A colonel in the GRU Soviet military intelligence service, Polyakov volunteered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York in January 1962, following the death of his son, whom he believed could have been saved by an operation in America, permission for which had been turned down. Polyakov was run successfully and jointly by the FBI (code-named TOP HAT) and the Central Intelligence Agency (code-named ROAM) afterward. He was bitter about the death of his son and infuriated that his pay had been cut because of his unpopular opinion that sophisticated illegal operations in the United States were a complete waste of money because the environment really did not call for anything more complex than a false passport. In 1977, as Ryszard Kuklinsky was mastering his Discus device, Polyakov’s CIAhandler in New Delhi, Paul L. Dillon, taught the GRU officer to use the squirt transmitter so he could send signals to the CIA station while traveling past the U.S. embassy in Moscow on a bus. By this means Polyakov, code-named CK/BEEP, managed to maintain radio contact with the CIA for two years in the Soviet capital before returning to India as military attaché with the rank of lieutenant general.
In June 1980, apparently undetected and approaching his official retirement, Polyakov returned to Moscow to reach the peak of his importance, keeping the local CIA station in touch with events inside the GRU’s headquarters that, hitherto, had been almost immune to defection and penetration. It was later to emerge that the GRU had come to suspect Polyakov while he was on his final overseas tour, which had been cut short as a precaution. He was arrested in Moscow in July 1986, the day after his 65th birthday, and was executed, having been identified as a CIA source by both Robert Hanssen and then Aldrich Ames.
The CIA’s determination to identify the mole responsible for betraying Polyakov was enhanced by the fact that one of the principal mole hunters, Sandy Grimes, had been the headquarters manager of the case, and she had made a personal commitment to finding the traitor.