Cold War Secrets


When a Russian history professor vanished from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1969, only a handful of intelligence officials in Washington paid attention to the case. But the fallout from the incident triggered a bitter feud between the FBI and CIA and contributed to President Nixon’s decision to form a security force known as White House Plumbers. When the Plumbers were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate office complex, Nixon’s presidency began to unravel.
The Watergate story is well known, but the case involving Professor Thomas Riha — a Czech native who spoke five languages fluently and was courted by U.S. and Soviet intelligence services — has been shrouded in mystery for nearly fifty years.

At its heart is a woman named Galya Tannenbaum, a talented painter and mother of four who identified herself as a colonel in military intelligence and convinced local police, as well as the FBI and CIA, that the professor was alive and well.

Although Galya walked with a proud, military bearing, she was emotionally unstable and her moods swung from feelings of god-like omnipotence to self-loathing. Her diaries and letters reveal a psychopathic personality caused by an abusive childhood. She writes of being tied to a post and left by her mother in a dark basement for hours, as well as other physical and mental cruelties.
Galya was able to adapt to her personality to whomever she was keeping company with. In this way, she was able to deceive businessmen and experienced investigators alike. But she had an Achilles heel: she couldn’t spell. She consistently misspelled words such as consider as ‘concider’ and extremely as ‘extreemly.’

In Cold War Secrets, I prove that Galya killed Professor Thomas Riha by showing these signature misspellings in documents she forged and tried to pass off as being written by the professor. A wealth of evidence supporting this conclusion has been obtained from declassified documents, police reports, letters, sworn depositions and other sources.

But the case does not end there. During the period in which Galya had lulled police into believing Thomas was alive and well, she was plotting and executing the murder of two more people in Denver. Her weapon? Cyanide. The FBI and CIA, concerned Thomas had been abducted or defected to Soviet Union, inadvertently helped Galya by spreading the rumor that Thomas was alive and well and then covered up their activities.

Galya eventually killed herself at the state psychiatric hospital by ingesting a massive dose of cyanide. In a discussion she had with one of her psychiatric counselors before she committed suicide, she admitted that that she had indeed killed Thomas and showed him a painting that she had done of a red bird perched in a grove of trees outside Aspen, Colorado. In a manner that was both playful and menacing, she pointed to the painting and said, “Here lies my secret.”