His father was KGB, so was his brother—and Oleg Gordievsky followed in their footsteps. But his career would end rather differently. The Spy and The Traitor tells how he became a British patriot while serving MI6 for 11 years. Ben Macintyre is not the first to tell the story: Gordievsky did so himself in his 1995 memoir, Next Stop Execution, that for unknown reasons was never published in the United States. Macintyre draws on many hours of interviews with Gordievsky and his MI6 colleagues to add fascinating details to an extraordinary career.
For example, Gordievsky mentions Standa Kaplan, a KGB friend with whom he spent many enjoyable hours before Kaplan defected. Macintyre adds that it was Kaplan who suggested to MI6 that Gordievsky might also be so inclined. But it was Gordievsky who set the events in motion while serving in Denmark by intentionally expressing his displeasure with the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia over an open phone line that led to MI6’s sending an officer to Copenhagen. Macintyre’s account of the resulting recruitment and subsequent handling is instructive.
After his reassignment to Moscow, Gordievsky put his career in administrative jeopardy by divorcing his wife and marrying a Russian comrade he had met in Denmark. Macintyre explains how he survived resulting controversy—the KGB did not favor divorce—all the while angling for another foreign assignment. To the delight of all, he was sent to London. His preparation for the new post included familiarizing himself with current extant cases at the London residency and in other areas, thus, Macintyre writes, acquiring extensive knowledge of KGB operations of possible interest to MI6. Much of this information would later be used in a book co-authored with Christopher Andrew, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Intelligence Operations From Lenin to Gorbachev (HarperCollins, 1990).
At the London residency, Macintyre writes that Gordievsky had professional conflicts with his colleagues and walked a fine operational line as he conveyed Soviet secrets to his handlers. His assessments were so valuable that he briefed Margaret Thatcher on the Soviet positions prior to her meetings with Gorbachev, and then briefed Gorbachev on what he knew about the British. He would later brief President Reagan and explain why the Soviets were convinced the United States was planning a pre-emptive nuclear attack. It was during this time also that a dissident MI5 officer tried to expose Gordievsky, and Macintyre reveals how that was avoided.
Then, suddenly, Gordievsky was called to Moscow to discuss his pending appointment as London rezident. MI6 sensed something was not quite right and recommended he not go. Gordievsky went, and when he arrived in Moscow realized immediately he was under suspicion. After a drugged interrogation that didn’t produce the desired confession, he was allowed to return to his Moscow apartment. He quickly activated PIMLICO, an escape plan prudently prepared years previously in case it was needed; it was.
Macintyre discusses the obvious question: how had Gordievsky come under suspicion? It was a question that troubled Gordievsky for years afterward. In Macintyre’s view, although Aldrich Ames claimed he had never revealed Gordievsky’s name, it appears that he learned enough about the anonymous source sending intelligence to the CIA to alert the KGB of a leak in London.
The successful execution of PIMLICO adds considerable detail to Gordievsky’s own account and is a tribute to all involved, despite some unexpected complications. Efforts to reunite him with his family were successful only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but by then the relationship was beyond repair and divorce was the result.
The Spy and The Traitor concludes that Oleg Gordievsky was Britain’s most important Cold War agent. Few disagree. In 2007, he was appointed Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) for his services to the Crown.
At 80, Oleg Gordievsky still lives quietly in England.