INT: And was there a value that you could realize in him to do with his technical knowledge of or his access to technical materials to do with weapons and so on and so forth?
JB: Yes, he was... an instructor at the Missile Academy and he had access to the Soviet missile inventory and at one point, I don't whether this ever came out in Gerald Scheckter's book or not, when George and I and the British team were travelling by car from London to Birmingham, we were translating a document on a particular missile that was down to the last millimeter in terms of specification, so we'd know at least one missile at that time.
INT: Um, when in that first meeting... did you have any suspicion that he might be a plant of some kind?
JB: I had absolutely no suspicion whatsoever in my own mind. I can't speak for Shergold, but in my own mind I did not, because...
INT: I know that there were some people who worried about whether or not Penkovsky was the genuine article and in a way, hearing all this stuff coming from him, one might think, hold on, this is too good to be true, is this guy for real, you know? Tell me about how you thought about that problem.
JB: Initially all case officers have to keep in back of their minds is this man for real or is he a plant for the KGB. but quite frankly the information he gave us initially was so far different from the kind of ploys that the KGB would try on us and the solid information he give us, there was really ninety nine per cent no question in my mind that he was the genuine thing, although we always kept that in mind a we went along with him. And at one point, when he was trained in the use of a Minox, he was so damned good at it that we had a little bit of suspicion that maybe somebody else is photographing this for him and so at a second meeting in London, we put a test on him, we had him do some very difficult stuff and it came out perfect, he did it himself and so there's nobody doing the photographs for him.
INT: When you listened to him talking, Joe, this is an important question, I think, did you get from him information which confirmed what you believed about Soviet upper level intentions or did it rather surprise you. In other words, was it confirming what you had come to believe or were you finding out things that you really perhaps didn't know or didn't understand fully?
JB: Penkovsky gave us information, which, in some respects, solidified what some of the thoughts we had. Where we were weak is we didn't know how strong or what their strengths and weaknesses were and these are the gaps in our information that Penkovsky was able to fill. For a long time, JFK got elected on one premise alone, was that we were inferior to the Soviets in missiles and it didn't take very long for Penkovsky to change that view, that in fact we were so much stronger, all that Khrushchev was doing was bluffing the world.
INT: And I believe that there's also information that he gave you, if I'm right, to do with shall we say the dangers of Khrushchev, what Khrushchev could drag the country into, the possibility that his adventurism might be dangerous and gave you some thoughts about how to deal with that, that if he was slapped back down, you know, he would have to take it, like you know, that it would be, as it were, you weren't treading such a tightrope in being able to be firm with him. There was an encouragement, as I understand it.
JB: Where Penkovsky was extremely valuable was his assessment, based on information that he'd gotten from the political and military leaders of the Soviet Union, that Khrushchev was indeed a very dangerous opponent and it was based on his information that made the United States rise on top... the western world, rather, rise on top in terms of the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was that access that gave us the edge. It's like if I were playing poker and I know four good cards and you didn't know any of mine, I had a tremendous advantage over you and that's the advantage we had over Khrushchev.
INT: Was it in that first meeting that you produced the camera?
INT: Just talk to me a little bit more, 'cos I think it's really important for us to understand, particularly given the fact that there had been these spies like Walker and Ames or other guys who do what they do for money and very large sums of money and I think it would be interesting for the audience just to go over the question of Penkovsky's motivation again and to be perhaps a little bit fuller about it. Can you tell us what your understanding was of...? This was your particular job that you set yourself to work out, wasn't it, what his motives were? How did you get that out of him and what was that he persuaded of to do with his reasons?
JB: Well, one always wonders why a traitor, in this case in the eyes of the KGB, turned to the West and you have to examine that very, very thoroughly and carefully. And initially we were convinced that he despised Khrushchev and the danger of Khrushchev to the well being of the Soviet Union and particularly the Soviet élite and he saw the problems of the poor in the Soviet Union as too many of them. but besides that, he was sour on the Soviet Union because there's one point I should mention, Oleg's father was a white Russian and the KGB had been investigating apparently all of Oleg's life, whatever happened to him, and the view is that he probably died during the Civil War when the Soviet Union was young. But they never let Penkovsky forget about the fact that his father was a white Russian and they never could find out what happened to him and this soured him even further. And there are many spies who work for money. Well, he never asked for a heck of a lot of money he wanted was to buy gifts for his family, his friends and also to butter up the Soviet leadership. He'd by condoms for 'em, medicines to make 'em better sexually with women, the Soviet marshals and generals, and he'd butter them up so that they considered him a good friend and...
INT: Did you, when you were talking to him... explain this to an audience who won't necessarily understand this, did you give the guy a shopping list? I mean, what happens here? Does he choose what he gives you or do you have questions that you put to him that he's going to come back and try to give you answers next time round? How does it work?
JB: Well, we worked with Penkovsky this way. We came to our meetings with an agenda, but so help me God, he came with his own agenda, so we had a compromise, 'cos he knew what he had access to and we didn't always know what he had access to, but we still had our requirements based on what the British and the Americans and the Pentagon and the White House and the State Department, etc., wanted to know. So we worked both ways. But at one point we asked him if he had access to the secret version of a Soviet journal called 'Military Thought', [inaudible] top secret journal? We didn't even know it existed. So from that point on, we were sloughing a lot of secret stuff, get us the top secret stuff and this is where we got the top secret versions of 'Military Thought' 'cos we didn't know about, he did.
INT: Were you excited when you were listening to him, when you were talking to him, when you were realizing what this guy was able to give you, the power he was able to put into your hands to... you know, was that not a very exciting?
JB: It was very exciting to work with Oleg Penkovsky 'cos he always had a surprise or two for you. There was hardly a meeting where he didn't have something and it was like winning the lottery, where your chances of winning a lottery were one in fifty six million, as our lottery in Colorado is, you know, and you felt as elated as if you'd won the lottery and he always had information for us which always surprised us and he gave us more. he gave us not one hundred per cent of what he was capable, he gave us a hundred and fifteen per cent of what he was capable of doing. He gave us always more than we asked for. [Interviewer starts to interrupt] He was driven. He was a driven agent and see the fact that he was also a spy helped a lot, 'cos he knew how to go about it. In fact he was so damned good that if he were an American I would have hired him to work for me.
INT: Listen, was this not a worry, you know, that this guy is driven? I mean, how do you stop the guy... did you get fears and worries?
JB: Yes. During the course of the operation we were concerned that he was so driven that we even felt for his own security and it was hard to control a man like that. He was his own man and we couldn't really control him that he was in our pockets totally and he'd listen to us submissively. He was driven and that was a constant worry. We'd tell him to slow up, we had lots of time, we had years ahead of us, just take the time, we'll get it, eventually get to it. But he was anxious. I think what he wanted eventually was to get as much as he could out of the Soviet Union while he was there and then become both the attaché to Washington DC, work for a few years there and then defect and I think that contributed to his desire to go ahead and get as much information as he could from the military libraries and from Vorensov and other leaders in the Soviet Union.
INT: What sort of risks do you reckon he was taking? I mean, were your fearful? What sort of risks?
JB: One thing, I always felt that he probably took more risks than he should have. I think we knew the KGB better than he did, because I studied the KGB, we worked against the KGB and I think he was just a little too chancy in that respect.
INT: Did you have conversations with him about that sort of thing?
JB: Oh, absolutely. We had conversations with Penkovsky about the powers of the KGB and so forth, but he had more self-confidence than he should have had in his time.
INT: OK, that's very good. Now I want you to tell me about whether or not... OK. tell me the business of taking the photographs. I'm interested in that. You were in a meeting with him and what happened, go on?
JB: The photographs I took?
JB: Oh. Well, I brought a long a Polaroid camera with me to our first meeting in London, thinking I could take some photographs and at one of the meetings I pulled the camera out and Shergold was not too happy about it, he tried to get me to cease and desist on the basis that Penkovsky probably wouldn't like it. But actually, since I [inaudible] Penkovsky I assumed that would enjoy them when I saw him primping himself and fixing his tie, he was ready to be photographed and so from that point I had no problems, he enjoyed being photographed.