The Spy and the Traitor, the Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

By Terrill, W. Andrew | Parameters, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

The Spy and the Traitor, the Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War


Terrill, W. Andrew, Parameters


The Spy and the Traitor, The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

By Ben Macintyre

Colonel Oleg Gordievsky of the Soviet intelligence service, KGB, was one of the most important Western spies in Cold War history. He was of incomparable value to the British intelligence service, MI6, and thru them to the CIA. Both President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were provided with his secrets and found them to be important for the shaping of their foreign policies. Gordievsky's personal story is also compelling, and is told brilliantly in this volume, which legendary author John Le Carre' describes on the book's dustjacket as "the best true spy story I have ever read."

As a KGB junior officer, there was no indication that Gordievsky would eventually turn against the Soviet system and become a British spy. Rather, the organization viewed him as politically reliable and noted that his father and older brother served as career members of Soviet intelligence. Nevertheless, over time, Gordievsky's convictions about protecting the Soviet system were shaken by that country's ruthless actions. During his initial service as an overseas operative, he witnessed the construction of the Berlin Wall, and was shocked at the brutality used to prevent East Germans from escaping to the West. He was later equally concerned over the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which appeared to underscore Soviet hostility to any loosening of ideological rigidity within the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact states.

Yet, perhaps the most significant event in Gordievsky's questioning of the Soviet system was his three-year overseas assignment to Copenhagen. There he thrived in an atmosphere of personal freedom, societal cheerfulness, and cultural openness, where he could indulge his passion for classical music, much of which was forbidden in the Soviet Union. As Soviet dogma became more threadbare to him, Gordievsky became disillusioned. His return to Moscow after his initial tour of Denmark only reinforced his contempt for the values of Soviet ideology. Later, on a second tour as an intelligence agent in Copenhagen, he made a series of oblique and subtle moves signaling that he was willing to work with MI6. When contacted by the British, Gordievsky indicated that he would serve as an ideological spy and initially refused to take money from them.

After service as a useful intelligence asset in Denmark, Gordievsky returned to Moscow, and his intelligence activities on behalf of MI6 essentially went dormant. British security officials believed that any intelligence collection activities in the Soviet Union would probably be doomed to failure as a result of the massive Soviet counterintelligence system within their own country. Unfortunately, Gordievsky's prospects for a new overseas assignment also seemed dim. His decision to divorce his ideologically committed wife and marry a younger woman seriously hurt his career and seemed to have condemned him to a career of intelligence drudgery with little prospect of promotion.

To dig himself out of these difficulties, he began to learn English. Eventually, after some bureaucratic maneuvering, Gordievsky was able to get himself assigned to the Soviet Embassy in London, where he was to serve as a Soviet intelligence agent under diplomatic cover. Unfortunately for the KGB, he quickly reestablished his relationship with MI6 in London, and began secretly meeting with his handlers. One of the more amusing aspects of this book is how British intelligence struggled to come up with ways to advance Gordievsky's career once he had been assigned to London, including finding pretexts to deport troublesome superiors and rivals. …

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