Daniel Island’s Eva Dillon chronicles her father’s career as an American spy
Appearances can be deceiving. Just ask Eva Dillon, the daughter of a CIA operative. On first meeting the polished Daniel Island resident, it may not come as a surprise that she’s graced power meetings at glamorous glossies like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. And, while she is now more likely to be spotted on a tennis court than in a corner office, it’s also not a stretch to envision her once presiding over Reader’s Digest, U.S., as president and group publisher.
However, you may raise an eyebrow at learning that the unassuming Dillon is the product of a globe-trotting upbringing spent in far-flung locales like New Delhi, Berlin, and Mexico City. But here’s the real bombshell: Those exotic early days were propelled by her father’s life work, which included handling America’s most prized Soviet double agent.
Dillon (far right) with her dad, Paul (third from left), siblings, and friends
All is revealed in riveting detail in Dillon’s new book, Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship that Helped End the Cold War (Harper). When her father, Paul Dillon, was exposed in 1975, Dillon began to slowly piece together the story of his career, particularly his involvement with General Dmitri Polyakov, a flipped Russian spy known to the CIA as “TOPHAT.” Over countless hours, Dillon and the general’s son, Alexander, reconstructed their deeply personal tale of two families with nothing less than world peace bringing them together.
In her rigorously researched account, Dillon shares enthralling insider glimpses of Soviet-era espionage. There’s the part about how numerous American agents infiltrated the USSR, only to vanish at once and forever. Then there are the coded Russian signals push-pinned on signboards at New York’s Tavern on the Green. Dillon also covers Madmen-esque martini-fueled lunches that led to catastrophic betrayal, as well as her family bearing witness to the abrupt building of the Berlin Wall.
Anne and Paul Dillon at a fair in Germany in 1951; ”Dad’s army uniform was part of his cover,” writes Dillon.
But it was the Russian asset himself who moved Dillon to write her book. “I wanted to honor General Dmitri Polyakov and his service to our country,” says Dillon, who was struck by his selfless sense of duty, often in the face of grave personal risk. According to the author, that integrity helped foster a deep friendship between the general and her father—one that may well have thwarted a nuclear war.
These days, Dillon has traded in foreign soil and fast-paced magazines for life in the Lowcountry, moving to Charleston with her husband 11 years ago. “I wanted a more relaxed and laid-back environment without losing access to the best in culture and dining,” she says. “Where better than Charleston?” For anyone who calls this city home, that is one revelation that won’t come as a surprise.
Images by (Dillon headshot) Tumbleston Photography Studios & courtesy of (3) Harper