Spy's wife: how a Soviet dissident turned out to be an involuntary ally of the most successful KGB agent in America
Oleg Tumanov, former editor of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty called "An ideal spy": in Soviet times, he worked at a radio station for 20 years, simultaneously transmitting information to the Soviet special services, and none of his colleagues ever suspected him. Friends and subordinates learned about Tumanov's double life only after his escape to the USSR. Forum Daily managed to talk to the widow of the intelligence editor Svetlana Tumanova, who at the time of the wedding had no idea what her husband was actually doing. Svetlana told in an interview with our publication about what it was like to be the wife of a Soviet spy, when in fact Tumanov was recruited, and what she had to endure after the flight of her husband.
"The fate of a resident"
Oleg Tumanov rose to the highest position available to emigrants from the USSR, but in 1986 he suddenly disappeared from Munich, where at that time the headquarters of the radio station was located. As it turned out later, the reason for the disappearance was the flight to the West of the lieutenant colonel of Soviet intelligence Victor Gundarevwho could give the spy to the Americans. Soon, Oleg Tumanov was already giving a press conference in Moscow.
«He was a great editor, a great employee, and made very good programs. At that time, we had no reason to suspect him of collaborating with the KGB. We had other suspects, but not Tumanov", - I told in his interviews with Russian media Richard Cummings, who in those years worked as the head of the security service of Radio Liberty.
The spy who returned to his homeland died in Russia in 1997, but managed to write his memoirs before his death. In 2017, they were reissued under the title “The Real Fate of a Resident. Long way home. " In his book, Tumanov claims that he was recruited by the KGB in his early youth, while still living in the Soviet Union. According to him, it was the special services that prepared for him a plan of a fictitious escape to the West. Tumanov served as a sailor on one of the warships of the Baltic Fleet, and in 1965 he jumped from a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, swimming to the coast. In Libya, the fugitive asked for political asylum, and representatives of the American intelligence soon approached him.
In his book, Tumanov assures that the KGB allowed him to reveal military secrets known from the service in order to gain the confidence of the Americans. Having passed numerous interrogations and polygraph tests, already in 1966 the 22-year-old fugitive sailor became an intern at Radio Liberty. There he quickly made a career, becoming first the head of the news department, and then - the senior editor of the Russian service of the radio station. During one of his business trips to London, he met the program assistant of the Russian Air Force Service Etoy Katz, who later changed her name to Svetlana. Ete-Svetlana was only 18 years old when she married a handsome editor from Munich. The girl learned about her husband's double life only a few weeks after moving to Germany.
Escape from the Union
The most tragic thing about this story was that Eta came from a dissident Jewish family with roots in Latvia since the 18th century, and was sincerely opposed to Soviet rule. Her parents, who survived the occupation of Latvia in 1939, never resigned themselves to the country's entry into the Soviet Union.
«The parents were in a group of Jewish activists, where my father taught Hebrew. He spent 8 years in the camps. In a sense, this broke him: when he returned, he no longer tried to actively fight the regime. Mom, to the last, lived with the thought of escape", - Svetlana recalls.
It was almost impossible to leave the Soviet Union at that time, and Eta's mother found the only solution - she sent her daughter to the figure skating section, and in parallel - to the only English special school in Riga. The idea was simple: sooner or later the girl had to get into international competitions and, according to her mother's plan, stay abroad - given that Sveta's uncle lived in London. True, the plan was never implemented, since in 1971 the first streams of "Jewish" emigration appeared, and the family left abroad quite legally. Svetlana at that time was only 12 years old.
«The irony of fate: much later I learned that the KGB had been looking closely at the students of the Riga special school since childhood. It would seem that, having left the country, I should have avoided the risk of recruitment, but in the end I still could not escape this fate.", - says Svetlana.
At the age of 15, the girl was left an orphan, and a local Jewish family took custody of her, treating her like their own daughter. However, it was clear that this could not last forever.
«One day I was walking around London, desperately thinking what to do next. And suddenly I saw the air force building. I remembered from childhood that my father taught me to listen to Radio Liberty and BBC radio, and our favorite political correspondent was Anatoly Maksimovich Goldberg... By that time, I was already fluent in English. I plucked up my courage, went into the lobby and said that I wanted to talk to Goldberg. The most incredible thing was that he came out to me. I immediately said that I needed a job", - Svetlana recalls.
Anatoly Goldberg assigned the girl a test task the next morning - she was to type a text in Russian on a typewriter. At that time, Svetlana could already correctly and quickly type in English. She had to master the Russian keyboard literally overnight. Nevertheless, the girl successfully passed the test, becoming the youngest Air Force employee.
«I started a stellar career: I was an assistant secretary, then I became an announcer. I bought my own studio apartment in London, was preparing for a promotion - and then I met Tumanov", - says Svetlana.
Confession of a spy
The girl recalls: at first she avoided meeting a guest from Munich. It seemed to her that Tumanov, who was 15 years older than her, should already be married, and was looking for a meeting only to have fun on a business trip. However, Oleg turned out to be single, insisted on meeting, and soon the girl could not resist his charms. Just 3 weeks later, a young Air Force employee married Oleg Tumanov.
«He looked like Russian Alain Delon - Oleg was very impressive. It seemed to me that I could hide behind him, like behind a stone wall. Oleg, as an adult, immediately noticed my vulnerability and realized that he could manipulate me. For me, he was a sailor who fled from the Soviet regime, that is, a real hero, even more than just a dissident", - says Svetlana.
The husband insisted that Sveta sell her London apartment. She did not have a British passport at that time. After leaving the Air Force and leaving with Oleg for Germany, the girl turned out to be completely dependent on her husband. She had nowhere to return. It was then, after waiting for several weeks, that Tumanov made a shocking confession: he was working for the very thing hated by the KGB dissidents.
Svetlana recalls: her first reaction was mortal horror.
«I left the house in the morning, got on a tram and rode it around the city all day. I did this for two weeks. I returned to the apartment only at night and did not speak to my husband. But I loved Oleg, and this love eventually overcame the pain. He said that if he refused to work for the KGB, his brother and parents in the USSR could have problems, and he himself could be killed even abroad. In the end, I resigned myself to his choice"She says.
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Svetlana Tumanova confesses: the story of Tumanov's initial introduction to the West as a KGB agent was later invented by his curators in order to protect his agent from a death sentence. According to her, Oleg was actually a fugitive sailor, and escaped from the ship only because he really wanted to live in the West. Moreover, he gave the Americans all the Soviet military secrets he knew, including missile guidance systems on a combat destroyer, without any approval, thereby becoming a real traitor. According to Svetlana, Tumanov was recruited only 3 years after his escape, and that is why the attitude of the curators towards him was rather tough.
At the same time, Svetlana notes: Tumanov quickly got used to the role, and he really liked being a spy.
«Oleg was by nature a snob, a very vain person. Most likely, he liked to feel invulnerable, to keep his secret and thus to feel superior to others. On the other hand, he really liked the families of the former White Guards, who preserved the true Russian spirit. At the same time, he did not feel any sympathy for the Soviet Union, but somehow convinced himself that he was working not for him, but for Russia. He created his own image of his homeland, and he had a kind of loyalty to him", - she reasons.
At the same time, as the KGB officers later admitted to Svetlana, Tumanov did more for them than real embedded agents.
«For example, there were secret recordings of dissidents on the radio that were never aired. A number of departments were preparing sabotage against the USSR, since until a certain time Radio Liberty was really a branch of the CIA. In addition, Radio prepared obituaries for Soviet party leaders in advance. According to information from these obituaries, the KGB was able to find out the sources of the leak, that is, to identify the informants of the Americans", - explains Svetlana.
In the first months after the wedding, Sveta did not work, and therefore could only observe her husband's espionage activities. Oleg brought home documents, which he then photographed, and once he even took his wife with him to a meeting with the curators in Austria, thereby provoking their strong indignation. Nevertheless, more and more disagreements arose in the family. Tumanov began to drink heavily, and, being drunk, tried to recruit one of the radio employees. The woman did not give in to the "tempting offer", but began to blackmail the hapless agent.
Oleg Tumanov began to pay her money from the radio budget, which eventually led to suspicions of embezzlement and loss of position. But the worst thing was that the Soviet spy was forced to distance himself from the family, fearing that otherwise the employee would begin to blackmail Svetlana. By that time, the Tumanovs had already had a daughter, but Oleg decided that it was better for them to live separately, so that those around them would have the impression that Sveta no longer had anything to do with her husband. In a word, even before his escape, espionage destroyed Tumanov's life, depriving him of both his job and his family.
In 1982, Svetlana got a job as a teacher of the Russian language, later becoming an assistant commander at the US Army Intelligence Institute, first in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and then in Munich. She assures: the husband not only did not ask her about it, but was also against it, fearing new polygraph tests and possible failure. According to her, she was not engaged in any espionage activities, however, after Tumanov gave an interview in Moscow, saying that he had communicated with her students, suspicion fell on Svetlana.
«To calm me down, Tumanov said back in Munich that he was working under American control.", She says. However, the reaction of the American side to the revelations of the escaped intelligence agent casts doubt on this version. Svetlana was arrested shortly after Tumanov's press conference in Moscow. She spent six months in jail, but the prosecution could not prove espionage. The woman was found guilty only of illegally crossing the border from West to East Berlin, when she went to a meeting with KGB officers to find out about her husband's fate.
Soon after her release, Svetlana came to Tumanov in Moscow. According to her, he did not fit into the new life, and even the former curators treated him with contempt. The fact that he left his wife alone in Munich and then tried to accuse her of having ties to the Americans also did not add to his respect in their eyes. Oleg Tumanov died in 1997 from a heart attack. Svetlana still lives in Moscow and says that she has forgiven her husband for everything for a long time.
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