Cherkashin, Victor 1932–

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Cherkashin, Victor 1932–

(Victor Ivanovich Cherkashin)


Born 1932, in Krasnoe, Russia; son of an NKVD (Soviet secret police) officer. Education: Graduated from a railway engineering school, 1952.


Home—New York, NY.


KGB (Soviet intelligence agency), Russia, counterintelligence officer, 1953-91.


(With Gregory Feifer) Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Victor Cherkashin was a career officer with the Russian Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, better known as the KGB. A graduate of a railway engineering school in 1952, he first worked for the Ministry for State Security (MGB), a successor to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), where his father was an officer. The MGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) merged in 1953, and in 1954, the KGB took over the responsibilities of these predecessor agencies, at which point Cherkashin became a KGB officer.

Cherkashin wrote Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames with the assistance of journalist Gregory Feifer. As Cherkashin's career unfolds, he also provides insight beyond his own experiences into the world of the KGB. After being trained by the MGB, Cherkashin was assigned to the Second Chief Directorate of what was now the KGB in Moscow, where he began his career in counterintelligence (CI) against the British. In 1963 he was transferred to the First Chief Directorate, the external intelligence organization of the KGB, becoming a foreign CI officer. In addition to assignments in Moscow, he was posted to Australia, Lebanon, and India before being reassigned to the United States, and he served in Washington from 1979 to 1986.

John Ehrman, who reviewed the book for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Web site, wrote: "Washington was, by any standard, a remarkable tour for Cherkashin. He oversaw the recruitment of Ronald Pelton, a former NSA employee who volunteered in 1980 to spy for Moscow; the recruitment in 1985 and running of Rick Ames, the CIA turncoat; and the handling of Robert Hanssen, after the FBI agent resumed his espionage in 1986. In addition, Cherkashin identified a spy for the FBI at the KGB's Washington rezidentura, Valery Martynov, and, by assigning him as an escort for returning defector Vitaly Yurchenko, tricked Martynov into flying to Moscow, where he was arrested."

Ames and Hanssen were Cherkashin's biggest handling successes. Ames, who was the CIA's chief of Soviet counterintelligence, offered the KGB information about CIA operations in the Soviet Union for the sum of fifty thousand dollars. From that time in 1985 until he was caught in 1994, Ames was paid nearly three million dollars, and by that time, he had effectively dismantled a sophisticated spy network, impacting U.S. intelligence worldwide with his naming of more than twenty U.S. agents working inside the Soviet Union, ten of whom were executed by the Soviets. Also in 1985, FBI CI agent Hanssen volunteered to work for the KGB through a letter sent to Cherkashin. He was a spy for the Soviets until his arrest in 2001, during which time, according to Cherkashin, he supplied Moscow with "thousands of documents" and information "worth tens of billions of dollars."

Cherkashin writes of the role played by intelligence in diffusing the Cuban missile crisis. Russian spy Oleg Penkovsky had an affair with the wife of a British officer which led to his discovery by Cherkashin. Penkovsky was arrested in 1962, but by that time he had leaked the fact that Cuba was armed with tactical nuclear warheads that could be employed without authorization from Moscow. National Security Council member David Major said that the information delayed President John F. Kennedy's invasion of Cuba. Because Penkovsky prevented a nuclear exchange, Major and others have dubbed him "the spy who saved the world."

In reviewing the memoir on the Perspective Web site, the journal of the Boston University Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology, and Policy, Chandler Rosenberger wrote: "Victor Cherkashin isn't so sure. Even while under arrest in Moscow, Penkovsky had managed to signal to his British and American handlers that the Soviet Union was preparing a nuclear first strike. But in Spy Handler … Cherkashin argues that this bit of intelligence, far from staying Kennedy's hand, would have inflamed the situation. Fortunately, Cherkashin recalls, ‘Penkovsky's threat of a nuclear strike wasn't conveyed to Kennedy, relieving him of the pressure to react.’" Rosenberger continued: "Cherkashin praises the CIA for steering Kennedy away from information that they worried would force him to react. To Cherkashin, the heroes of the Cuban missile crisis were not the leaders on either side but rather their intelligence officers, who chose not to pass on information that they felt their bosses were not prepared to digest."

Cherkashin returned to KGB headquarters in Moscow in 1986, but his successes worked against him, and he received low-profile assignments. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he retired rather than be present for what he thought would soon be the end of the agency. Most of a long career that encompassed the Cold War and that had been primarily spent performing what he considered routine tasks was over. Ehrman noted that while Cherkashin "portrays himself as an honest, hardworking CI officer who tried to avoid bureaucratic politics, he freely admits to having been a true believer in communism and the Soviet system until the bitter end. Indeed, his reference to the communist party's ‘illustrious past’ and disparaging remarks about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the fate of Russia since the Soviet collapse make it clear that he still longs for the old days."

Cherkashin concludes his memoir by discussing the role of intelligence in the post-Cold War era, and he criticizes Boris Yeltsin and other post-Soviet leaders for attempting to dismantle the KGB. He comments on what he considers the absurdity of believing that Russia had entered a new era of brotherhood with the United States when there was no reduction of CIA operations in Russia.

"Ultimately, it is the factual information rather than the opinions and analysis that makes Spy Handler worth reading," concluded Army Lawyer contributor John C. Johnson. "Cherkashin and Feifer provide a fascinating view of Cold War espionage from within the KGB. As Cherkashin points out, the business of espionage is alive and well, and the legacy of the Cold War is quite relevant to relations between the United States and Russia." Johnson felt that "Spy Handler is recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of the Cold War, relations between the United States and Russia, or the business of espionage."



Cherkashin, Victor, and Gregory Feifer, Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of theMan Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Army Lawyer, October, 2005, John C. Johnson, review of Spy Handler, p. 60.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Spy Handler, p. 30.

Library Journal, February 1, 2005, Daniel K. Blewett, review of Spy Handler, p. 93.

Military Review, March 1, 2006, Lester W. Grau, review of Spy Handler, p. 116.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2005, review of Spy Handler, p. 185.

Russian Life, May 1, 2005, Paul E. Richardson, review of Spy Handler, p. 60.

Security Management, April, 2006, G. Ernest Govea, review of Spy Handler, p. 106.

Slavic and East European Journal, spring, 2007, Elizabeth Yellen, review of Spy Handler, p. 183.


Central Intelligence Agency Web site, (March 20, 2008), John Ehrman, review of Spy Handler.

Perspective (journal of the Boston University Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology, and Policy), (March 20, 2008), Chandler Rosenberger, review of Spy Handler.

Times Online,) (January 3, 2005), Gregory Feifer and Michael Evans, "MI6 Double Agent Was ‘Betrayed by a Journalist.’"