Skip to main content

An amazing real-life espionage thriller By Bill Gates

An amazing real-life espionage thriller

This year has been brutal on so many levels. But 1983 could have been far worse.

In the first half of that year, President Ronald Reagan dramatically ratcheted up rhetoric, military spending, and psychological operations against the Soviets. And then in November, NATO conducted a massive military simulation involving 40,000 troops. The Soviets, convinced that NATO was getting ready for a surprise nuclear attack, prepared for nuclear war.

But then, without explanation, the West pulled back from the brink. And now we know why: A double agent embedded high in the KGB’s outpost in London got word to his British handlers that the Soviets had mistaken NATO’s war games as war preparation. Without disclosing the source of the intelligence, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was able to convince Reagan to soften his tone and halt further escalation.

I learned about this episode from British journalist Ben Macintyre’s newest book, The Spy and the Traitor. The book focuses on Oleg Gordievsky, the double agent who helped prevent nuclear war, and Aldrich Ames, the American turncoat who likely betrayed him. Macintyre’s dramatic retelling of their stories comes not only from Western sources (including Gordievsky himself, who is now 82 and living under witness protection in the UK) but also from the Russian perspective. The book is every bit as exciting as my favorite spy novels.

You may be wondering why Macintyre applies the label “spy” to the double agent Gordievsky while applying “traitor” to the double agent Ames. Is it just a Western bias? Actually, no. Macintyre makes it clear the two men could not have been more different.

Gordievsky was raised from birth to be a top KGB spy. His father, Anton, was a devoted Communist Party member and KGB agent who took part in Stalin’s paranoid purges of “enemies of the state.” As a result of his father’s position in the KGB, Gordievsky grew up “well fed, privileged, and secure” in a Moscow apartment block “reserved for the intelligence elite,” according to Macintyre.

Gordievsky was bright, athletic, and adept at learning foreign languages, all of which helped him get into the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, sometimes called “the Russian Harvard.” Even before graduation, he was recruited into the KGB and began his rise up the hierarchy.

But something snapped inside Gordievsky when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, in 1968. “This brutal attack on innocent people made me hate [my own country],” he later wrote. “My soul was aching.” He began to question all the Soviet dogma that he had been learning since birth.

Five years later, an undercover officer in MI6—Britain’s equivalent of the CIA—named Richard Bromhead met Gordievsky at an art exhibit in Copenhagen. Bromhead knew that Gordievsky was a KGB agent but knew nothing of his growing antipathy toward the Soviet Union. But somehow he sensed a recruitment opportunity. Using sophisticated spycraft I enjoyed learning about, Bromhead spent the next year probing Gordievsky’s loyalties. Finally, over drinks in an elegant hotel, Bromhead made his ask, and Gordievsky crossed over.

Gordievsky became MI6’s most valuable agent within the KGB, providing a torrent of useful intelligence at incredible risk to himself—not to mention his wife and two daughters, who knew nothing of his life as an informant. He knew that the KGB had eyes and ears everywhere—and that if he were even suspected of collaborating with the West, he would be tortured and then executed.

Aldrich Ames, in contrast, was an insecure man who betrayed his country purely for money. While working for the CIA, he was a hard drinker, grumbled frequently about feeling unappreciated, racked up big debts, got divorced, and then immediately got remarried to a woman with a love of Jaguars and Nieman Marcus. The CIA somehow missed these red flags for almost a decade.

In 1985, two years after Gordievsky helped pull the world back from the precipice of war, Ames met his KGB handlers at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and handed them seven pounds of documents. In what became known as “the big dump,” Ames unmasked at least 25 spies, and many believe that Gordievsky was among them. “Ames knew he was issuing a death warrant for every person he named, but that, he reasoned, was the only way to ensure that he would be safe, and rich,” Macintyre writes.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the section in which Gordievsky narrowly escapes capture by fleeing across the Finnish border. By the time we get to that part, we already know that he survives. But it’s thrilling anyway. Macintyre, who has a keen eye for detail, does a great job narrating the escape scene and all the ways it almost fails. I won’t give away any of those details here.

Another memorable part of the book is Macintyre’s deep dive into the paranoia and corruption of the Cold War KGB. It felt relevant and interesting not just as a historical study but also for understanding the professional culture in which Vladimir Putin was raised. For example, Putin’s 2016 election interference comes straight out of the “active measures” playbook the KGB deployed against Margaret Thatcher in 1983.

Given the pure cost (in dollars and lives) of running intelligence operations, it can be tempting to wonder whether the benefits are worth it. But the Gordievsky case shows that the payoff can be enormous—maybe even world saving. I’m glad I read this remarkable profile in courage.


ksac said…
Thanks for sharing this information KSAC is one of the most trusted multi-specialty Ayurvedic hospitals in India. For over two decades, we provides 100% Evidence based Treatments for diseases, Naturally.Best Ayurveda Hospital in Hyderabad, Bengalore, India

Popular posts from this blog

Menon meets Karzai, discusses security of Indians

Kabul/New Delhi/Washington, March 5 (IANS) India Friday said that the Feb 26 terror attack in Kabul will not deter it from helping rebuild Afghanistan as National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to review the security of around 4,000 Indians working in that country. Menon, who arrived here Friday morning on a two-day visit, discussed with Karzai some proposals to bolster security of Indians engaged in a wide array of reconstruction activities, ranging from building roads, bridges and power stations to social sector projects. The Indian government is contemplating a slew of steps to secure Indians in Afghanistan, including setting up protected venues where the Indians working on various reconstruction projects will be based. Deploying dedicated security personnel at places where Indians work is also being considered. Menon also met his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and enquired about the progress in the probe into the Kabul atta

Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth

Rethink before It’s Too Late Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth –Afghanistan. By Houman Dolati It is no more a surprise to see Iran absent in Afghanistan affairs. Nowadays, the Bonn Conference and Iran’s contributions to Afghanistan look more like a fading memory. Iran, which had promised of loans and credit worth five-hundred million dollars for Afghanistan, and tried to serve a key role, more than many other countries, for reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, is now trying to efface that memory, saying it is a wrong path, even for the international community. Iran’s empty seat in the Rome Conference was another step backward for Afghanistan’s influential neighbor. Many other countries were surprised with Iran’s absence. Finding out the vanity of its efforts to justify absence in Rome, Iran tried to start its

Pakistani firm whose chemicals were used to kill US troops seeks subsidy for Indiana plant

By Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel Published March 22, 2013   A Pakistani fertilizer maker whose chemicals have been used in 80 percent of the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed American troops in Afghanistan is now seeking U.S. taxpayer subsidies in order to open a factory in Indiana.  The request appears to be on hold pending further review, but the situation has stirred outrage in Congress, where some accuse the Pakistani government of halting efforts to clamp down on the bomb-making.  For the past seven years, the U.S. government has known that the raw material calcium ammonium nitrate, or CAN, is making its way across the border into Afghanistan where the Taliban use it to fuel their most deadly weapons, namely the improvised explosive device. IEDs have long been the number one killer of U.S. and coalition troops.  The material largely comes from Pakistani fertilizer maker the Fatima Group. But the Pakistani government has stymied attempts by the Pentagon to stop the