Bridge of Spies - ABEL and POWERS - A SPY for a SPY

Francis Gary Powers, in the dock during his espionage trial held in Moscow's Hall of Columns, during the summer of 1960. Image, by an unnamed photographer, online via the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State. Public Domain.


It was Oliver Powers - father of Francis Gary Powers - who first thought the Soviet Union might be willing to negotiate for the release of his son in exchange for the release of Rudolf Abel.

Writing to Abel, the elder Powers asked whether an exchange made sense. Abel suggested that his wife should get involved.

With the approval of federal officials in Washington, Jim Donovan sent his correspondence with “Frau Abel” to an East German lawyer - Wolfgang Vogel - who claimed he was retained by Abel’s wife.

All of this was taking place before Powers went through his trial. The Soviets were not interested in an exchange before the U-2 pilot was found guilty of espionage.

The first letter Donovan received from “Frau Abel,” after Powers’ conviction, said that Oliver Powers’ idea about an exchange seemed “not only unreal but dangerous.”

In February of 1961 - about two years after “she” posted her first letter to Donovan - “Frau Abel” sent an emotional appeal requesting clemency to America’s new President, John F. Kennedy. The government didn’t answer the letter.

Three months later, “Frau Abel” wrote to Donovan. This time she thought that Oliver Powers’ original idea might actually work. Not only was Donovan encouraged, he reported to officials in Washington with these words:

I think it is perfectly evident that for the first time we have an offer to exchange Powers for Abel. (See Strangers on a Bridge, by James Donovan, at page 365.)

Things seemed to move forward even more when Donovan received a letter from “Frau Abel” on September 11, 1961. As Abel’s lawyer had suggested, she’d visited the Soviet Embassy in Berlin. She reported these developments:

I gather from our talk that there is only one possible way to achieve success now - THAT IS SIMULTANEOUS RELEASE OF BOTH F. POWERS AND MY HUSBAND, WHICH CAN BE ARRANGED. (Quoted by Chesly Manly in a first-page Chicago Tribune article dated January 10, 1966.)

Could it be that the Soviets were ready to make a prisoner exchange? Might they be willing to swap a spy for a spy?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 22, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"ABEL and POWERS - A SPY for a SPY" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 22, 2015. Jun 04, 2020.
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