cover image Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War Over Nerve Gas

Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War Over Nerve Gas

David Wise, PH.D., Author Random House (NY) $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-50153-1

This is a remarkable true-life espionage thriller. For 21 years, beginning in 1959, plainspoken, modest U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Cassidy successfully pretended to be a money-grubbing traitor to his country. In the eyes of his Soviet handlers, he was a mole planted deep inside the U.S. defense establishment. In fact, he was passing along secret nerve-gas formulas and military data--some of it genuine, some fake--to the Russians with the aim of sidetracking their chemical warfare program. Cassidy, now retired, was the star player in Operation Shocker, a top-secret FBI/Defense Department project that cost the lives of two FBI agents, flushed out 10 Communist spies and revealed the lengths to which Soviet intelligence would go to penetrate America's defenses. Wise (The Spy Who Got Away) takes readers deep inside the U.S. nerve-gas program, founded on the ashes of the Third Reich when U.S. Army intelligence obtained from ex-Nazi scientists the formulas for lethal agents like sarin. Wise also interviewed Vil Mirzayanov, a senior chemist who worked for three decades in the Soviet nerve-gas program, and who was arrested in 1992 for telling the world that the U.S.S.R. had developed Novichok, a nerve gas capable of killing millions of people instantly. Although both the U.S. and Russia have pledged to dispose of their chemical weapons, Wise reports that the Russians still possess Novichok. His taut narrative is full of bizarre twists and James Bond echoes--coded Soviet messages on microdots left inside hollow artificial rocks; a Russian sleeper agent in the Bronx, awaiting the signal for nuclear Armageddon; Cassidy's marriage to an ex-nun who conceals her past from him (and vice versa). To say this book would make a terrific movie in no way diminishes its value as an investigative scoop. (Mar.)