Brian Kelley was a veteran CIA agent, a spy hunter who worked for the agency for 22 years after another 20 years in the U.S. Air Force counterintelligence. Despite his experience and talent, Kelley was suspected of being a Soviet spy and was investigated for more than two years by the FBI.
Kelley was born on January 8, 1943 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He attended St. Michaels College from which he received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1964 and then Florida State University where he received a Master of Arts in East Asian Studies in 1974. After graduation he joined the U.S. Air Force where he was assigned to the Office of Special Investigations. In 1984, he began working for the CIA.
In April 1989, Kelley had figured out the method by which the Russians were able to communicate clandestinely with some of their agents. He used this method to uncover Felix Bloch, a U.S. State Department diplomat, who was apparently passing secrets to a KGB agent. Somehow, it appeared that Bloch was tipped off and the investigation ran out of steam with Bloch denying any wrongdoing. Because so few people knew of the investigation of Bloch, the CIA determined that he must have been warned by someone on the inside. Focusing on CIA personnel with access to the Bloch case, they called in the FBI who narrowed the culprit down to Kelley. FBI agent Mike Rochford led the investigation and used an investigative matrix, using 58 items that would match the spy they were looking for. These included having access to weekly meetings of the CIA counterintelligence center and access to the information of the FBI’s investigation into Bloch. The spy would also have had access to highly classified technical penetrations of Soviet and later Russian establishments and knowledge of the identities of KGB officers who were working for the CIA. Kelley met most of this criteria.
For the next two years, Kelley’s life was turned upside down. His home and that of family members were searched. In one search, a map was found in his house detailing a nearby park. It happened that a KGB agent had been seen in the vicinity of the park and thus the assumption was that the map was meant to indicate a meeting place or a dead drop. Instead, Kelley argued, it was just a map of the park which included jogging trails which he used.
His family was interrogated aggressively and on one occasion his son Brian was told that his father was a worse traitor than Aldrich Ames and his daughter, who worked for the CIA, was told that he had betrayed the agency. Agents threatened to go to his Kelley’s mother’s nursing home to tell her that her son was a traitor.
He was given a polygraph test, but he passed it. Undeterred, his investigators claimed that it simply showed that he was the perfectly trained spy, able to even beat a polygraph test. As Kelley’s lawyer John Moustakas told the 60 Minutes news show “”They said, ‘He’s the ice man. He’s the perfect spy. He can beat the polygraph.’ You know what? That’s preposterous.” On another occasion, he was approached by a man claiming to work for the SVR. The man told Kelley that the FBI had the evidence which showed that Kelley was a spy. “I come from your friends, and we’re concerned.” the man said. “Meet us tomorrow night at the Vienna Metro. A person will approach you. We have a passport for you, and we’ll get you out of the country.” Kelley close the door in his face and reported the incident to a senior FBI official.
Despite everything the FBI threw at him, Kelly (whom the FBI thought was the spy they had assigned the code-name “Grey Deceiver”) steadfastly maintained his innocence. He protested “Your facts are wrong. Your conclusions are wrong. Your underlying hypothesis is wrong.’’
Because the CIA controlled almost all of the operations and information that had been compromised, the thinking inside the FBI and the CIA was that it could only be a CIA employee that was responsible for the leaks and failures of the operations. Unbeknownst to them, the real culprit was indeed a high-level FBI agent named Robert Hanssen. In making their theory about Kelley’s map and the proximity to the park where the KGB agent was seen, the FBI never considered the fact that Hanssen lived in the exact same neighborhood, only yards from the park. When Hanssen’s identity as a Soviet and Russian spy was revealed, Kelley was finally cleared of suspicion.
“We had every reason to believe that the penetration was in the CIA,” FBI agent Mike Rochford said. “We were just blatantly wrong in not looking hard enough inside the bureau. We teamed up with the agency on this analysis, and their analysts were every bit as competent as ours,” Rochford says. “And we’d sit around a table at the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center and actually vote about who the most culpable suspect was. And to a person, everyone at the voting table pressed for individuals within the agency. So it wasn’t just us.”
It wasn’t until the FBI paid $7 million to a former KGB official who provided them with a telephone conversation between the spy and his Russian contact that their attendion shifted. As the mole hunters gathered around the tape recorder expecting to hear Brian Kelley voice, they were in for a surprise. “We listened to it, and it’s clearly not Brian Kelley’s voice,'” said one of the agents. “It’s Bob Hanssen’s.” As the FBI poured over more information provided by the former KGB agent, they realized that the spy they were looking for had made a number of dead drops of documents in northern Virginia at a time when Kelley was out of the country. Approximately six months later, Hanssen was arrested.
Nonetheless, Kelley and his family had been put through hell for two years, so it was a surprise to many that when he was finally officially exonerated, he returned to his employment at the CIA. He worked in the Office of the National Counter-intelligence Executive and educated personnel in various government agencies on professional counterintelligence before retiring in 2007. He was honored by the CIA when he received the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal for his service. After he left the CIA he worked for the private contractor Albraxas Corp. and also taught counterintelligence at The Institute of World Politics.
Brian Kelly died from a heart attack in 2011.