Book Review

The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

In the 1970s, a disgruntled Soviet engineer risked it all to send Soviet radar designs to the CIA.

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A Soviet engineer, Adolf Tolkachev, offered his services to spy for the CIA during the 1970s.
  2. He supplied thousands of photographs of top-secret Soviet aircraft radar designs.
  3. This meant that the US Air Force could easily destroy the Iraqi Air Force in Gulf War 1, losing no aircraft of their own while doing so.


David E. Hoffman's The Billion Dollar Spy is the story of a lone Soviet engineer's espionage activities to aid the CIA. Over a period of six years, Tolkachev gave CIA officers thousands of photographs of top-secret documents. Contained within the four edges of these documents were the designs for Soviet ground radars as well as radars used on warplanes.

Hoffman got his hands on secret documents from the CIA and interviewed many people involved in the operation. As a result, we are lucky to have this rich history of Tolkachev. Tolkachev was motivated because of what Stalin did to his wife's parents and he became one of the greatest insider threats of his time.

Hoffman goes into all the tactics and techniques that the CIA used to shake KGB tails, covertly communicate with Tolkachev and much more.

The Billion Dollar Spy is an easy-to-read page-turner that reads like a fast-paced movie.

Who Should Read It?

This isn't a cyber book. But it is a book about information security; cyber's big sister. No matter what part of cyber or information security you're in, you’ll really enjoy this book if:

  • You want to know more about how insider threats bubble up in organisations
  • You want to learn about how nations gather intelligence using humans (HUMINT)
  • You want to understand the impact a lone wolf can have by leaking data

How the Book Made Me Think

  • Disgruntled employees make for a potentially massive threat.
  • How can modern organisations defend against these types of threats? Modern security systems don't really prevent people from taking photographs of screens. That comes down to the policy of the workplace and whether or not phones are allowed.
  • How working from home will have undoubtedly led to an increase in leaked data.

Get the book on Amazon.

Not into reading? I made a video about SPHERE's story for you!

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