Yuri Nosenko was born in Nikolaev on 30th October 1927. His father, served under Joseph Stalin for nearly 20 years as the Soviet minister of shipbuilding.
Nosenko graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and after three years in naval intelligence he joined the KGB in 1953. Nosenko became deputy chief of the Seventh Department of the KGB. His main responsibility was the recruitment of foreign spies.
In 1961 Nosenko was a member of the Soviet delegation to disarmament talks in Geneva. While in the city he was robbed of $200 by a prostitute. In an attempt to repay the money he approached a US official he knew to sell secrets. Nosenko was put into contact with Tennant H. Bagley, a member of the CIA. Nosenko told Bagley about listening devices at the US embassy in Moscow, and confirmed the identities of British Admiralty clerk John Vassall, the Canadian ambassador John Watkins and the CIA agent Edward Ellis Smith, all compromised in KGB "honeytrap" stings, which had revealed by an earlier defector, Anatoli Golitsin.
However, some of the information supplied by Nosenko contradicted the testimony of Golitsin. This included Golitsin's claim that a senior figure in the Admiralty was a spy. Tennant H. Bagley reported back to the CIA that he found Nosenko "totally convincing". Nosenko refused to defect because he was unwilling to leave his wife and children behind in the Soviet Union.
When Anatoli Golitsin had been interviewed he had claimed the KGB would be so concerned about his defection, they would attempt to convince the CIA that the information he was giving them would be completely unreliable. He predicted that the KGB would send false defectors with information that contradicted what he was saying. The CIA were now uncertain whether to believe Golitsin or Nosenko.
In January 1964 Nosenko contacted the CIA and said he had changed his mind and was now willing to defect to the United States. He claimed that he had been recalled to Moscow to be interrogated. Nosenko feared that the KGB had discovered he was a double-agent and once back in the Soviet Union would be executed.
Nosenko arrived in the United States on 14th February, 1964. Nosenko claimed that he had important information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He told the CIA that he had been the KGB officially who had personally handled the case of Lee Harvey Oswald. After interviewing Oswald it was decided that he was not intelligent enough to work as a KGB agent. They were also concerned that he was "too mentally unstable" to be of any use to them. Nosenko added that the KGB had never questioned Oswald about information he had acquired while a member of the U.S. Marines. This surprised the CIA as Oswald had worked as a Aviation Electronics Operator at the Atsugi Air Base in Japan.
Nosenko defection story was undermined by the US National Security Agency who had been monitoring communications between Moscow and Geneva. It discovered that Nosenko had lied about being recalled to the Soviet Union. He was now taken to a CIA detention cell and after extensive interrogation he admitted the story about him being recalled was untrue.
Members of the Warren Commission were pleased to hear this information as it helped to confirm the idea that Oswald had acted alone and was not part of a Soviet conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. CIA chief of intelligence, James Jesus Angleton, chief of the CIA's counter-intelligence section, did not believe parts of Nosenko's story. He was able to convince Tennant H. Bagley that Nosenko was a disinformation agent.
Anatoli Golitsin supported this view. He had worked in some of the same departments as Nosenko but had never met him. After being interviewed for several days Nosenko admitted that some aspects of his story were not true. For example, Nosenko had previously said he was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB. Nosenko confessed that he had exaggerated his rank to make himself attractive to the CIA. However, initially he had provided KGB documents that said Nosenko was a lieutenant colonel.
The story was further complicated by the fact that another Soviet KGB defector under FBI control (code name Fedora) corroborated Nosenko's story. Therefore, if Nosenko was lying, it meant that Fedora was also a disinformation agent sent to the United States to confuse the security agencies. Nosenko was given two lie detector tests by the CIA. Both suggested he was lying about Lee Harvey Oswald.
The CIA now decided to put Nosenko under intense physical physical and psychological pressure. This involved him being kept in solitary confinement for 1,277 days. A light was left burning in his unheated cell for twenty-four hours a day and he was given nothing to read and his guards were ordered not to speak to him. However, Nosenko did not crack and insisted that Oswald was not a KGB agent.
James Jesus Angleton believed that Anatoli Golitsin was a genuine double-agent but argued that Nosenko was part of a disinformation campaign. However, Richard Helms (CIA) and J. Edgar Hoover (FBI) believed Nosenko and considered Golitsin was a fake.
In 1969 Nosenko was released and given a false identity. He became an adviser to the CIA and the FBI on a salary of more than $35,000 a year. He was also given a lump sum of $150,000 as payment for his ordeal.
Yuri Nosenko died on 23rd August 2008.