SpyCast 7.12.22
Ep 547 | 7.12.22

“Dealing with Russia” – A Conversation with Counterintelligence Legend Jim Olson

Show Notes


Jim Olson (Website) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss Putin and Russia. He had a 31-year career with the CIA including a tour in Moscow.

What You’ll Learn


  • His views on Russia and its trajectory since the Cold War’s end
  • His frank assessment of Putin and admiration for the Russian people
  • His time in Moscow with 3 rotating KGB teams surveilling him
  • His time as Chief of Station in the city of spies Vienna


  • A “beautiful marriage” with American technology 
  • Passing the generational baton

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

“James Olson is a legend in the clandestine service,” not my description of this week’s guest, but that of former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Jim spent 31 years in the CIA, including tours in Moscow, Vienna & Mexico City, and rose to become Chief of CIA Counterintelligence. He is the author of Fair Play and To Catch a Spy

He joined Andrew to speak about Russia. He speaks the language, spent time living and working in the country, where he was involved in one particularly daring operation that he shares with us in the episode, and he faced off against the organization that would go on to become the current SVR and FSB – the KGB.

Jim has had Vladimir Putin on his radar for many a year, and he doesn’t pull any punches reflecting on his trajectory in this episode.


Jim grew up in a small town in Iowa where, “we didn’t really follow international affairs, we joked among ourselves…if it didn’t affect the price of corn, we weren’t really interested.” My, how things changed for Jim.

Quote of the Week

"I have tremendous respect for the Russian people. They are long suffering. I've gotten to know many Russians. I've worked with a lot of Russians. I found them to be people who had a real soul. They had a human qualities that I could admire, but they were locked into a repressive regime that did not allow them to express any of those human sentiments that that they felt." – Jim Olson


Headline Resource


Beginner Resources


  • Putin’s People, C. Belton (Picador, 2022)
  • Operative in the Kremlin, F. Hill & C. Gaddy (Brookings, 2015)
  • One Soldier’s War in Chechnya, A. Babchenko (Portobello, 2008)



Primary Sources

*Wildcard Resource*