The mysterious case of Glenn Souther, US defector to the USSR

Glenn Michael SoutherBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
This past June marked 23 years from the death of Glenn Michael Souther, a United States Navy photographer who defected to the Soviet Union in 1986. Despite the passage of time, a thick veil of mystery remains over the life and works of Souther, an ideological defector to the USSR, who was one of the very few foreign agents and defectors given officer rank in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s foremost intelligence agency during most the Cold War. In 1975, following his graduation from high school, Souther joined the US Navy, and was stationed in Italy in the early 1980s. It was there where he married an Italian woman, and where –it is believed– he was recruited by the KGB’s Boris Solomatin, a legendary Soviet intelligence officer who is believed to have handled US spy John Anthony Walker. In 1982, Souther left the US Navy and enrolled at Old Dominion University, where he studied Russian literature, while at the same time working as a reservist in the US Navy. During that time, Souther worked for naval intelligence, specializing in processing satellite-reconnaissance photographs; he is also believed to have had access to classified intercepts circulating within the US Navy’s communications network. In May 1986, soon after the Federal Bureau of Investigation started to suspect Souther may be working for a foreign intelligence agency, he suddenly disappeared. Two years later, an article in the morning edition of Soviet newspaper Izvestia, official publishing organ of the Soviet Presidium, announced that Souther had been granted political asylum in the USSR. Later that evening, Souther appeared on Soviet Central Television, criticizing American foreign policy and explaining his decision to defect to the Soviet Union. However, on June 22, 1989, an article in Krasnaya Zvezda, official newspaper of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, announced that Souther had killed himself in the garage of his home. By that time, he had been awarded Soviet citizenship under the name of Mikhail Yevgenievich Orlov, and had been awarded the Order of Friendship of Peoples for “contributing to the political and military development of the Soviet Union”. Moreover, at the time of his death he held the rank of major in the KGB, and specified in his suicide note that he wished to be “buried in the uniform of an officer of the KGB”. Shortly after Souther’s death, then KGB Director Vladimir A. Kryuchkov told Western journalists that Souther had been recruited early in his military career and was “one of Moscow’s best operatives”. His official obituary described him as “having played a vital role as an intelligence agent for the KGB”. The story of Souther’s spying, defection and death is described in Ronald Kessler’s book The Spy in the Russian Club (Scribner, 1990).

14 Responses to The mysterious case of Glenn Souther, US defector to the USSR

  1. Kidd says:

    suicide in the garage — seems to be sop and certainly doesn’t leave a mess in the house. always the question whether he and or the others, was pushed or did he/they jump.

  2. James says:

    Sure, and the “Washington Madam” hung herself in her mother’s garden shed, and Vince Foster chose a public park to blow out his brains. And one former director of the CIA drowned while fishing in his pajamas at midnight. One would have to be extremely naive to accept those official stories as facts.

  3. Ivan Durakov says:

    Since nobody in the USSR ever had a garage, the official story is highly suspect, probably designed to form specific images in impressionable American minds…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Unluckily, several issues were skirted. His Italian wife reported him to NCIS Special Agent Greg Scoval at Sixth Fleet (USS Puget Sound Gaeta, Italy).. Greg stated to follow on investigators that he filed a report (NOR). The NIS investigation never found the report, Scoval never took a lie detector test. Souther was reported a second time which was investigated. The FBI sent an agent to Souther’s residence after he was reported a second time, the agent gave Souther his business card.. Souther stated that he would come visit the FBI agent on Monday. Souther flew to Mexico city and flew Aeroflot direct to Moscow. The FBI became alarmed when Souther failed to show up to his FBI appointment.

  5. intelNews says:

    @Anonymous: Thanks for this information. Do you happen to know of a good bibliographical source on Souther? There is remarkably little information about him out there. [JF]

  6. Anonymous says:

    The Sailor Who Got Away
    The parallels between Photographer’s Mate Glenn M. Souther’s case and John Walker’s are striking. In 1980, four years after joining the Navy, Souther walked in to the Soviet Embassy in Rome, where the KGB’s Boris Solomatin was then stationed, and volunteered to become a spy. At the time, Souther was assigned to the Sixth Fleet and had access to classified information. After getting an honorable discharge, he entered the naval reserve in 1982 and was assigned to the Navy Intelligence Center in Norfolk, where he again dealt with classified data. At the time, he was pursuing a college degree at Old Dominion University, where he majored in Russian. Souther’s wife, meanwhile, told the NIS she believed her estranged husband was a spy, but the service dismissed the allegations. The charges also made no difference the following year when the Defense Investigative Service vetted Souther, whose security clearance was to be raised to top secret. At the end of 1984, Souther became a civilian employee at the Fleet Intelligence Center Europe and Atlantic. The naval officer who had married Souther’s former wife raised questions about him during the Year of the Spy, but the NIS again dismissed them. Since Souther was a civilian, it forwarded the allegations to the FBI, and in May 1986 special agent Butch Holtz interviewed the reservist, who denied being a spy. Absent evidence, Souther could not be charged, and two weeks later he fled to Moscow. In June 1989, the Soviet press reported the suicide of a Mikhail Orlov, who was later acknowledged to be Souther. He was reportedly buried with full military honors in the uniform of a KGB major.

    The above is a fairly good snippet (from USNI) – but again leaves out Special Agent (SA) Greg Scoval (late acting director NCIS in 2009-10) and the disappearing NOR report; as well as having a number of timeline errors.

    Souther’s wife Patrizia works at Navy base at Naples, Italy (still today). Souther’s wife reported Souther while he was on the USS Puget Sound AD38, (1979-82) with US Sixth Fleet component. She approached Scoval directly at a party.
    Souther was part of the Sixth Fleet Staff component onboard (not ships company). His access was broad as the official Sixth Fleet photographer.
    He wore a beard at this time. After leaving his wife, on several occaisions – he took a girlfriend to Rome, where he made dead drops, and used tradecraft of marking a bridge after leaving a package under a rock (Interview of GF). He was still married at the time in an on/off relationship.
    It was a Naval Officer (brother-in law) [not a husband of the former Italian wife as incorrectly cited in ol-line sources] who was talked to initially and when talked to by SA Scoval he dismissed the idea that Souther was a spy.

    Newspaper sources incorrectly report his departure. He fled immediately after FBI directly contacted him. Aerflot flight Mexico city to Moscow. FBI did not pursue him until after he did not show up to Norfolk Field Office appointment.

    His wife Patrizia, has sought for many years to obtain a Death certificate or acceptable document to present to have the marriage terminated since she remained married to him officially in Italy since he left her behind.

  7. intelNews says:

    @Anonymous: Thanks for this excellent update on Souther. I have been trying to find out more about his case after I posted the article above, but have been unable to uncover much. The USNI article –and your comments– help a lot in establishing a somewhat firmer basis about this largely neglected case study. [JF]

  8. Reino Glikman says:

    I strongly believe he is not dead. Nor is Edward Lee Howard. Both have (poorly) faked their own deaths. Edward Lee Howard was a CIA defector to the Soviet Union. He ended up marrying Elena Orlova (Glenn Souther’s Russian ‘wife’) and then also “died of suicide”.

    Nobody had a garage in the Soviet Union in 1982 and the FSB (Russian KGB) had two different explanations for Howards death.

    Both have had plastic surgery and changed identities. A CSIS file specifically mentions both in Thailand and Canada after their ‘deaths’.

    Howard has been positively spotted in Mexico and also has been sloppy due to his preference of having an alcoholic beverage.

    Souther’s child in Italy is named Angelo, he is a kick boxer of some repute. His Italian ex-wife is still employed at a USN base.


  9. Anonymous says:

    As a sailor Souther (he was a photographers mate 2) was in Gaeta Italy on the USS Puget Sound AD-38, as part of the deployed staff with Sixth Fleet. He had an occaisional beer – sometimes several in the Gaeta gut bars and in Vics Bar at the pier and the 8 & ½ pub. He liked Italian girls and spoke some Italian.

  10. Jim says:

    It was not the FBI who blew this case but NIS. The FBI asked for help and let NIS know they would be arresting Souther. A local NIS agent went to Southers house and asked him some questions. Souther told him to get a warrant and the agent left with a promise to return. Souther was gone when they returned and showed up in the USSR shortly after. I am sad to say I knew him for years and never had a clue what he was up to.

  11. Renee says:

    So, I served with Glenn at FICEURLANT 0486 as a reservist. We ate lunch together the last weekend he drilled. He was not himself and emotionally upset. I asked him what was going on and he stated he had misgivings about going to Italy to see his child and the child’s mother. He was just not himself. I have not thought of Glenn in years. All the military people were interviewed by the NIS, but were given instruction not to speak of Glenn to anyone; so we did not. The sensitivity to the case at the time was understandable. I just want to point out Souther is a variation of his last name if my memory serves me. Also, other details I remember. Probably to protect his family. I believe he got involved in espionage at a young age and immature stage of his life and felt regretful, but did not know how to get out without bringing much harm to himself or his loved ones. It seems escaping was something Glenn had a desire to do in many areas of his life. I find it hard to believe he killed himself, but he was certainly emotionally wounded. I knew him all while I served at FICUERLANT and I would have never guessed he was doing what he did; although, the Russian he studied at ODU should have been an indicator to keep an eye on him. He really was a disappointed to this country. My guess is with each passing day he lived in the USSR he began to appreciate America and understand the result of his actions.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Another Good article:
    June 29, 1989
    Ex-Wife of Dead Spy Told Navy He Worked for Soviets, U.S. Says
    By STEPHEN ENGELBERG; Special to The New York Times

    Looks like FBI bungled it not NIS in 1986

    The NIS Special Agent on the flagship – [edited], son of an Admiral, was a flashy fast tracker, called a blue flamer. Made it to acting director of NCIS, long after covering up his bungling of the Souther first inquiry in Gaeta. He also tried to get even with the original SA that investigated his actions and reported him for not providing an operations report (NOR). Now he’s a beltway bandit paid high money to be what he is. (He got his son into NCIS too).

  13. Adam says:

    Reino Glikman: So, your claim is that the KGB/FSB staged intricate suicides of pretty much useless, depressed one-hit-wonders who were of no use to them, but were so dumb to claim there was a garage when there was none, make it all ridiculously obvious by connecting them via their wife and so on? Your claims are baseless and borderline absurd.
    Firstly, Souther has not commited suicide at home (where his family was) but alone at his DACHA (cottage) in Zhukovka, west of Moscow – hence the garage. His close neighbor there was Howard, but guess what: also George Blake and others, it was a prominent recreational area for the inner circle. And that is their ONLY connection: where did you get the idea that Southers wife Elena married Howard? Elena and her daughter Alexandra emigrated to the US less than a year after USSR fell apart. Howard has NOT even commited suicide but apparently fell (drunk) from his balcony. Even if he did so what? Kilby was depressed, Blake was disappointed, McLean also… surprise surprise, defectors do.

  14. Hattori says:

    Renee: what do you mean by “Souther is a variation of his last name”? Are you saying that his high school yearbook, his military records, his Soviet TV interviews, his GRAVE in Moscow, all use a fake name to “protect his family”, which ALSO uses the same name? Wow. What an endless stream of fake news here.

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