Tennent H. 'Pete' Bagley, a US spy with ties to Raleigh, dies at 88

jprice@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2014 

— Tennent H. “Pete” Bagley, who was one of the great insiders of Cold War espionage – and had close ties to Raleigh – died Feb. 20 at his longtime home in Brussels, Belgium.

He was 88.

Bagley was recruited to the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950, not long after the agency was formed. He first served in occupied Vienna, then rose through the ranks and headed the agency’s counterintelligence operations against the Soviet Bloc during the 1960s, and also served as deputy chief of its Soviet Bloc division.

He retired in the 1970s after five years as station chief in Brussels.

Bagley was a nephew of Addie Bagley Daniels and Josephus Daniels, who headed a group that bought The News & Observer in 1894. The Daniels family owned the newspaper until 1995.

An uncle, Worth Bagley, was the first American officer killed in the Spanish-American war, and is honored by a statue on the Capitol grounds in Raleigh.

In 2008, Bagley traveled to North Carolina to speak at the annual Raleigh Spy Conference.

He had plenty to talk about.

In recent years, Bagley had become a prolific writer about espionage in newspapers, professional journals and books. He was the co-author of “KGB: Masters of the Soviet Union” in 1990; the memoir “Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries and Deadly Games” in 2007, which is an exploration of the controversy surrounding the KGB defector Yuri Nosenko; and “Spymaster: Startling Cold War Revelations of a Soviet KGB Chief,” which was published last year.

Nosenko, who defected to the West in 1964, was a particular obsession. Bagley was Nosenko’s chief handler for the CIA, and he eventually became convinced – as did others in the U.S. intelligence community – that the Russian was a double agent, sent to sow disinformation.

The CIA officially decided Nosenko was a legitimate defector, but for years after leaving the agency himself, Bagley continued to meticulously build his case for the opposite view. He explained much of it in his well-received book “Spy Wars” and continued to delve into the case.

“One of the things that he has always worked on was a list of questions that had never been answered about the discrepancies between what Nosenko was saying and what the undisputed facts were,” said Bagley’s son, Andrew, in a telephone interview from Brussels, where the family was gathered. “And there never was a genuine effort on the part of the agency or anyone else to get to the bottom of how you resolve these mysteries while still believing Nosenko was a genuine defector.”

The drive to do that came from an unwavering sense of what was right and wrong, his son said.

“He knew what was right, and he stuck to it,” said Andrew Bagley. “And I think that’s part of what drove him in the later years to write and to want to tell the story, and tell what he knew and expose flawed thinking about certain events.”

In many ways, Bagley didn’t fit the stereotypes about spies. His friends often describe his unusual kindness and genuine curiosity about nearly everything. He was an avid bird-watcher, loved chess, and was so intimately familiar with Shakespeare’s writing that during performances of the Bard’s plays, he would mouth the words as the actors uttered them, said his son.

But he left the stage himself like a spy: discreetly. There was no funeral or service, and he was cremated in a private ceremony with only immediate family present.

Price: 919-829-4526

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service