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True-Life Spy Story Unfolds Like A Thriller

The life and death of one of the first Americans to spy for Stalin's regime has mostly remained a mystery until now. When Andrew Meier began piecing together Cy Oggins' fascinating story of political activism, international espionage and eight years in a Soviet gulag, the meager paper trail left to document the American spy's existence fit in a shoebox belonging to Oggins' son.

As a former Moscow correspondent for Time and author of 2003's extraordinary Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall, Meier has extensively chronicled the uneasy growth of post-Communist Russia. Russia is still occasionally accused of conducting itself according to Cold War protocol, throwing journalists out of windows and poisoning dissenters with radioactive isotopes. In The Lost Spy, Meier looks back at the birth of such spy games, when microfilm was carried across borders in cigarettes, and blueprints were hidden behind wallpaper. In those days, the grand communist experiment attracted converts from all over the world — men and women who signed on with Joseph Stalin believing they were working toward a greater good.

Oggins was born in Connecticut to Lithuanian immigrant parents. In 1918, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he studied history and gained a reputation as a radical. He joined the Communist Party as a young history student in 1920 and became more entrenched in the movement after marrying a fellow activist and leaving school because of money concerns.

Within two years, he and his wife were recruited by the Soviets for their first mission to Germany. From there, he would be sent on solo operations across Europe and into China until his arrest, in Moscow in 1939, and eventual execution — not by American authorities but at the hands of the Russians.

Why was Oggins murdered by the Soviets after years of service? The mystery is at the heart of the book, which Meier has shaped into a fast-paced detective story.

From tales of the Great Illegals, the notorious group of Soviet spies who created the most sophisticated intelligence network of the 20th century, to Meier's uncovering of Oggins' final fate, The Lost Spy thrills to the end.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.