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1Oct/101

American Spy in the Urals

It looks like history is repeating itself. This year a few Russian spies were detected by CIA and exchanged for a couple of spies who had worked for the USA in Russian territories. The Russian failed spies, by the way, were heartily greeted by the authorities in their Motherland and the new Mata Hari - red-haired spy Anna Chapman is even starting a modelling career in Moscow.

This incident is not the first and I suspect not the last in the history of Russian-American espionage. The Ural region with numerous nuclear factories has always been largely involved. It's not that we are told about everything but one incident that happened in 1960 is well known and remembered by the senior citizens of Yekaterinburg (those days it was Sverdlovsk). On May 1 - Labour Day in the USSR there was an annual parade of the Soviet workers on the main city square. The Communist leaders received the workers' salutes from the granite tribune next to the monument of Lenin. It was a bright sunny day that's why the citizens spotted two white clouds that suddenly appeared in the clear sky.

S-75 missile in the Military History Museum in Yekaterinburg

That was CIA's U-2 aircraft on a mission piloted by Francis Gary Powers. Powers was able to take high-resolution photos of the military sites. U-2 had been invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons for good four years causing the KGB's considerable dismay until in 1960 Russian S-75 missile hit the aircraft over Sverdlovsk. The American aircraft wasn't the only one hit by the missile that morning. The Russians also brought down their own MIG-19 jet that had been sent to intercept the U-2. The Soviet pilot Sergey Safronov crashed his plane in the woods and died. Colonel Powers was lucky. He parachuted to the field and was greeted by the local villagers. The villagers were happy to see the survived pilot in the first place but because the pilot didn't speak Russian (a big mistake for a spy) they sent him straight to the KGB.

Soviet intelligence couldn't be happier: the brought down U-2 turned out to be intact. For some reasons Francis Powers didn't activate the aircraft self-destruct mechanism and didn't have time to destroy the camera and films. Besides the KGB was able to extensively interrogate the American spy of a high rank who was actually expected to have taken a CIA suicide pin but he didn't. Powers was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in Moscow and seven years of hard labour in Gulag. Once again he was lucky - in 1961 Powers was exchanged for Soviet KGB colonel Rudolf Abel. 

A Soviet 1968 spy film Dead Season features a scene of that exchange on Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Power's biography also became an American television movie in 1976: Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident   

The story is not finished yet. In 2010 the released CIA documents revealed that the US Government never believed in Power's account and thought the story had been cooked by the Russians. Garry Powers Jr, who visited Lubyanka quarters in Moscow on May 1, 2010, said that it had taken the US Government 50 years to set the record straight about his father and the record still has kinks in it.

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  1. I wonder what those kinks are?!


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