Sergei Tretyakov, 53

Sergei Tretyakov dies; former Russian spy defected to U.S. in 2000

Sergei Tretyakov's mother helped him gain entry as a spy.
Sergei Tretyakov's mother helped him gain entry as a spy. ( Via Associated Press)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sergei Tretyakov, a high-ranking Russian spy whose defection to the United States in 2000 was regarded as one of the most significant coups against the Russian government since the collapse of the Soviet Union, died June 13 at his home in Osprey, Fla.

Mr. Tretyakov's wife said he died after suffering a heart attack, according to Pete Earley, the author of a book about Mr. Tretyakov. The former Russian spy was 53 and news of his death was withheld at the request of his family pending an investigation into the cause, Earley said.

"This man literally held the keys to a Russian intelligence gold mine," an unnamed FBI official was quoted as saying in Earley's 2007 book, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War." "He used those keys to unlock its doors and go into the mine every day to bring us nuggets."

Mr. Tretyakov was born into a spying family and rose through the ranks of Russian intelligence to become a colonel in the SVR, the successor to the Soviet KGB espionage agency.

At the time of his defection on Oct. 11, 2000, Mr. Tretyakov allegedly had been working as a double agent for the United States for three years while he was the SVR's second-in-command in New York. From 1995 to 2000, he oversaw all Russian covert operations in the city and had more than 60 intelligence officers under his command, according to Earley's book.

The intelligence Mr. Tretyakov handed over during his time as a double agent amounted to more than 5,000 top-secret SVR cables and scores of classified Russian intelligence reports. He wrote an estimated 400 papers for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and the White House.

For his efforts, Mr. Tretyakov and his family were given U.S. citizenship, and he reportedly netted the highest amount ever paid to a U.S. intelligence source -- a fortune that was said to be in the millions of dollars, which he used to buy himself a Lexus SUV and his wife a Porsche.

Sergei Olegovich Tretyakov was born in Moscow on Oct. 5, 1956. His grandmother was a typist and secretary in the forerunner of the KGB. His father worked in the Soviet nuclear weapons program, and his mother worked in the financial office of the KGB and helped her son gain entry into the spy service.

Mr. Tretyakov was born with a heart defect that would have denied him entry into the KGB, but his mother bribed a doctor to leave the condition out of his application to the agency.

When the ruse was discovered, his commander recognized that Mr. Tretyakov's skill at beating the system suggested great potential as a spy.

Early in his career, Mr. Tretyakov impressed senior officers by analyzing seemingly innocuous, and unclassified, U.S. reports and gleaning valuable intelligence from their pages.

In one instance, he was able to extrapolate from a congressional report on U.S. military installations which types of aircraft could land at certain bases, judging from the length of their runways.

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