "a perfectionist" who came to the U.S. "to revitalize the network of atomic spies... whose productivity had been thwarted by postwar security enhancements." He "undoubtedly traveled to Santa Fe" with knowledge about the Manhattan Project, according to Kuhne, and sent one of his co-conspirators, Reino Häyhänen, on a mission to locate a U.S. Army mechanic attached to the embassy in Moscow who had been recruited by Soviet intelligence before returning to the States. Abel was eventually betrayed by Häyhänen, who had been recalled to Moscow for doing shoddy work and feared for his life. Though FBI agents found a plethora of spy equipment in Abel's possession—including a cipher pad for cryptography and fake birth certificates—he refused to discuss his espionage activities. Sentenced to 30 years in prison, he served less than five before he was exchanged for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1962. Unfortunately, Kuhne saps the story of drama by quoting trial transcripts and FBI reports verbatim and relegating the prisoner exchange to the epilogue. Readers will be disappointed.