The premiere episode of CNN’s 2016 documentary series, “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies,” delves deep into the experience of Martha Peterson, the first ever female spy to be sent to the Soviet Union. Viewers are able to trace her journey as an undercover agent, beginning with her intensive training in Washington D.C. and her pivotal work in Moscow as a mediator in the clandestine correspondence between the CIA and anti-Soviet Russian official Aleksandr Ogorodnik (Codename: TRIGON), before finally concluding with her ultimate capture and deportation by the KGB police.
Link to video summary:
In one sense, this documentary expounds upon the Cold War’s characteristic moods of uncertainty and apprehension against the backdrop of the polarization of the US and Soviet Union. As seen through the delineation of the dangers the espionage missions entailed, every move Peterson made had to be carefully calculated, for even the slightest deviance from the set procedure of the mission could jeopardize its success. The high-stakes nature of this mission only naturally mirrored the intensity of tension between the two players in this binary conflict. Furthermore, this documentary elucidates an interesting facet of the Cold War experience from the very outset through Peterson’s anomalous experience. Peterson’s story is so fascinating considering that women during this time period were avoided as top recruits for espionage missions because of their label as being “not quite reliable” in comparison to men. Playing such an indispensable role in the process of retrieving information during the TRIGON mission gave Peterson an experience that ran diametrically opposed to the commonplace ideal of male heroism in the midst of the Cold War climate. Interestingly enough, according to the explanation provided by a former CIA official, the decision to even include a woman as part of this plan was to use the prevalent societal acceptance of “male chauvinism” against Soviet Russia, who would not suspect that a female agent was working in their midst.
Though not necessarily an exact fit for the sphere of popular culture, this CNN series seems to prove its potential to captivate the attention of the American viewer, given that rare behind-the-scenes insights into a spy’s work are being presented through the disclosure of first-hand experiences.