Retired spy in book uses revealing real job, to her kids, as platform for bioggraphy
Martha Peterson worked for the CIA in Moscow in the mid-seventies
Two-year mission behind the Iron Curtain ended with betrayal and KGB arrest
On pretend lunch date, spares kids no details on past marriage, other hidden aspects of her life which they handled better than expected
Martha D. Peterson retired to Wilmington in 2003 after a 32-career as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, earning its Donovan Award and George H.W. Bush award
Trained to join the CIA in 1975 and, after becoming proficient Russian and learning surveillance techniques, embarked on a two-year mission in Moscow.
She remained undercover, placing dead drops in the city and receiving secret packages from agent TRIGON, a Soviet diplomat recruited to work for the CIA in Latin America.
Peterson, who was eventually arrested by the KBG, didn’t reveal her real identity to her son Tyler and daughter Lora until 1997, when they were 17 and 15 years old and she was working in McLean, Virginia.
In her book “The Widow Spy.” she writes:
…..Before I left for work that balmy spring morning in McLean, Virginia, I placed my casually worded note on the kitchen counter where my kids couldn’t miss it.
It was April 1997.
Tyler was 17 and Lora was 15. They had the day off from school with no plans, so I didn’t have to compete with more interesting options. Who knew what made me decide to tell them on this particular day, wondering how they would react to my secret.
Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal to them, but I was apprehensive.
Friends at work warned me, if I waited too long for this true confession, my children would be angry that I had not trusted them. I always stressed to my children that their only choice was to tell the truth. Now I had to admit that I had lied to them.
Peterson being interrogated by Russian security agents after her arrest made global news
In 1969. Peterson, a Connecticut native with a new master’s in teaching from UNC-Chapel Hill, was teaching in Wentworth, N.C., waiting for her fiance John, a Green Beret, to get back from Vietnam.
John came home safely, but the couple’s adventures were just beginning. A year after their wedding, John joined the CIA, and in 1971, they shipped off to Laos, where John served as a paramilitary officer working with local anti-Communist Lao forces. With little else to do, Martha took a clerical position in the CIA’s office in a provincial Laotian city.
Martha Peterson’s late husband, John, in Laos in 1972
John died a year later, when his helicopter was shot down in action by North Vietnamese Army troops. Grieving and needing a new direction, Peterson listened to Agency friends and applied for a CIA career training program.
By 1975, she was in Moscow as a full-fledged case officer, maintaining contact with a Soviet Foreign Ministry official, code-named TRIGON, who was slipping secrets to the Americans. She would remain on duty for two years, until TRIGON was betrayed — and Peterson found herself arrested by the KGB and dragged to the infamous Lyubianka Prison for interrogation.
Peterson, the young agent -Archived photo
Martiha was a widow at 27. She struggled for months to come to terms with her loss. Ultimately, heeding the advice of one of John’s CIA friends, she followed him into the agency. “I was not a political sort,” she says. “That’s not who I was, or am. Some people have suggested that I joined to avenge him. I don’t know if that’s true. All I knew was that I couldn’t go back to teaching. I didn’t have a home. I was a new widow, kind of lost in the world.” She was firmly ensconced in her new career when, on Thanksgiving Day 1978, she married Stephen J. Shogi, a U.S. State Department official. She took his name, and they had a son and daughter. (Later the couple divorced, and he has since died.) The kids figure in the book’s prologue, set in Virginia in 1997 when they were teenagers. Peterson believed it was time to dispel the family myth that she also worked at the State Department, and asked them to meet her in Langley.
Peterson, right in Moscow in 1977
Paterson provides few details about her post-Moscow life in the CIA. A second overseas tour took place in the mid-1990s, but Peterson declines to say where. Asked how her career ended, she says, “My last five years was counter-terrorism. I had a certain responsibility for that. I had a large office I was responsible for. We were tracking terrorists around the world.”
Having to lie to friends and neighbors about her true identity all that time never troubled her. “You just live that way,” she says. “After a while, it becomes who you are. Was it fun? Absolutely. Anything illicit is fun. Was it uncomfortable? No, and it was the culture of the CIA.” After she retired, however, she began telling the truth. “It was liberating,” she says.