Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Abel, Rudolf (1903–1971)

Pseudonym of Vilyam (Willie) Genrikovich Fisher, the chief Soviet undercover agent in the United States from 1947 to 1957. The alias "Rudolf Abel" was adopted at the time of Fisher's arrest in the United States in 1957. Born on 11 July 1903 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Fisher at age sixteen passed an entry exam to the University of London. Two years later he went to the Soviet Union, where he served first as a translator for the Comintern before a stint in the Red Army's Radio Battalion during 1925–1926.

Fisher then served as a Soviet spy in the German Army before being assigned to New York City under the code name "Mark" in 1947. There he posed as a freelance artist known as Emil Robert Goldfus. In 1949, he assumed control of the Volunteer spy network headed by American communist Morris Cohen. The network included Theodore Alvin Hall, a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos and the youngest of the spies who passed information on the atom bomb to the Soviets. The network had also included atomic spies Julius Rosenberg and Klaus Fuchs.

In 1957 Fisher's chief assistant, the alcoholic Reino Hayhanen, betrayed him to American authorities. Arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison, Fisher served only four years at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary before he was exchanged on 10 February 1962 for downed American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers on the Glienicke Bridge in West Berlin, ever after known as "the bridge of spies." The drama of the exchange and the book by Fisher's lawyer, Strangers on a Bridge, cemented Fisher's reputation as a master spy, even though his American residency had not produced any great intelligence coups. Fisher spent the remainder of his career working at the KGB Illegals Directorate in Moscow. He died of lung cancer in Moscow on 15 November 1971.

Vernon L. Pedersen


Further Reading
Donovan, James B. Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel. New York: Atheneum, 1964.
 

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