In 1957, Glenn Michael Souther was born at St. Margaret’s Hospital, just off Douglas Street in Hammond, Indiana.
In 1989, KGB officer Mikhail Yevgenyevich Orlov died in the garage below his Moscow apartment. He had penned a suicide note, sealed the garage door, started his car, and waited for the carbon monoxide to do its work. He didn’t have to wait long.
These men were one and the same.
How this military man—born and bred in the cradle of middle-class Midwest—could become one of the Soviet Union’s most useful agents remains a mystery. Its answer died in that garage. According to his Soviet handlers and his American family, Souther’s defection didn’t stem from hatred, revenge, money, or power. According to Boris Solomatin, a KGB counterintelligence officer, Souther simply loved the idea and the ideology of the Soviet Union. He was a romantic.
In a 1988 letter, Souther stated, “For me, Russia was the place where I lived in my dreams…” The Soviet Union welcomed him with open arms, of course, but his admittance to their Socialist Republic had a heavy price tag: the deepest military secrets of the United States. Souther paid that price gladly. By the time of his defection, the American intelligence community had labeled HUGO a “super-agent.”
“An extremely loyal American…”
After Souther graduated from high school in Munster, Indiana, he briefly attended college, then enlisted in the Navy. Souther spent several years stationed in Rome, working abroad the USS Nimitz as a naval photographer. In 1982, the Navy offered Souther an honorable discharge so he could attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk. There, he would receive both commissioned officer training and earn a degree in Russian literature. The military had begun a grooming process to transform the young petty officer into an intelligence officer. There is little in Souther’s upbringing to suggest his future treason. In high school and college, he proved himself a bright, curious student. During his time at Old Dominion, Souther spent many hours with the Fahey family. When news of Souther’s defection and death leaked, Barbara Fahey first expressed disbelief, but mentioned “He wanted to be the life of the party. I felt he was screaming out to be seen and heard.” That desire for adventure and attention may have had more to do with Souther’s actions than any ideology. The Navy didn’t see the signs of Souther’s duplicity early on. Even those who knew him didn’t think an intelligent boy, born in the pastoral womb of the Midwest, could become a tool of the KGB.
Overtures of Treason
In 1980, Souther walked into Rome’s Soviet Embassy and met KGB agent Boris Solomatin (the two would have a close relationship until Souther’s death). The sailor calmly stated that he wished to defect to the Soviet Union. A member of the American military defecting to the Soviet Union didn’t happen often; Soviet defection to the US happened more frequently. Suspicious of the young man’s motives, Solomatin asked if he wanted political asylum or feared persecution. A standard diplomatic question. Souther said no. In a 1988 segment of the television program ‘Camera on the World,’ the former American gave a succinct motive for leaving: “I simply decided to live here [USSR] or not to live.”
An American military defection would be a nice political win for the Soviet Union. Once the KGB chief discovered Souther’s role in the Navy (photography and image processing), Solomatin knew this idealistic young man could become a great asset.
He was absolutely right.
Souther Earns his Admission, and Then Some.
Solomatin didn’t mince words: Souther had to earn his admittance into the Soviet Union. It would likely take years, but if Souther gathered worthwhile intelligence for the USSR in that time, the Soviets would do better than simply pulling back the Iron Curtain. They would offer him a high-ranking position in the KGB itself, complete with that station’s many perks. Souther agreed, perhaps not recognizing the irony in admiring a communist country and then taking advantage of its pragmatic inequality.
This intelligence would also prove to the KGB that their initial suspicions—Souther was a CIA operative meant to infiltrate the KGB—were unfounded. Souther was a gamble, but the payout would be well worth it.
When the Soviet Union informed its citizens of Souther/Orlov’s death, they described his contribution to the People with their typical pomp and ambiguity. “For a long time,” his official obituary read, “he performed important special assignments and made a major contribution to insuring the security of the Soviet Union.” Major contribution was not an overstatement.
While attending Old Dominion University, Southern had no problem leveraging his experience on the USS Nimitz into part-time work for the Navy. The Navy installed him in a top secret intelligence facility, where workers processed the endless stream of satellite reconnaissance photos. Some were specifically earmarked as strategic intelligence, prime targets in case of a limited or total nuclear exchange. These photos directly determined the orders for American ICBMs and nuclear bombers.
This skinny, bright-eyed boy born and raised in northern Lake County, Indiana, told the Soviet exactly where, when, and how the American military would strike if war broke out. For the Boris Solomatin and the KGB, Souther (codenamed HUGO during this period of espionage) became an intelligence jackpot.
Discovery and Disappearance
Souther’s success is, even today, an embarrassing stain for the American intelligence community. Not only had he made no secret of his admiration for the poetry, language, and philosophy of the Soviet Union, but his estranged American wife had suspected Glenn of working as a Soviet agent and even warned the FBI in 1981. Nothing had been done.
Eventually, the FBI investigated Souther. While his behavior raised many espionage red flags, no agency took action. Ironically, because the FBI couldn’t prove Souther was working for the Soviets, they couldn’t arrest him. The legal limitations of our constitutional democracy aided this Hoosier sailor in his work for a one-party socialist republic.
Suspicions grew, but in May of 1986, before American intelligence could move on him, Souther vanished. It wasn’t until a Soviet periodical published an obituary titled “In Memory of M.Y. Orlov” three years later that Souther’s fate became clear.
Disillusion. Then Dissolution
The Soviet Defense Ministry announced his death to the world, framing his suicide as a nervous breakdown, attributed to “baseless persecution” by the FBI. KGB Intelligence Chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov told reporters, “It was a tragic thing. He committed suicide. He was buried yesterday. He leaves a Russian wife and daughter. He had felt bad for some time. He was under massive nervous tension because he had worked for a long time in very difficult conditions.” Not exactly poetic, but seemingly heartfelt.
To the former-Soviet Union, then and now, HUGO is still considered a hero. Souther’s final note did not contain regret for his actions or any apologies. He simply sounded exhausted. Whether he was addressing his Russian wife, his coworkers at the KGB, or a specific agent is unknown.
I don’t have any regrets about our relations. They were the long ones, they helped me to establish myself as an individual. Everyone was tolerant, and fair towards me. I hope that you, as it was always, forgive me the unwillingness to engage the last battle.
~M. Orlov (Glenn Souther)
Less than three years later, on Christmas Day of 1991, new Russian nationals lowered the Kremlin’s Soviet flag for the last time, signaling the demise of the USSR.
Before readers start burning Souther in effigy, it’s important to remember that in 1980, when he first walked into the Soviet Embassy in Rome, he was only 22 or 23 years old. No one makes good decisions at that age. Souther’s great misfortune was exposing his weakness to the KGB, an organization professional and ruthlessly manipulative.
The moment Souther shook hands with Boris Solomatin, he didn’t have a chance. His decision was poor, his crime was great, but his death paid the price.
They used [Glenn Souther] like a spider playing with a moth and when they were going to finish with him, they finished with him.