1987: Valery Martynov, betrayed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen

On this date in 1987, a once-promising American intelligence asset was executed with a single gunshot to the head in Moscow — his treachery exposed by two of the most infamous Soviet moles in U.S. intelligence history.

A Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB posted to the Soviets’ official Washington, D.C. offices in 1980, Martynov had turned in 1982 and begun funneling intelligence to the CIA and FBI under the cryptonym “Gentile”. Truth be told, he was a mediocre source, but he was a younger officer with the chance to grow into a more important asset in the years ahead.

Fate had sized him up as an extra in someone else’s story instead.

In 1985, “the year of the spy” to those in the know for the volume of important cloak-and-dagger work, the Soviets landed two highly-placed moles in the American intelligence world — Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI.

Both those notorious turncoats shopped Martynov (among others); duly informed, Russian spymaster Victor Cherkashin conned Martynov into returning to Moscow where he could be arrested.

Here’s a 2001 New York Times account on how it went down:

[Soviet counterintelligence officer Vitaliy] Yurchenko, unhappy with his lot as a defector [after coming over to the Americans in August 1985], suddenly redefected back to the Soviet Union in early November [1985, still]. Mr. Cherkashin has said in a previous interview that Mr. Yurchenko’s redefection presented an opportunity to lure Valeriy Martynov, a K.G.B. officer in the Washington station working for the F.B.I., back to the Soviet Union: The K.G.B. arranged for Mr. Martynov to serve as a member of an honor guard escorting Mr. Yurchenko back to Moscow.

When they arrived back in the Soviet Union, it was Mr. Martynov who was arrested; Mr. Yurchenko was given a job at the K.G.B. again.

No honor among thieves.

Martynov left a widow, Natalia, and two children. But he is remembered and written about exclusively in the context of the men who sold him out, who taken separately or together rate among recent history’s most catastrophic intelligence failures. (Or triumphs, depending on your point of view.)

Martynov’s ultimate tragedy, of course — one he shares with his more infamous American betrayers in this shadowland chess match — is that not by all the information he provided, and neither by his life nor his death, was the Cold War protracted or abbreviated by one single hour.

Books about the Ames and Hanssen cases

On this day..

9 thoughts on “1987: Valery Martynov, betrayed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen

  1. Are we really supposed to be upset about a man who was a traitor to his own country being executed? The Soviets did to Martynov what we should have done with Ames and Hanssen, and that’s all.

    • Americans certainly supposed to be upset, because it is not correct comparison between democratic US and barbaric Russia.

      • You replied on January 15, 2019. That could have been my father’s 73rd Birthday.

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  4. The son of Valery Martynov Alexander Martynov is currently employed as a Norfolk, VA, Police Department police officer, serving as a patrolman in the First Precinct of Norfolk Police Depatment.

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  6. Thanks for catching that, whit.

    I had trouble disentangling these two pictures; they’re generally listed together. Cherkashin’s photo pullouts say this is Martynov, and the man pictured in my post is Sergei Motorin, another KGB turncoat who met the same fate for the same reason.

    My call was based on the names assigned by the website of the Hanssen book The Bureau and the Mole:


    This is at least implicitly echoed by most online imagery I was able to locate.

    Obviously, one of these sources is incorrect, although the error in either case could be at the editing/production level when they chose images to throw in, rather than that of the original author. Bottom line — I’m not sure and don’t quite have the werewithal to do the primary sourcing to untangle it.

    I suppose since Cherkashin actually knew the guy, one ought to lean towards his book’s identifications by default.

  7. It is intrguing how Mr. Cherkashin (in his book “Spy Handler”) figured a way to send Martynov back to Russia (for trial and execution).

    Now, according the Cherkashin’s book and FBI photos, the photo you displayed is NOT of Martynov but a another KGB mole.

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