The Man Who "Started" the Cold War: When World War II Ended, the Soviet Union Was One of the "Allies"-But Igor Gouzenko Knew Better. He Defected and Exposed the Soviet Spies Secretly Waging War on the West. (History-Struggle for Freedom)

Article excerpt

The young Red Army lieutenant's heart was pounding furiously and his mind was racing. He had just taken the most momentous step of his life, and he knew he was making a dangerous gamble. He had not realized, however, just how dangerous, nor could he have anticipated that he would run into such resistance from those he was trying to help. He wanted to defect and expose a dangerous espionage network of which he was a key component. He was carrying top-secret documents that would turn into his death warrant once his colleagues discovered them missing. And it was only a matter of time before that discovery would occur. Possibly minutes, hopefully hours.

It was the evening of September 5, 1945. At 8:00 p.m. Lieutenant Igor Gouzenko left the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Canada, with 109 carefully selected documents stuffed inside his jacket. The documents proved that vast Soviet spy rings existed in Canada and the United States. Lieutenant Gouzenko was a cipher clerk for the GRU, Soviet military intelligence. It was his job to encode and decode messages for his boss, GRU Colonel Nickolai Zabotin, who supervised the spy rings in Canada. Now Gouzenko was trying to reveal these dark and deadly secrets to the world, but it seemed the world was not interested.

Upon leaving the embassy, Lt. Gouzenko had walked to the Ottawa Journal, a major daily newspaper. He spoke to reporters and to night editor Chester Frowde and showed his pack of documents. He wanted to tell his story, both as a way to warn the Canadian people and to gain protection for himself. But Mr. Frowde turned him away and told him to go to the police. "The first words he spoke were: 'It's war. It's Russia,'" Frowde later recalled. "Well, that didn't ring a bell with me because World War II was over and we were not at war with Russia," said Frowde. But we were at war with Russia; we just didn't know it. That is what Gouzenko was desperately trying to tell the West.

Defection Rejection

But the Ottawa Journal had turned him away. He had not anticipated this rejection. Now what? He went to the Justice Department. It was closed for the night. The feeling of dread mounted. It was not only his own life at stake here; the lives of his wife, Svetlana, and two-year-old son, Andrei, would also be in jeopardy if his defection were unsuccessful. He returned to his apartment for a fretful, sleepless night. Early the next morning, he left the apartment with his wife and child. He returned to the Journal, only to be sent away again. The desperate family wandered the streets of Ottawa, calling at other newspapers and government offices, seeking help and refuge, to no avail.

By noon the news had gotten around in government circles that a Russian embassy employee was trying to defect, and Canada's prime minister, Mackenzie King, had been informed. But Mr. King saw a dilemma: He did not want to spoil good relations with the Soviet Union. After all, the war with Germany and Japan had just ended the previous month, and Stalin had been our "noble ally" throughout that ordeal. Actually, the war had begun with Stalin and Hider as allies in the invasion and occupation of Poland. And the Soviet Union had not declared war on Japan until after we had dropped the atom bombs and Japan was defeated. Still, Canada, like the rest of the Allies, followed the U.S. administration's lead in turning a blind eye to the obvious hostilities and totalitarian designs of Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. Prime Minister King later wrote that the Gouzenko defection was like a bomb on top of everything else, and one could not say how serious it might be or where it might lead."

The Hon. Louis St. Laurent, Canada's minister of justice, likewise, cited political exigencies for refusing to help Gouzenko. "I could not receive an official from a friendly embassy bearing tales of the kind he had described to my secretary," he said. "It was only after he was brought in contact with the police in the ordinary course of police work that they were permitted to listen to his story and take notes from him. …