The best real espionage stories from the perspective of an ex undercover KGB agent

Who am I?

I am one of ten undercover illegal agents the Soviet Union sent to the United States during the height of the Cold War. We were admired and lionized as the elite of the elite. I spent altogether 10 years spying for the KGB in the US before cutting my ties to the espionage world for personal reasons. When the FBI introduced themselves nine years later, I had become what the KGB wanted me to become, a true blue American, and that is who I am today.  

I wrote...

Book cover of Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America

What is my book about?

This is the story of my life.

It starts out with a flaming young communist who wants to change the world. He becomes an elite agent for the KBG and goes undercover in the USA. We follow many twists and turns in the agent’s path until the final life-changing moment. It is the power of love, the love for an 18-month old child that makes a human out of the communist playboy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Why did I love this book?

This is the most brilliant nonfiction spy book I have ever read. 

It is a juxtaposition of oxymoronic proportion: CIA agent Aldrich Ames, who became a KGB mole and betrayed his country for money, and KGB agent Oleg Gordievsky who became disillusioned with the Soviet regime and risked his life by working closely with MI6, in the process very likely preventing the outbreak of a nuclear war.

Where both spies crossed paths without knowing it when Ames betrayed Gordievsky, who was recalled to Moscow. He barely escaped death and prison but was closely watched. The story of his escape from the USSR is better than any scene in a James Bond movie. This is a page-turner.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Spy and the Traitor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The celebrated author of Double Cross and Rogue Heroes returns with a thrilling Americans-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the end of the Cold War.

“The best true spy story I have ever read.”—JOHN LE CARRÉ

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Economist • Shortlisted for the Bailie Giffords Prize in Nonfiction

If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the…

Book cover of Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away

Why did I love this book?

This is a book about George Koval, the most successful KGB sleeper in the United States. 

George was born in the United States to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Russia in 1910. George and his family returned to the USSR where George became infatuated with communism. He was recruited by the GRU (military intelligence) and re-injected into the US. 

As a born US citizen, he got clearance for the Manhattan Project. The atomic secrets he sent to the USSR allowed that country to accelerate the development of the nuclear bomb and become a superpower.  Koval was able to flee the US before being caught. 

This story really spoke to me because I operated for 10 years as an illegal for the KGB in America. 

By Ann Hagedorn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sleeper Agent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The dramatic and chilling story of an American-born Soviet spy in the atom bomb project in World War II, perfect for fans of The Americans.

George Koval was born in Iowa. In 1932, his parents, Russian Jews who had emigrated because of anti-Semitism, decided to return home to live out their socialist ideals. George, who was as committed to socialism as they were, went with them. It was there that he was recruited by the Soviet Army as a spy and returned to the US in 1940. A gifted science student, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he knew scientists…

Breaking Cover

By Michele Rigby Assad,

Book cover of Breaking Cover

Why did I love this book?

Michelle fell in love with Joseph Assad, who was born and raised in Egypt, as a teenager. At the time she graduated with a master’s degree in contemporary Arabic studies, Joseph was already a member of the CIA. The two got married, and Michelle joined the CIA.

They were deployed as a couple of undercover agents in Iraq during the 8-year Iraq war. Michelle describes her entire time in the CIA, from training to highly dangerous operations, in vivid detail. As a white woman in an Islamic country, she literally had a target on her back. The couple got out of many dicey situations, but the most breathtaking section of the book deals with a rescue mission to save several hundred Christians from a war-torn zone.

Disclosure: Michell is a good friend of mine.

By Michele Rigby Assad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breaking Cover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A real-life, can’t-put-down spy memoir.
The CIA is looking for walking contradictions. Recruiters seek out potential agents who can keep a secret yet pull classified information out of others; who love their country but are willing to leave it behind for dangerous places; who live double lives, but can be trusted with some of the nation’s most highly sensitive tasks.

Michele Rigby Assad was one of those people.

As a CIA agent and a counterterrorism expert, Michele soon found that working undercover was an all-encompassing job. The threats were real; the assignments perilous. Michele spent over a decade in the…

Book cover of Man Without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism's Greatest Spymaster

Why did I love this book?

Markus Wolf is generally considered the greatest Spy Master of the Cold War. 

He was in charge of intelligence for the Stasi (East German Intelligence Service), which was focused primarily on the enemy on the other side of the Berlin Wall. The Stasi was incredibly successful, having placed up to 1,000 East German agents into high places in the German government. 

This is a tale of espionage devised and executed by the best. Wolf was the inspiration for the famous “Karla” character in John Le Carree’s novels

By Markus Wolf, Anne McElvoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Man Without a Face as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For decades, Markus Wolf was known to Western intelligence officers only as "the man without a face." Now the legendary spymaster has emerged from the shadows to reveal his remarkable life of secrets, lies, and betrayals as head of the world's most formidable and effective foreign service ever. Wolf was undoubtedly the greatest spymaster of our century. A shadowy Cold War legend who kept his own past locked up as tightly as the state secrets with which he was entrusted, Wolf finally broke his silence in 1997. Man Without a Face is the result. It details all of Wolf's major…

Book cover of Operation Whisper: The Capture of Soviet Spies Morris and Lona Cohen

Why did I love this book?

This book is a detailed description of the MI5 investigation of an undercover KGB couple by the names of Peter and Helen Kroger. In reality, they were American citizens named Morris and Lona Cohen. 

They were important members of the Rosenberg spy ring that stole the atomic secret. They fled the country just in time to escape execution. In 1954 they were redeployed to the UK to gather information concerning the nuclear submarine research done by the UK Navy off the isle of Portland. 

This book gives the reader insights into the complex police work needed to unmask deep-cover agents. After 8 years in jail, the Cohens were released and spent the remainder of their life in Moscow. They were part of the team that prepared me for my mission as a deep cover agent.

By Barnes Carr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Operation Whisper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Morris and Lona Cohen, an ordinary-seeming couple living on a teacher's salary in a nondescript building on the East Side of New York City. On a hot afternoon in the autumn of 1950, a trusted colleague knocked at their door, held up a finger for silence, then began scribbling a note: Go now. Leave the lights on, walk out, don't look back. Born and raised in the Bronx and recruited to play football at Mississippi State, Morris Cohen fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and with the U.S. Army in World War II. He and his…

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