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Martha Peterson
CIA case officer

Martha 'Marti' Peterson 1 (27 May 1945), née Martha Jane Denny, is a former operations officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Peterson joined the CIA in 1975 after learning the Russian language, and was the first female agent to be sent to Moscow (Russia) — at the time part of the Soviet Union (USSR) — where she became the case handler of Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik, codenamed TRIGON. The latter was compromised while working in South America [1].

Peterson arrived in Moscow in November 1975. Just 30 years old, she was the first female case officer to work for the CIA, posing as a low-level embassy clerk. Although she never met TRIGON in person, they exchanged documents and messages through pre-arranged dead drops.

Although she had the advantage of being female — as a result of which she was not under Soviet surveillance — she always executed extensive counter-surveillance runs, in accordance with her CIA training. Furthermore, she always wore a SRR-100 surveillance receiver under her clothes.
Martha Peterson's Russian drivers licence in 1975

The SRR-100 was actually a small scanner that was adjusted to the frequencies used by the Soviet surveillance teams. By wearing an invisible earpiece, the operative was able to pickup nearby KGB communications. If no communications were heard, the operative was assumed to be black. 2

TRIGON, who was trained by the CIA in copying documents with a pen-camera and receiving messages via a West German numbers station, had been delivering first class intelligence to the CIA since 1972. In early 1977 however, the CIA became worried that he might be compromised.

On 15 July 1977, just after making a dead drop for TRIGON, Marga Peterson was arrested by the Russian Intelligence Service KGB. Upon her arrest, they immediately grabbed the SRR-100 surveillance receiver that she carried in a cloth pocket that was attached to her bra with velcro.
The SRR-100 receiver grabbed from her chest upon her arrest

After her arrest she was relocated to the Lubliana prison, where she was interrogated by the KGB. Peterson asked for a representative from the US Embassy to be present during the interrogation, which was granted. She was subsequently visited by a representative – probably the US Consul – who is present on some of the photographs of the interrogation that were released by the Soviets.

On some of the photographs, it can be seen that the US Consul is wearing two watches: one on the left arm and one at the right. According to Keith Melton [3], the one on the left arm is a covert microphone, that was connected to a wire recorder that was hidden under his clothing.

In the image on the right, the watch on the left arm is clearly visible, whilst something appears to be present at the right one as well. A close-up photograph of the consul, taken at the same day in the same room, reveals that he wears indeed two watches, one probably a covert microphone.
Martha Peterson being interrogated at the KGB's Lubliana prison in the presence of the US Consul

If this was indeed the case, the watch was most likely made by the German manufacturer Protona, and might have been connected to a Protona Minifon Special wire recorder or, more likely, to a Nagra SN tape recorder. Protected by her diplomatic immunity, Peterson was released after the interrogation, but saw her diplomatic status revoked. After being declared persona non grata, she was expelled from the Soviet Union. TRIGON had meanwhile also been arrested, but had been able to commit suicide by taking the CIA-supplied L-Pill that was hidden in his fountain pen [3].

Martha Peterson retired from the CIA in 2003. In 2012, she released a book about some of her CIA experiences [4]. For more details about this facinating story, either read the book, or check out to Dirk Rijmenant's excellent blog: Martha Peterson and TRIGON [2].

  1. She currently goes by the name Martha Peterson Shogi (2017).
  2. In CIA parlance, Black means that the operative is free from surveillance.

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On Thursday 19 September 2013, Martha Peterson — the author of the book The Widow Spy — held a talk at the Darien Library in the town of Darien (Connecticut, USA), which was broadcast on the internet by the Spy Museum in Washington as a podcast, or as they call it: as a spycast. Below is a video recording of this more than one hour talk, in which Peterson gives her own account of this fascinating piece of Cold War history, starting with the death of her first husband in 1972.

Trigon: The KGB Chess Game
Below is a link to the episode Trigon: The KGB Chess Game of the CNN program DECLASSIFIED, as it was published on 15 June 2016. It features former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence James M. Olson and Martha Peterson herself, giving a full retrospecitive account of the TRIGON case [5].

Update 14 August 2017

Unfortunately, the above video is no longer available on YouTube, probably as a result of a copyright infringement. It may be aired by CNN again in the future. For the time being, please check out the sneak preview on the CNN website [5].
  1. Wikipedia, Martha Peterson
    Retrieved July 2017.

  2. Dirk Rijmenants, Martha Peterson and TRIGON
    Blog. 26 July 2017.

  3. H. Keith Melton, Ultimate Spy
    1996-2015. ISBN 978-0-2411-8991-7.

  4. Martha D. Peterson, The Widow Spy
    15 February 2012. ISBN 978-0-9838781-2-4.

  5. CNN, Mom reveals here secret spy life to kids
    15 June 2016
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Crypto Museum. Created: Wednesday 26 July 2017. Last changed: Monday, 14 August 2017 - 09:16 CET.
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