What motivated Adolf Tolkachev to begin spying for the CIA? Was it for money? Did he require an ego boost? Was it based on his hatred of the Soviet system? It likely was a combination of all three. But what mattered most to the CIA was that Tolkachev was delivering a treasure trove of Soviet military secrets during a critical period of the Cold War. Tolkachev’s daring exploits are described in riveting detail in David E. Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy.
Hoffman is a distinguished journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But in The Billion Dollar Spy, Hoffman’s writing rivals that of noted spy fiction writers the likes of John le Carré, Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum. The difference: Hoffman uses real facts to tell a stranger-than-fiction tale.
It took Tolkachev a year to get the CIA’s attention. A Soviet radar designer, he prowled the streets of Moscow, banging on the widows of cars with U.S. diplomatic license plates. Finally, in 1978, after his fifth attempt, he found a CIA contact. And for the next seven years, he supplied the agency with thousands of pages of classified Soviet military documents. The material provided important insights into the design of Soviet radar and aircraft systems, allowing the Pentagon to improve its defenses while saving the U.S. millions of dollars.
The book contains many potboiler plotlines: the humble civil servant snapping photographs of secret files; the clandestine meetings with his CIA operative; the money exchanges; the near-misses with the KGB. And there are some humorous moments, like the time Tolkachev requests rock albums from his American counterpart, the list containing artists ranging from Led Zeppelin to Alice Cooper.
The Billion Dollar Spy is a page-turner that stands up to any spy novel, not only for its lively writing, but also because it isn’t just based on a true story, it is a true story.