The KGB and the CIA were notorious enemies during the Cold War. As national security agencies for two warring nations, their operatives were tasked with gathering intelligence by any means possible, including friendship; attempts to turn individuals into double agents were common. However, this wasn’t the case for Gennadiy Vasilenko and Jack Platt. When these two were tasked with recruiting one another, they wound up forming a true friendship, despite great personal risk.
How Gennadiy Vasilenko and Jack Platt became spies
Before taking up a career with the KGB, Gennadiy Vasilenko was on track to become a Soviet volleyball star, competing at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This all changed when he was injured and encouraged to join the security agency. Upon completing his training, he joined the First Directorate, which handled international intelligence, and was sent to work counterintelligence in Washington.
Jack Platt served with the US Marine Corps before training with the CIA in 1963. By 1977, he was an experienced member of the Soviet Division, dealing with intelligence from the Eastern Bloc and enticing spies to defect to the United States. Platt received intelligence that Vasilenko, working undercover at the Soviet Embassy, was actually a KGB agent and was tasked with making contact.
Jack Platt and Gennadiy Vasilenko had similar missions
It was decided Jack Platt would unsuspectingly bump into Gennadiy Vasilenko at a Harlem Globetrotters game. As it turned out, the latter had a similar mission, tasked with recruiting FBI and CIA agents.
When he first met Platt, Vasilenko didn’t immediately know the former was a CIA agent. While they each tried to recruit the other during the basketball game, they didn’t admit this to each other. According to Platt, the unexpected eventually occurred. “Halfway through the game I realized, I really like this guy,” he recalled.
Attempting to complete their respective missions, Platt tried to move the discussion toward guns, a hobby he knew he shared with Vasilenko. Following the game, the pair spent an entire day together at a shooting range, where they continued trying and woo the other. This soon turned into restaurant visits, drinks, longer trips and dinners with their respective families.
A friendship blossoms
Jack Platt and Gennadiy Vasilenko realized that, despite their drastically different upbringings, they had a lot in common. Their friendship blossomed through their opposing sides in the Cold War, although, in the beginning, they didn’t halt their recruitment efforts.
Eventually, Platt helped Vasilenko purchase a new car. Their friendship soon reached a place where they decided to pause their espionage efforts against each other. Vasilenko said in an interview, “We told each other, don’t try, let’s be friends, let’s have a good relationship, forget the task. That was the agreement. It was good times, that’s why we continued.” He eventually stopped reporting his meetings with Platt, despite being required to do so.
The pair’s friendship, however, didn’t stop each man from continuing their espionage outside of the friendship. In fact, Vasilenko directly dealt with a defecting CIA agent throughout this time.
Gennadiy Vasilenko is transferred to Guyana
In 1981, Gennadiy Vasilenko was transferred back to the Soviet Union, forcing Jack Platt to break off all contact with his friend. He remained there until 1984, when he was assigned to a posting in Georgetown, Guyana. Not long after, Platt received word of his friend’s location and obtained permission from his superiors to travel there and continue trying to turn him to the American side.
Vasilenko recalled how he had to meet his friend unofficially, as Moscow refused to let him resume efforts to convert him. This was partially due to concerns of a mole after double agent Aldrich Ames revealed to the KGB how easily the CIA had infiltrated the security agency.
Platt left Guyana in 1987, telling his friend that he would return to celebrate his birthday. By that time, however, Vasilenko had dropped off the face of the earth.
An apparent betrayal leads to an arrest by the KGB
As it turns out, Gennadiy Vasilenko had been ordered to Cuba on KGB business, where he was arrested and accused of being a mole. It’s believed Ames was the one who revealed the Soviet’s continued relationship with Jack Platt after he became aware of it while continuing his work as a double agent with the CIA.
Vasilenko was taken to Lubyanka Prison for interrogation and told Platt had secretly recorded one of their conversations. He opted to trust in their friendship, believing Platt had kept his word to never record their meetings. He was right, with the agents concocting the lie to try to get him to confess. What they really had were stolen CIA files detailing the meetings between the two, which only covered their official meetings
Gennadiy Vasilenko is cleared of any suspicion
It took six months of interrogation before the KGB decided Gennadiy Vasilenko wasn’t actually a spy for the CIA. However, the agency still demoted and fired him. He was also banned from overseas travel.
It wasn’t until 1991 that Jack Platt, having long assumed his friend was dead, got word that he was alive. The American decided to reach out to his old friend, and the pair connected over the phone. After Vasilenko had his travel ban removed, they met up in the US.
Despite the KGB’s ruse, Vasilenko never thought his friend had betrayed him. Platt remembered him saying, “I know it wasn’t you.” The two soon started working together in the security industry, moving most of their business to Russia. Platt made it a personal mission to help his friend get back on his feet following his dismissal from the KGB.
In the years that followed, their friendship continued as strong as ever, and their families became extremely close.