David Edmund Murphy

Wistar Janney

David Edmund Murphy was born in Utica on 23rd June, 1921. Murphy was educated at State University of New York at Cortland. After graduating in 1942 he joined the United States Army and was sent to the University of California at Berkeley for language training. (1)

During the Second World War he served in army intelligence. After joining the Central Intelligence Agency he spent time in Korea and Japan. In 1953 he moved to Berlin and was appointed as deputy to William King Harvey. According to David Wise: "Tall and bespectacled, with a high forehead and a shock of gray hair that contrasted with his blue eyes, Murphy was square of jaw and rather distinguished-looking, with a faint resemblance to the actor William Holden." (2)

In 1963 David Edmund Murphy was appointed chief of the Soviet Division of the CIA. (3) "At CIA headquarters Murphy looked like a man who was always in a hurry, a slightly stooped figure striding rapidly down the corridors. He gave the impression of a high-powered executive who thought fast and acted fast... Wild rumors persisted in the agency that Murphy was an orphan, that he was adopted, that he wasn't really Irish, that his true name was moscowitz, and that he might even have had a Russian background. Some of this chatter may have stemmed from the fact that Murphy's first wife, Marian Escovy, was a White Russian. Or perhaps from the fact that Murphy was fluent in Russian, as well as in German and French." (4)

Central Intelligence Agency

Murphy was accused of being a Soviet spy by one of his own officers, Peter Kapusta. He originally expressed this opinion to Sam Papich, the FBI's liaison man with the CIA. "Kapusta called in the middle of the night. It was one or two o'clock in the morning. The FBI did not investigate. From the beginning, the bureau looked at the Murphy matter strictly as an internal CIA problem. We received certain information, including Kapusta's input. By our standards, based on what was available, FBI investigation was not warranted." (5)

James Jesus Angleton became convinced that Murphy was a Soviet mole and asked Clare Edward Petty, an officer in Special Investigations Group (SIG), to carry out an investigation into his past. Petty discovered that the family of Murphy's wife had fled from Russia after the Russian Revolution. They moved to China before settling in San Francisco. Petty could find no evidence that she was pro-communist. Newton S. Miler, a member of SIG had investigated Murphy in the early 1960s. He discovered that a large number of his operations had been unsuccessful: "Just a series of failures, things that blew up in his face. Odd things that happened. The scrapes in Japan and Vienna. They (the KGB) may have been setting up Murphy just to embarrass CIA. But you have to consider these incidents may have been staged to give him bona fides." (6) Petty came to the conclusion that Murphy was "accident prone".

David Edmund Murphy - a Soviet Spy?

Petty eventually produced a twenty-five-page report that concluded that there was a "probability" that Murphy was innocent. Petty felt that Murphy may have been targeted by the KGB, but was never recruited. (7) However, Angleton rejected the report as he was convinced he was a spy. In 1968 Angleton arranged for Murphy to be removed from his job as head of the Soviet Division and assigned to Paris as station chief. Angleton then contacted the head of French intelligence and warned him that Murphy was a Soviet agent. (8)

Murphy returned to headquarters in 1973. He retired two years later and received the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal. He published several books on the Soviet Union including Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War (1999) and What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (2006).

David Edmund Murphy died on 28th August, 2014.

Primary Sources

(1) David Wise, Molehunt (1992)

What little is in the public record about Murphy reveals that he was born on June 23, 1921, in New York State, was graduated from State Teachers College in Cortland, New York, south of Syracuse, in 1942, and served in the Army during World War II. After that, the official biography lists him as a "consultant" to the "Department of Defense." In fact, Murphy served with Army intelligence in Korea and Japan, then joined the CIA. By 1949, or soon after, he was chief of the agency's Munich operations base.

In 1953, Murphy came to Berlin to be deputy chief of base under Bill Harvey. In Berlin, his backyard adjoined that of Paul Garbler, who was there running "Franz Koischwitz," later to be known as Igor Orlov. By 1959, Murphy had briefly succeeded Harvey as chief of base, and in 1963 he was promoted to chief of the Soviet division at headquarters. As such, he was at the center of the period of the mole hunt, the intense conflicts over Golitsin and Nosenko, and the freeze in Soviet operations.

Murphy was a senior player in the agency, and his career advanced rapidly, but along the way he got into some highly publicized scrapes. In Vienna, CIA legend has it, Murphy wound up in a barroom brawl with a KGB man and had to escape, ignominiously, out the men's room window. Scotty Miler recalled that something like that happened.

"Apparently he went to a beer hall or bar after receiving an indication that this KGB guy could be recruited. Dave made his pitch and then the guy blew up, threw beer in his face, and started yelling `American spy!"'

In 1966, while serving as chief of the Soviet division, Murphy starred in another Keystone Cops episode, this time in Japan. It made headlines around the world, although Murphy was described in the news stories as a "tourist."
The trouble began when Murphy flew into Tokyo to try to recruit the KGB resident, Georgy P. Pokrovsky, who was there under cover as first secretary of the Soviet embassy in Tokyo. It was unusual for a division chief personally to participate in a high-risk field operation, but Murphy was not one to shy away from danger or intrigue.
George Kisevalter remembered the episode. "As chief of SR (Soviet Russia] division," he said, "Murphy went to Japan using his true name. To show the boys how to do it. He took with him a case officer who got hit in the head with an umbrella. It was a scandal and got into the press."

Indeed it did, and the news stories centered on some odd goings-on at the Clean Breeze apartments in Tokyo on the night of St. Patrick's Day. Pokrovsky, according to the published accounts, returned to his residence at the Clean Breeze to find a Colombian neighbor, one Jose Miguel Moneva Calderon, seemingly ill in the lobby. The Colombian asked Pokrovsky to help him to his apartment to get some medicine The Russian obliged. Who was waiting in a nearby stairwell but the two American "tourists," Murphy, whose residence was given as McLean, Virginia, and Thomas A. Ryan, of Vienna, Virginia. A scuffle ensued. Pokrovsky got away, but returned with Soviet reinforcements. The KGB goon squad encountered the two Americans outside the apartment, and a free-for-all took place. Pokrovsky hit Ryan with the umbrella and one of the CIA men had his glasses broken.

Pokrovsky charged that the Americans had tried to kidnap him The Japanese police smoothed over the affair, calling it merely "it quarrel with two Americans and a Colombian." In Washington, Robert J. McCloskey, the State Department spokesman, was asked whether there were "any American government representatives involved in this."

"No, sir," he replied sturdily.

(2) Steve Vogel, Washington Post (9th September, 2014)

David E. Murphy, a senior CIA officer in Berlin during some of the tensest days of the Cold War who later served as the agency’s chief of Soviet operations and wrote an authoritative account of espionage in that era, died Aug. 28 at a retirement home in Alexandria. He was 93.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said a son, Steven J. Murphy.

Mr. Murphy served as chief of the CIA’s Berlin Operations Base during the years of crisis precipitated by Soviet demands that the Western powers abandon the city, a standoff that would ultimately lead to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

At CIA headquarters in Langley in the mid-1960s, Mr. Murphy oversaw the Soviet section at a time when it was consumed by hunts for “moles” feared to have penetrated the agency — and he would himself become the target of investigation.

His career as a spy was launched by happenstance, after he enlisted in the Army during World War II and was sent to school in California to learn French but was forced by a clerical error to instead learn Russian.

“I never would have heard of intelligence if it hadn’t been for a mistake by the Army,” Mr. Murphy told a CIA forum in 1996.

His Russian language skills proved a valuable commodity during the Cold War. While working for Army intelligence in post-World War II Korea, Mr. Murphy was recruited in 1947 to serve in the newly created CIA.

He was sent to Berlin as deputy chief of the CIA base in 1954, a time when there was great anxiety in the West over the possibility that Soviet troops massed in East Germany would launch a surprise invasion of Western Europe.

Soon after Mr. Murphy arrived, base chief William Harvey briefed him on a bold intelligence operation underway to learn more about Soviet intentions — the construction of a quarter-mile tunnel into the Russian sector that would allow the CIA and British intelligence to tap Soviet communication lines. Mr. Murphy helped review some of the mountains of material collected over the course of 11 months beginning in May 1955.

In 1961, it was revealed that plans for the tunnel had been betrayed to the KGB even before it was built by British double-agent George Blake, leading many to question the value of the intelligence.

But in a 1997 book that Mr. Murphy co-wrote with Sergei A. Kondrashev, a former KGB officer who handled Blake, and journalist George Bailey, the authors contended that the KGB’s determination to protect Blake’s cover meant the Soviets could do virtually nothing to shield their communications.

“It was an incredible window on the Soviets’ East German operations,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview this year.

After a stint as deputy chief of the Eastern European division, Mr. Murphy in 1963 became chief of the Soviet division. It was a time when the agency was becoming increasingly paralyzed by investigations led by James J. Angleton, the longtime CIA chief of counterintelligence who feared Soviet moles had penetrated the agency.

Mr. Murphy was among those who doubted the bona fides of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB defector whom Angleton believed was a Soviet plant. The case bitterly divided the agency. Nosenko was held in solitary confinement and treated harshly at a CIA facility in Virginia before being released in the late 1960s.

By that time, Mr. Murphy himself became a target of Angleton, who suspected Mr. Murphy might be a KGB agent responsible for the loss of CIA agents during the Korean War, according to “Molehunt,” journalist and historian David Wise’s 1992 book about the search for Soviet spies.

Mr. Murphy did not resent the investigation, telling his son it was to be expected given his line of work. “He told me, ‘You have to be very careful about these things,’ ” said Steven Murphy. “He knew he’d be exonerated.”

“He was a big enough man to realize this was Angleton swinging wildly,” said retired U.S. Ambassador Hugh Montgomery, a former CIA officer who served with Mr. Murphy in Berlin.

The allegations led to Mr. Murphy being forced out as head of the Soviet division, Wise wrote. Mr. Murphy was assigned to Paris as chief of station in 1968 and returned to headquarters in 1973.

William E. Colby, who as CIA director would force Angleton out in 1974, reviewed the case and concluded there should be “no suspicion” that Mr. Murphy was a double agent, according to Wise’s book.

Upon his retirement from the agency in 1975, Mr. Murphy received the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal. He later wrote books that made extensive use of his knowledge of Soviet affairs.

“Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War,” written with Kondrashev and Bailey, contained a wealth of information and documents about the intelligence war from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

“Rarely if ever before has such a complete and authoritative insiders’ account of the game of espionage ever been put into a single volume,” book critic Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times.

Mr. Murphy also was the author of What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (2005), a well-received analysis of how the Soviet Union collected but did not act on news of the impending Nazi invasion of 1941, known as Operation Barbarossa.

David Edmund Murphy was born in Utica, N.Y., on June 23, 1921. After graduating in 1942 from Cortland State Teachers College in New York (now the State University of New York at Cortland), he enlisted in the Army and was sent for language training to the University of California at Berkeley.

His first wife, Marian Escovy, was part of the White Russian émigré community of San Francisco. She died in 1978.

Mr. Murphy then married Star Hellman, who died in 2008. Survivors include four children from his first marriage, Steven Murphy of Orlando, Vincent Mor of Dartmouth, Mass., Gerald Murphy of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Barbara Merritt of McLean; and 13 grandchildren.

In Berlin, Mr. Murphy radiated a sense of omniscience to his family. When his son Steven told playmates at a summer camp that his father was “like a general in the U.S. Army,” Mr. Murphy repeated the remark to his son that night at the dinner table. It had been picked up by intelligence sources. “I knew then I couldn’t get anything past my father,” Steven Murphy said.


(1) Steve Vogel, Washington Post (9th September, 2014)

(2) David Wise, Molehunt (1992) page 212

(3) Steve Vogel, Washington Post (9th September, 2014)

(4) David Wise, Molehunt (1992) page 212

(5) Sam Papich, quoted by David Wise in Molehunt (1992) page 219

(6) Newton S. Miler, quoted by David Wise in Molehunt (1992) page 220

(7) Tom Mangold, Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton: The CIA's Master Spy Hunter (1991) page 298-299

(8) David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (1980) page 198-199