The era of the Cold War after World War II was like a stage that opened for spies from both the United States and the Soviet Union, trying to obtain whatever information they could from the enemies pretending to be friends and friends pretending to be enemies. One agent tries to recruit the enemy agent. There even double spies who pretended to be traitors but were actually not traitors.Then there were the Triple Agents who were spies who got caught and turned against their own side, only to be caught again and then spy again for their own side. Information was being sold like hotcakes; it was just a chaotic world of deceit, and it was really hard to know who to trust.

Being an agent, regardless of which side, perhaps the last thing that you think you could find was friendship. A rare thing that Gennadiy Vasilenko and Jack Platt found in each other. What’s even rarer was that they were from KGB and CIA, respectively.

First Meeting

Spy. (Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash)

It was the spring of 1979 when Gennadiy Vasilenko arrived in Washington, DC. Claiming to be a Soviet diplomat, Vasilenko’s real mission was to recruit CIA and FBI agents as KGB spies. He took advantage of his athleticism to meet potentially valuable people that he could recruit on DC tennis and volleyball courts.

One of his tennis mates was a CIA and co-worker of Jack Platt, who, at that time, already knew that Vasilenko was really up to. He arranged to meet Vasilenko at a Harlem Globetrotters game through his co-worker, with the agenda of recruiting him for CIA instead.

As for the KGB agent, he could immediately tell that Platt was either working either in the FBI or CIA. The telltale signs were there: decked out cowboy hat and boots and claiming to be working from Pentagon. Platt tried to steer the conversation towards guns while at the game, using his knowledge that Vasilenko was an enthusiast like himself. He invited him to shoot, and they spent the whole day together, both with the agenda of trying to recruit each other. They did not formally confess this to each other until after several years.

From Two Different Worlds

The two had very many differences and started from different worlds.

Gennadiy Vasilenko was born on December 3, 1941, and spent his childhood in Siberia at the height of the Cold War. He started drinking “pure alcohol” at three years old and was used to living without electricity or gas. He had to skate two miles on a frozen river every day so he could attend school, and his first pet was a bear cub. Before he was recruited to KGB, Vasilenko was an Olympic-level athlete, but his career ended after an injury that changed his life forever. He joined the spy service and was sent to Washington, the perfect spot for a KGB spy like himself.

Jack Platt was born in San Antonio, Texas, on February 18, 1936. He was a former Marine who decided to join the CIA in 1963 and was assigned to both the Soviet division and in counterintelligence. He became known as Cowboy Jack because of his love for guns and sterling reputation as a truly dedicated agent.

Covering Each Other Up

Vasilenko never really shared any information that he had about his American friend and defector that was working for the CIA. Likewise, Platt did not even think of sharing any information about the Soviet agents from which the CIA got its information. Although they never really stopped trying to recruit each other. Their supposed casual meetings trying to recruit one another turned into a solid friendship. Their coffee or game meetings soon became hunting trips and then dinners with their families.

They, unfortunately, had to go on separate ways when Vasilenko was transferred back to the Soviet Union because of rules about how long he could serve overseas. In 1984, Platt had the opportunity to see his friend when Vasilenko was transferred to become the head of the KGB staff in Guyana.

Their reunion was not for long because Moscow suddenly became anxious that the CIA was infiltrating the KGB. It was at that same time when Aldrich Ames revealed to the world how far the US had gotten into the KGB, confirming their worries.

The tragedy happened when Vasilenko was accused of being a mole working for the CIA. He was brought to Lubyanka Prison, where he was tortured and jailed. He suffered from the beatings and interrogations for six months, all while thinking that his best friend sold him out.

John C. Platt, left, who was a CIA officer, and Gennadiy Vasilenko, a KGB agent, became friends during the Cold War. (The New York Times)

On the other hand, Platt did not really reveal any information about Vasilenko to the CIA. So when Ames handed the information that contained Platt’s reports to the Soviets without Vasilenko’s name, he practically saved his friend’s life. It wasn’t until the Soviet Union fell that the two would reconnect and start a business together in the United States.