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  • Oleg Antonovich Gordievsky-to the Russian intelligence services this is the name of

  • the greatest traitor in their country's history.

  • To the West, this is the man who saved the world from nuclear hellfire.

  • He may just be the most important double agent in history, even though it cost him attempts

  • on his life from his former compatriots that last to this day.

  • Gordievsky was born into the elite of Soviet communists in 1938.

  • His father was an NKVD agent, Joseph Stalin's infamous secret police and forerunner of the

  • KGB.

  • Gordievsky's family loyalties to the communist cause were without question, and at the young

  • age of 21 years old, Gordievsky joined the foreign service, being stationed in East Berlin

  • in 1961.

  • A polyglot, Gordievsky learned to speak German perfectly, which would aid his operations

  • in west Germany, and he was also able to speak Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian.

  • Though young, he was already widely regarded as cunning, intelligent, and bright.

  • Gordievsky would surely live up to his father's legacy and serve the Soviet Union proudly.

  • There was just one problem- Gordievsky would soon find himself ethically at odds with his

  • own motherland.

  • It began during his 1961 posting to East Berlin, where he got to watch the Berlin wall finish

  • construction.

  • Families were torn apart, sometimes the tall concrete wall splitting one half of a family

  • from the other living across the street in free Berlin.

  • Food shortages were almost immediate, and Berliners' freedoms curtailed even more than

  • usual in the Soviet occupied areas.

  • For Gordievsky, even the heavy indoctrination via Soviet propaganda was doing little to

  • stop his distaste for his own nation's actions.

  • A deep ideological rift began to grow inside of him, only widened by his frequent experiences-

  • thanks to his work in the foreign service- with the free societies of the west.

  • Nevertheless, Gordievsky went on to join the KGB two years later, following in his father's

  • footsteps.

  • The KGB was without a doubt the world's premier intelligence agency, with at its height nearly

  • a million agents, informants, and analysts working all over the world.

  • The early Russian communists had learned well the game of espionage, infiltrating worker's

  • movements all over Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century in a bid to establish

  • an ongoing cultural revolution across Europe.

  • For the young Soviet Union, it was believed that the new state could only survive if communist

  • revolutions spread to nearby nations, and thus from its very creation espionage was

  • at the heart of the Soviet Union.

  • The British MI6 and the American CIA may have dabbled in their fair amount of controversy,

  • but the KGB operated almost without restraint.

  • The intelligence agency took pride in theirany means necessaryapproach to surveillance,

  • intelligence gathering, and sabotage, often employing torture, intimidation, and outright

  • murder.

  • An entire KGB laboratory was dedicated to the development of clandestine weapons with

  • which to kill public figures with, and hundreds of eastern European politicians, artists,

  • and cultural icons met their end at the hands of the KGB.

  • The only way to remain safe from the KGB was to tightly tow the party line, and Gordievsky

  • had just joined this most infamous of spy agencies- despite his growing doubts in the

  • Soviet system.

  • It wouldn't be until the invasion of Czechoslovakia that Gordievsky's doubts turned into a burning

  • hatred for the entire Soviet government and everything it stood for.

  • Czechoslovakia had been a stable democracy in central Europe up until the second world

  • war.

  • Finding itself on the wrong side of the iron curtain after the end of the war, Czechoslovakia

  • soon found its traditional freedoms stripped away and replaced with Soviet style communism.

  • Despite this, the nation remained relatively stable until the 1960s.

  • As the Czech economy began to shrink, reforms were slowly implemented, though still constrained

  • by the template of Soviet communism.

  • This led to even greater discontent amongst the people, and in 1968 the conservative head

  • of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was replaced with a much more liberal Alexander

  • Dubcek.

  • Dubcek immediately implemented major reforms, shying away from Soviet policies.

  • His end of national censorship however lit a fire that was difficult to put out.

  • Many conservative Czechs feared angering the Soviet Union by drifting too far away from

  • the Soviet template, but liberal Czechs demanded a more fair and open economy and government.

  • While the Dubcek government tried to keep reforms within the bounds of Soviet communism,

  • many were calling for a return to a democratic system.

  • For the Soviet Union, a liberal Czechoslovakia threatened to export its revolution to other

  • Soviet bloc states, and this was not something it could tolerate.

  • On August 20th, 1968, the Warsaw Pact invaded the tiny country, immediately ending its young

  • revolution.

  • Clashes between protestors and Warsaw troops led to civilians being gunned down on the

  • streets, but within a year Czechoslovakia was once more back in the Warsaw Pact fold.

  • For Gordievsky, the Soviet Union's oppression of the Czech people would prove to be the

  • straw that broke the camel's back.

  • He vowed to work against the very state itself, sayingThis brutal attack on innocent people

  • made me hate it (the communist regime) with a burning, passionate hatred.”

  • Gordievsky knew that the best way to fight back against the Soviet Union was from within,

  • and so he tried to discreetly get the attention of foreign intelligence services, dropping

  • subtle hints that he was willing to be recruited.

  • As the Czech revolution was squashed, Gordievsky served in the Soviet consulate in Denmark.

  • He knew that the Danish secret service taped the embassy's outgoing phone calls, and thus

  • he placed a call to his wife, making his distaste and dissatisfaction with the Soviet Union

  • colorfully apparent.

  • The Danish secret service however, missed the subtle signal.

  • However, at the same time that Gordievsky was considering defecting, another Soviet

  • defector to the West had already pointed him out as a potential recruit, given his ideological

  • differences with the Soviet government.

  • Danish officials tried to move on that information, though this time it would be Gordievsky that

  • missed the signal.

  • Believing him to be gay, the Danish secret service sent a handsome young agent to make

  • contact with Gordievsky.

  • The two met at a reception in the home of a West German diplomat, with the young agent

  • immediately striking up a conversation.

  • He invited Gordievsky to go to a local pub to have a drink together, but Gordievsky refused.

  • The British would try their hand next, figuring that if Gordievsky wasn't gay, maybe he'd

  • go for a more traditional honeypot.

  • They sent a beautiful young dentistry student to flirt with Gordievsky, and the two shared

  • several drinks together and a brief conversation.

  • Ultimately though, Gordievsky simply walked away, faithful to his wife.

  • With the failure of their honeypot operation, the British decided to be more direct.

  • The head of the local MI6 station himself took on the assignment of flipping Gordievsky.

  • Kept under surveillance, Gordievsky's every movement was tracked, which allowed the station

  • head to run into Gordievsky seemingly by chance at various diplomatic receptions and local

  • sports clubs.

  • After several weeks of back and forth, the British agent finally simply offered for them

  • to meet in private.

  • There could only be one thing a British official would want to chat with a Soviet spy about

  • in private.

  • Gordievsky agreed.

  • Gordievsky's conversion came as a much needed relief for the West.

  • Up until now, they had few, if any successful agents inside of the Soviet Union.

  • They had absolutely none within the halls of Soviet power itself.

  • By comparison, the Soviets had been running successful spy rings in the US and Britain

  • for years.

  • In the words of CIA director Richard Helms, planting a spy within the KGB itself wasas

  • improbable as placing resident spies on the planet Mars.”

  • The British passed on Gordievsky's intelligence to their CIA counterparts, but absolutely

  • refused to reveal the identity of their agent within the KGB.

  • This troubled the CIA, as the MI6 had been played by Soviet triple agents on numerous

  • occasions, and an immediate investigation was launched to discover the identity of the

  • British mole.

  • Within two years, Gordievsky's name popped up as the most likely identity of the British

  • source, though it did little to calm the fears of the CIA that Gordievsky was playing at

  • triple agent, pretending to be a double agent while still loyal to the Soviet Union.

  • This was partly due to the fact that Gordievsky appeared to be too good to be true.

  • The son of a well respected NKVD man, Gordievsky had early access to the higher echelons of

  • Soviet intelligence.

  • What's more, he refused to be paid for his work, instead claiming to be fueled by an

  • ideological hatred for the Soviet government.

  • Gordievsky betrayed his country not because he hated it, but because he hated the Soviet

  • system itself.

  • His espionage was not an act of rebellion, but an act of cultural revolution, with the

  • express intent of speeding the collapse of Soviet communism.

  • Gordievsky provided the MI6 with an intelligence goldmine.

  • He would frequently steal rolls of microfilm from the soviet embassy in Denmark during

  • his lunch breaks, then surreptitiously pass them off to a British agent posing as a bystander

  • outside.

  • The British would hurriedly copy the microfilm with a special portable device built specifically

  • for this purpose, and return the film to Gordievsky who would replace it upon re-entering the

  • embassy.

  • This gave the British unprecedented access to troves of secret Soviet documents, memos,

  • briefings, and meeting notes.

  • Gordievsky also proved to have an incredible memory, and was adept at accurately recalling

  • information without embellishing or adding false elements.

  • At a local safehouse, he would brief his handlers on the exact details of the workings inside

  • the Soviet embassy, including high profile meetings with VIPs and the details of secret

  • communiques from Moscow itself.

  • The exchange was two-way however, and the British actively worked to get Gordievsky

  • promoted within the KGB.

  • To this end, they fed Gordievsky a steady stream of what is known aschicken feed

  • in spy jargon- vast amounts of real intelligence on the British government that had very little

  • actual intelligence value.

  • They even went on to set up meetings with Gordievsky and real British sources, who conveyed

  • factual information that was in fact, tactically worthless.

  • This however impressed Gordievsky's KGB bosses, and soon he was promoted to serve in London

  • itself.

  • Gordievsky's posting in London would soon reveal the greatest threat Britain had ever

  • faced- a KGB agent elected as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

  • In 1981, Gordievsky told his British handlers that MP Michael Foot, head of the Labour Party

  • and candidate for Prime Minister in the coming election, had actually served as a paid KGB

  • agent.

  • Foot had supplied detailed information on the internal politics of the Labour party,

  • as well as how the party viewed issues such as the American war in Vietnam.

  • British intelligence found itself in a conundrum.

  • They had only Gordievsky's intelligence marking Foot as a Soviet contact, far from enough

  • evidence to take any legal action against him.

  • But if they did nothing, they risked putting a Soviet agent in 10 Downing Street.

  • Though placed under strict observation, Foot would go on to lose the election in 1984,

  • and the problem resolved itself as Foot resigned as Labour party leader.

  • However, Gordievsky's greatest service to the West would be his help in averting all-out

  • nuclear war.

  • In 1983 the US and NATO had a slew of major military exercises in the works.

  • Unknown to the West, the Soviet Union had grown increasingly paranoid and afraid of

  • an American first-strike against them, and now the major military exercises planned in

  • Europe seemed to them as a covert plan to mobilize for war and launch a surprise attack.

  • Rushing to his British handlers, Gordievsky delivered a copy of cable sent from Moscow

  • to its London embassy, warning that the US and NATO were contemplating a nuclear first

  • strike and would be able to do so in less than two weeks after reaching that decision.

  • Gordievsky also filled in the British on current operations by the Soviets, who believed a

  • worst case scenario was imminent.

  • This included surveillance at missile bases in the UK, government bunkers, and 10 Downing

  • Street itself.

  • At first sign of frantic activity, an alarm would be sounded to Moscow that nuclear war

  • was imminent.

  • a One wrong move by either side, and the world

  • would be bathed in nuclear hellfire.

  • The British passed their intelligence along to the United States, who immediately took

  • action to curtail the extent of its planned military exercises.

  • To the US, this news came as a surprise- up until then the Soviets had been seen as a

  • dominating force hellbent on global domination.

  • In reality, Gordievsky's intelligence showed that Soviet officials were terrified of going

  • to war against the US, and even more afraid that the US would launch a devastating nuclear

  • first strike.

  • Ironically, the US spent much of the Cold War just as afraid of the Soviet Union.

  • Both sides had no plans to ever launch a nuclear first-strike, and yet both sides believed

  • that the other was extremely likely to do just that.

  • Thanks to Gordievsky's intelligence, the US not only changed its planned exercises, but

  • changed its operational methodology and diplomatic tone.

  • This led to an immediate easing of tensions between the two Cold War rivals, and the world

  • stepped back once more from the brink of nuclear annihilation.

  • Eventually though, Gordievsky would come under Soviet suspicion.

  • In mid-may 1985, Gordievsky was suddenly ordered back to Moscow.

  • His British handlers urged him to immediately defect, but Gordievsky decided to return to

  • Moscow- perhaps hoping to allay suspicions against him and continue his work to undermine

  • the KGB and the Soviet Union.

  • Upon arrival though, he was taken to a KGB safehouse where he was force fed brandy spiked

  • with a truth serum and extensively questioned for a week.

  • Meanwhile, his home was broken into and searched, with KGB agents spraying his shoes and clothes

  • with an invisible radioactive powder that would allow them to track him and the places

  • he visited with the use of special glasses.

  • Unable to prove their suspicions, the KGB was forced to release Gordievsky, though continued

  • its extensive surveillance.

  • He was however restricted from working abroad.

  • Gordievsky knew that he needed to escape, but no Western spy had ever escaped from the

  • KGB's clutches before.

  • The MI6 was anxious to recover the man who had provided them with two decades of intelligence,

  • and managed to make contact with him while under KGB surveillance.

  • The agency had had an elaborate escape plan already in place for years, fearing the day

  • that the KGB would wisen up to Gordievsky.

  • One night at 7:30 pm, Gordievsky walked to a specific street corner while carrying a

  • Safeway supermarket bag.

  • This signaled to the British that he was ready to be extradited.

  • A British agent then walked past Gordievsky while carrying a Harrolds shopping bag and

  • eating a Mars bar.

  • The two locked eyes for a brief moment.

  • The escape was on.

  • On 19th July, 1985, Gordievsky went for a jog as usual.

  • However, this time he managed to suddenly evade his KGB tails and boarded a train to

  • Vyborg near the Finnish border.

  • KGB border posts all across the Soviet Union were put on high alert, but Gordievsky managed

  • to make it to a british embassy car waiting for him at the train station.

  • He was quickly shoved into the trunk of the British car, and the driver worked to lose

  • his KGB tail before making it across the border into Finland.

  • From there, Gordievsky was flown directly to the UK where he officially defected.

  • Gordievsky would be sentenced to death in absentia for his defection, and though modern

  • Russia cannot legally</