Code-named AE/BLIP by the Central Intelligence Agency, Tolkachev volunteered hugely important aeronautical data from “Phastron,” the Research Institute of Radiobuilding, to the CIA in Moscow by leaving a note in a car belonging to a CIA officer. Tolkachev was ideologically motivated and initially had limited himself to distributing subversive literature. When ordered to improve the MiG-25’s avionics following the defection of Lt. Viktor Belenko with his Foxbat Mach-3 high-altitude interceptor to Hakodate in Japan in September 1976, he seized the opportunity to inflict some real damage on the regime by compromising all the fighter’s new avionics.
Later code-named AE/VANQUISH, Tolkachev was paid the equivalent of more than $2 million, mainly in antique Russian jewelry which he pretended he had inherited from his grandmother, in return for details of Soviet radar, electronic countermeasures, and stealth technology, a veritable hemorrhage of secrets that effectively neutralized the feared Foxbat superfighter. Tolkachev’s rather unsubtle initial approach could easily have been a KGB provocation, but with William Casey’s encouragement, the CIA station chief, Gus Hathaway, took the risk and assigned a senior Russian-speaking case officer, John Guilsher, who had a Russian background (and was impressively experienced, having worked in London on the Berlin Tunnel material and transcribed the Penkovsky transcripts in 1962) and he ran the source with two successive case officers with great skill until May 1985 when the engineer was arrested, having been betrayed by an embittered former CIA officer, Edward Lee Howard.