Books / International / Leaders & People

Spies in the Family: Dillon and Polyakov’s Friendship that Helped End the Cold War

Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon

The spy business is personal. Eva Dillon, author of “Spies in the Family” draws back the curtain of the Cold War to reveal the human side of two remarkable spies – one American, her father, Paul L. Dillon and the other codenamed TOPHAT, General Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov, a Soviet intelligence officer, who volunteered to spy for the U.S.

Paul L. Dillon, a former Marine, entered the clandestine service of the CIA and served in Berlin, Mexico City, Rome, and New Delhi between the 1950s to 1980.

In the early 1970s while stationed in New Delhi, Paul Dillon was assigned to handle General Polyakov, the CIA’s highest ranking Soviet asset who up until this point generated more suspicion and curiosity than trust.

In “Circle of Treason” by Sandy Grimes, a successful woman within the male dominated clandestine service of the CIA wrote,

“Polyakov’s new case officer was Paul Dillon, one of our finest. He was not selected for the assignment just because of the quality of his Russian language; of more import were his operational skills and human qualities. He was a devout Catholic and when he was out of earshot his subordinates respectfully and affectionately called him Father Paul. He never demanded the respect and loyalty of those he led; he unknowingly commanded it with his wit, charm, and unassuming ways.”

General Polyakov, a Soviet World War II hero and later recruited by the Soviet GRU Military Intelligence officer was assigned to the United Nations Security Military Staff Committee in New York during the 1950s and 1960s running Soviet spies in the U.S.

Nina and Dmitri Polyakov at a diplomatic reception in New Delhi, c. 1974

Nina and Dmitri Polyakov at a diplomatic reception in New Delhi, c. 1974

Polyakov recognizing the global dangers of the Cold War chose to share Soviet intelligence with the U.S. not for luxury items or cash, nor for asylum, but to do what he could to “lessen the possibility of nuclear war between the superpowers.”

Eva Dillon shares,

“Rather, he was motivated by a desire to lessen the very real threat of nuclear war by helping the Americans better interpret the Soviet leadership’s thinking and intentions.  At the height of the Cold War, Dmitri Polyakov offered the CIA an unfiltered view into the vault of Soviet intelligence.”

James Woolsey, CIA Director under President Clinton said,

“Among all the secret agents recruited by the United States during the Cold War, Polyakov was the jewel in the crown . . . What General Polyakov did for the West didn’t just help us win the cold war, it kept the cold war from becoming hot.”

Robert Gates, CIA Director under George H. W. Bush, said,

“There were a lot of debates at the time over Soviet military strategy and doctrine in terms of how their forces would be used in a war.” [Polyakov’s purloined documents] “gave us insights into how they talked to each other about these issues, whether they thought that victory in a nuclear war was possible.”

Dillon’s research and interviews acknowledged that “Polyakov was key to informing the CIA on the Sino-Soviet political rift, which eventually led to President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.”

At the age of 17, Eva Dillon discovered the real profession of her father. Always believing her father worked for the Department of State, a newspaper article in the Times of India revealed his covert operations career at the CIA. Dillon was included in a scandalous book at the time by Philip Agee, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” which identified 250 covert officers around the world.

Eva Dillon shares,

“The news that my father worked for the CIA was more illuminating than surprising.  There’d been hints along the way (discovering that Dad spoke Russian, for one)  and the  Times of India article was the last piece of the puzzle that laid bare the secret we had sometimes suspected but never actually questioned.  This knowledge put our past lives into a different perspective.  In all those places we had lived  – Berlin, Mexico City, Rome, New Delhi – our father had been dealing with spies, or spying himself.  And yet we were still not inclined to confront him with this news, or ask him to confirm it.  If he’d never brought it up in all these years, there was a reason, and we loved and respected him too much to put him in an uncomfortable spot.  So we all went about our daily lives as before, which now, looking back, seems kind of funny.  Today we’d ask, of course, but times were different then.”

Anne and Paul Dillon at a fair in Kempten, outside of Munich, Germany, 1951

Anne and Paul Dillon at a fair in Kempten, outside of Munich, Germany, 1951

Decades later, after the death of both parents, Eva Dillon and her siblings discovered a dusty box in the attic her mother had saved. It laid bare the career and life of Paul Dillon as a decorated and venerated spy and the story of his work and friendship with Polyakov.

With the box of leads to start with, Dillon wrote “Spies in the Families” that stretches across 50 years with rare interviews with CIA case officers and family members of Polyakov.

“Spies in the Family” takes the reader through the tense climate of the Cold War through the initial contact between Polyakov and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the infamous tales of James Angleton’s Chief of the CIA Counterintelligence Division paranoid suspicions, the Nixon-China opening, and, the Aldrich Ames betrayal.

Dillon’s book also reveals old spy craft of dead drops and brush passes and creative scripts to maintain deception. Ultimately, “Spies in the Family” reveals the essential authentic human qualities that weave, in this case, an enduring relationship of trust and friendship between two Cold War adversaries.

“Spies in the Family” is the story of real people with a common purpose to strive for peace and transcend any geo-political drama of epic proportions.

In today’s news, classified emails being casually distributed and shared among staff, WikiLeaks, and allegations of election interference and manipulations, “Spies in the Family” is a timely historical record to study.

With rapid news cycles and instantaneous breaking news on Twitter, it does bear reminding that at the source of classified material is an individual. Someone is serving clandestinely with little or no protection or public recognition for their service along with possibly a spouse and children. Without human intelligence to understand the intent and mindset of an adversary, proactive and positive steps to intervene are diminished. Sacrifices are made to keep leadership informed and, hopefully, they are then able to make the best possible national security decisions and ensure peace.

Alexander Polyakov and Eva Dillon, 2016

“Spies in the Family” is personal. Dillon and Polyakov are exceptional individuals of the Cold War. Are they role models for the next generation of spies?

By Keri Douglas, founder/editor of © 2017 All Rights Reserved.


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