Time and History 8:52 A.M. First U.S Russia Spy Exchange

About major and minor historical events around the clock such as the first spy exchange between the United States and Russia which took place at 8:52 in the morning.


8:52 in the Morning

Feb. 10, 1962. The first spy exchange in the cold war took place when Francis Gary Powers, a U.S. pilot-spy, was swapped for top Soviet agent Rudolf Abel.

In 1956 Powers, a civilian employee of the CIA, began making secret illegal flights over the U.S.S.R. In 1960 his plane was shot down 1,300 mi. inside Russia. He managed to parachute to safety, and although he possessed a poisoned needle to end his life, Powers chose to be taken prisoner.

A fierce international argument resulted, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev canceled a Paris summit meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower. The Russians made brilliant propaganda by successfully forcing the Americans to publicly admit that they had been spying for many years. Ironically, Powers was captured on May Day, the most important day in the Marxist calendar. The American pilot was put through a public trial in which he pleaded guilty and made an apology. Even though Powers could have been sentenced to death, he was only given 10 years in prison.

After two years of top secret negotiations, Powers was exchanged for Colonel Abel, the former KGB resident director in the U.S., who was serving a 30-year sentence in an Atlanta, Ga., prison for spying. The event took place on the Glienicker Bridge, which links the Western sector of Berlin with the Soviet zone of Germany. Russian authorities announced that Powers had been released "as an act of clemency" that would improve Soviet-American relations; they made no mention of Colonel Abel. Powers received $52,000 in back salary and again took to the air, first as a test pilot, later as a reporter of traffic conditions in Los Angeles from a helicopter. He was killed in a flying accident in 1977. It is reported that Abel still works in the Soviet secret service.

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