Sergei Tretyakov dies at 53; Russian spy defected to United States

Associated Press

Sergei Tretyakov, a former top Russian spy who defected to the U.S. after running espionage operations from the United Nations, has died in Florida, his wife and a friend said Friday. He was 53.

News of his death last month came the same day the United States and Russia completed their largest swap of spies since the Cold War.

Tretyakov, who defected in 2000 and later claimed his agents helped the Russian government steal nearly $500 million from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq, died June 13.

His widow, Helen Tretyakov, told WTOP Radio in Washington that he died of natural causes. She said she announced his death Friday to prevent Russian intelligence from claiming responsibility.


She said her husband warned U.S. authorities when he defected that Russia was expanding deep-cover operations. She said, however, that there was no direct link between his information and the 10 people arrested last month as Russian spies near Boston, New York and Washington.

Author Pete Earley, who wrote a 2008 book about Tretyakov, wrote Friday on his blog that Tretyakov died of a heart attack at home and an autopsy showed no sign of foul play.

“Sergei was called ‘the most important spy for the U.S. since the collapse of the Soviet Union’ by an FBI official in my book,” Earley wrote. “Unfortunately, because much of what he said is still being used by U.S. counterintelligence officers, it will be years before the true extent of his contribution can be made public — if ever.”

Tretyakov was born Oct. 5, 1956, in Moscow. He joined the KGB and rose quickly to become the second-in-command of its U.N. office in New York between 1995 and 2000.


His defection in 2000 was very significant, said Peter Earnest, director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, who spent more than 30 years in the CIA.

Russia’s spies in the United States would have come under Tretyakov’s purview, Earnest said.

For up to a decade after his defection, the FBI kept watch over 10 Russian agents as they tried to blend into American suburbia. They were arrested last week and swapped Friday in Vienna for four people convicted in Russia of spying for the U.S. and Britain.

“That does bring into mind the question: Is that the sort of information he might have shared with the U.S. authorities?” Earnest said.


Tretyakov defected to the United States with his wife and daughter and settled in the small, southwest Florida town of Osprey. The family members eventually became U.S. citizens.