The trouble in dealing with spies and former spies is that one can never be sure when they're telling the truth and when they're spinning self-serving fables. After all, their lives and careers have depended on artful and persistent deception. A high-ranking agent for the KGB and later for its post-Cold War successor, the SVR, Sergey Tretyakov defected to the U.S. in October 2000, bringing with him his wife and daughter. Little was revealed about the defection until Tretyakov, now living under cover, asked the FBI and CIA to connect him with Pete Earley, whose book on American spy Aldrich Ames (Confessions of a Spy) he particularly admired.

As it turns out, Tretyakov had been spying for the U.S. well before he walked out on Russia. His reason for changing sides, he tells Earley in Comrade J, was neither job discontent nor hope of financial gain, but rather his disenchantment with what Russia had become under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. (He is equally unimpressed with current Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin, whom he remembers as having had "a nothing career" within the KGB.) Former Washington Post reporter Earley says he conducted 126 hours of face-to-face interviews with Tretyakov, a probing that enables him to describe the Russian's early life and KGB training, his stint in Canada as a spy and spy recruiter, and his final information-gathering assignments in New York. Tretyakov gives a voluminous accounting of the KGB/SVR personalities he worked with and the brutality of the system he long defended.

Perhaps the most newsworthy element here is Tretyakov's list of people he says were finessed, tricked, bribed or blackmailed into providing useful—although not always classified - information. One of these sources, he reports, was Strobe Talbott, President Clinton's deputy secretary of state. Earley dutifully presented Tretyakov's accusations to Talbott and the other supposed sources - and they, as might be expected, dismissed or denied them without exception. Whatever the truth of his specific assertions, Tretyakov draws a remarkably detailed and engaging diagram of the mechanics of spying.

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