On November 2, 1985, Vitaly Yurchenko, a senior KGB officer who had defected to the US barely three months earlier, walked out of a Washington restaurant and made his way to the Soviet Embassy.
The full extent of his rash actions became clear when he appeared at a news conference at the Soviet Embassy to claim he had been drugged and kidnapped by the CIA, and that they forced him to give information on the KGB. Many believe this story was made up and was exploited as part of a propaganda war with the US. However, the case became highly embarrassing for the CIA, who had to explain to various officials how they managed to lose such a valuable defector.
According to the official story before eating a meal at the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Georgetown, Yurchenko suddenly asked a question. "What would you do if I got up and walked out? Would you shoot me?" The CIA agent replied: "No, we don't treat defectors that way." "I'll be back in 15 or 20 minutes," Yurchenko said. "If I'm not, it will not be your fault." Yurchenko was never seen in the US again. He hailed a taxi to the Soviet embassy compound to become the first double-defector of the Cold War.
The case of Yurchenko could be called the most surprising and controversial espionage soap opera in the history of the Cold War. Just three months earlier he had done about the same when he walked into a US Embassy in Rome and defected to the United States.
With 25 years experince and serving as the deputy chief of KGB's operations in the US (a position that theoretically would allow him to know the identity of every Soviet agent in the country) Yurchenko was a big catch for the US. As one of the most informed KGB officers he spilled secrets to the CIA that imparted a good deal of sensitive information and helped the CIA identify Ronald Pelton, a spy in the NSA, and Edward Lee Howard, a former CIA officer who spied for the Soviet Union.
The lack of real motives for Yurchenko's escape to the US spawned several theories. Some believe that he was sent over by the KGB to somehow infiltrate his way into the CIA and their secrets. Another, more plausible theory is that because of his love for a wife of a Soviet diplomat, residing in Canada, Yurchenko fled to the US in order to pursue her and start a new life in the United States.
However, things had not worked out as he had hoped. Most importantly, his girlfriend rejected any intention of leaving her husband, and the CIA did not give him the warm welcome he expected and kept him a virtual prisoner. At that point Yurchenko became disillusioned, depressed and homesick.
Finally, on November 2, he slipped away from his CIA escort. On returning to the Soviet Union, not only was he not shot for treason, but he also wasn’t even sent to prison. Instead, Yurchenko was given an honorary title, continued living in Moscow and gave numerous interviews, in which he claimed that he knew nothing about Pelton, Howard, nor any other agents recruited by the KGB.