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. Read more of this post