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The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War Paperback – August 6, 2019
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“The best true spy story I have ever read.”—JOHN LE CARRÉ
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Economist • Shortlisted for the Bailie Giffords Prize in Nonfiction
If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation's communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union's top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States's nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky's name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain's obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.
Unfolding the delicious three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky's nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre's latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man's hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.
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From the Publisher
|Agent Sonya||Operation Mincemeat||Agent Zigzag||Rogue Heroes||Double Cross||A Spy Among Friends|
|Uncovers the true story behind the Cold War’s most intrepid female spy||Chronicles the extraordinary story of what happened after British officials planted a dead body behind enemy lines during WWII||Fall into this gripping tale of loyalty, love, and the thin and shifting line between fidelity and betrayal, based on recently declassified World War II files||The incredible untold story of World War II’s greatest secret fighting force—Britain’s Special Air Force||The untold story of one of the greatest deceptions of World War II, and of the extraordinary spies who achieved it||The unbelievable true story of Kim Philby, the Cold War’s most infamous spy|
“Readers seeking a page-turning spy story, look no further. The author of A Spy Among Friends and Agent Zigzag, among others, does it again, this time delivering a Cold War espionage story for the ages… another can’t miss account of intrigue and intelligence.” —Boston Globe
“The subtitle of Macintyre’s latest real-life spy thriller calls it ‘The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War.’ Like pretty much everything in this fine book, the description is accurate… Macintyre is fastidious about tradecraft details… [he] has become the preeminent popular chronicler of British intelligence history because he understands the essence of the business.” —Washington Post
“The Spy and the Traitor [is] a fast-paced and fascinating biography of Russian-spy-turned-British-asset Oleg Gordievsky… It’s nonfiction, but it reads like the best of thrillers… The toll spying takes on Gordievsky’s personal life is enthralling, and the details of how deep the effects of one KGB agent’s deception can go are, in these days of Russian election meddling, quite frightening.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Who was the most important spy of the Cold War era? Ben Macintyre convincingly nominates Oleg Gordievsky… Readers should rejoice in a very readable book by a skilled story-teller. Although an intelligence outsider, Mr. Macintyre enjoys the trust of MI6… Mr. Macintyre’s account of how the officer known as Bromhead recruited Mr. Gordievsky as a spy is a textbook study of intelligence reality; indeed, these pages alone are worth the price of the book… In terms of suspense, the flight through Russia is of thriller-quality.” —Washington Times
“Oleg Gordievsky was the most significant British agent of the cold war… The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.” —The Guardian
“Even a reader not enamored of spy stories will have trouble putting this one down… [The story] unfolds with a pace and drama that recall the novels of John le Carré.” —Foreign Affairs
“[A] swift-moving tale of true espionage in the most desperate years of the Cold War... The closing pages of Macintyre’s fluent yarn find Gordievsky attempting to escape captivity and flee to the West in a scenario worthy of John le Carré... Oddly timely, given the return of Russian spying to the front pages, and a first-rate study of the mechanics and psychology of espionage.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] captivating espionage tale... In a feat of real authorial dexterity, Macintyre accurately portrays the long-game banality of spycraft—the lead time and persistence in planning—with such clarity and propulsive verve that the book often feels like a thriller. The book has a startling relevancy to the news of the day... Macintyre has produced a timely and insightful page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Pick up any current true-crime spy book and you’ll probably see a version of this phrase on the cover: ‘The Greatest Spy Story Ever Told.’ Most of them don’t live up to the billing, but the latest by Ben Macintyre comes close…What makes this read propulsive is the way Macintyre tells the story almost as a character-driven novel… Macintyre’s way with details, as when he explains exactly how the KGB bugged apartments, or when he delves into KGB training, is utterly absorbing. The action is punctuated with plenty of heart-stopping near-discoveries, betrayals, and escapes. Fascinating, especially now.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Fans of narrative nonfiction, the Cold War, spy stories, foreign relations among the United States, England, and Russia, and Macintyre’s previous works will greatly enjoy this incredible true account.” —Library Journal (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Crown; Reprint edition (August 6, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101904216
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101904213
- Item Weight : 11.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.89 x 7.94 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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First the invasion of Hungary, then the erection of the Berlin Wall (which Gordievsky was present to see) and finally the brutal crushing of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia all drove this KGB officer further and further away from the party. Exposure to the West in Copenhagen and later in London provided a first hand taste of liberty and freedom. It served as the final push into the eager and eternally grateful arms of his M16 handlers. The double agent provided them with not merely a trove of concrete information but invaluable insight into the workings of the KGB and planning of the Soviet Leadership. It is no exaggeration to say Gordievsky was our Kim Philby. The details of these meetings, contacts, "drops", etc. and how spies operated from the end WWII until the dissolution of the Soviet empire is fascinating and novelistic in the telling. Gordievsky's escape or "exfiltration" from the USSR by M16 is nothing short of breathtaking--a Bourne Identity moment.
Best of all though is the historical and moral context that gives readers a perspective of events' meanings. Ben McIntyre is a masterful storyteller and detailed chronicler. He thoroughly but concisely points out the import and value of Grodievsky's insights--particularly warning the Brits and thereby the Americans that the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov genuinely believed the West was intent upon a first nuclear strike. Appreciating that paranoia can be as perilous as animus, first Thatcher and then Reagan worked to assuage Soviet fears. It was Gordievsky who prepped both sides for successful summits in the 80s and it was he who counseled wisely to neither disband nor include the USSR in the SDI or Star Wars initiative. Rather, ratchet up the pressure and they would go bankrupt trying to keep up, which is precisely what happened.
Gordievsky certainly didn't single handedly end the cold war--there were dozens of events and officials who played a significant role. But Oleg Gordievsky was surely in the first rank of those who made a valuable contribution earning the appreciation of Reagan, Thatcher, the CIA, M16 and yes, QEII (the monarch, not the ocean liner). Best of all, McIntryre doesn't put a patriotic gloss on his subject's behavior. What Gordievsky did was of enormous benefit to democracy and the West but it destroyed his marriage, implicated his wife and children as well as family and friends who all paid some price for his defection. In short, his actions both saved and ruined lives and the choices he made can be rightfully regarded as both morally defensible and appalling or enraging to those who knew him. Unsurprisingly, his marriage failed and most Russian friends regard him with disdain and disgust. In the western intelligence community he is a hero.
This is terrific, important history and a wonderfully well-told tale. Enjoy!
This would be best read in the autumn on a train in the UK. Knowing that something good came out of all this, after all. Ben Macintyre probably will be sitting behind you. He has your back covered.
The story begins with Gordievsky growing up as the son of a KGB general who becomes disillusioned with life under Soviet communism. He follows in his father’s footsteps and is recruited by the KGB. He is initially stationed in Denmark and there he is willingly recruited by MI6. As he rises in the KGB bureaucracy he become ever more important to the British. Along the way he marries, divorces remarries and has two daughters.
Where Gordievsky enters history is when he becomes a senior political officer in the KGB’s London rezindentura in the early 1980s. While there he reports to his MI6 handlers that the Soviets actually believed that the United States was going to launch a first strike on the Soviet Union. So paranoid is KGB head and future general secretary Yuri Andropov that he sets up Operation RYaN to find evidence of plans for a first strike. As in most bureaucracies the KGB spies produce such evidence thereby exacerbating his paranoia. The same thing happened with the CIA when it was ordered to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq twenty years later.
Compounding the problem was that at about the same time in 1983 NATO ordered up its massive Able Archer exercise which was a practice drill to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. To the Russians it looked like a precursor to war. It was Gordievsky who tells the British of the Russian fears who then relay that information to the CIA. Several authors have noted that had not both sides deescalated, nuclear war was on the table. Gordievsky’s information to both
Thatcher and Reagan was influential in bringing about from the de-escalation.
As the Soviet heir apparent, Gorbachev met with Margaret Thatcher in London in 1984. Here Gordievsky’s role is crucial because be briefed both Thatcher and Gorbachev as MI6 spy and KGB political officer on negotiating strategy. The meeting was a big success and Thatcher noted that Gorbachev was a man she could do business with. The end of the Cold War was now more than a pipe dream. Later, after his exfiltration, Gordievsky meets with Reagan to advise him on negotiating strategy for an upcoming meeting with Gorbachev.
But wait, what caused Gordievsky to be exfiltrated from Moscow, especially after he was made the Rezident of the KGB’s London office? In very short form the CIA is jealous of MI6 and wants to know who their source is. They soon find out and his name ends up on the desk of Aldrich Ames who was selling secrets to KGB officers in Washington. His betrayal leads to the death of scores of CIA operatives and sources in Russia and ultimately to the KGB investigation of Gordievsky. In Macintyre’s view Ames is a traitor who sold out his country for big bucks and Gordievsky is an honorable spy seeking to better his country.
This is a great book that I couldn’t put down and I highly recommend it. As an added plus you learn quite a bit of tradecraft.
I'll be reading A Spy Among Friends next, which I hear is even better.
Top reviews from other countries
Essentially it concerns the remarkable Oleg Gordievsky, but we also learn a great deal about the KGB and British and American espionage and counter espionage.
Gordievsky’s father was a dyed in the wool KGB agent, and as such Oleg grew up in a family that was “well-fed, privileged and secure”. He seemed to be ideally set to follow his father and his older brother, Vasily, into the party machine, and indeed the talented young Oleg joined the Komsomol, with his brother already established as a rising figure in the KGB. All seemed to be set fair for the future. Yet even in his early years he is sensitive to divisions and secrets within the family. His mother, Olga, keeps remote from her husband’s political world and beneath the man for whom the Party was God, Oleg detects in his father, Anton, a “small, terrified man”.
With the death of Stalin, Khruschev assumes power in the Soviet Union. At first there is much talk of the Khruschev Thaw, but the new leader is a tough man, who while purging the Party of many Stalinists and releasing political prisoners, has no intention of loosening the hold on the Soviet bloc. During this time Oleg is beginning to cultivate his yearning for foreign travel and becomes a regular listener to the BBC’s World Service. He is beginning to see a world beyond the confines of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, he idolises his elder brother and his prospects in the party machine are further enhanced by his acceptance at the KGB’s elite training school, specialising in the preparation of “illegals”, the secret, undercover agents as opposed to those who openly hold positions in consulates etc.
In the early 1960s we have the Molody/Lonsdale affair, the Portland Spy Ring and most importantly, perhaps, the defection of Kim Philby. Philby was the highest in rank of all the spies that emerged in these years. His defection was a major blow to the morale of British and American intelligence and the trust between the two countries in this area.
Success in the upper echelons of the KGB presupposed a stable marriage and Gordievsky makes what in effect is a marriage of convenience with Yelena, who is totally committed to the communist cause. While prospering in his KGB career, Oleg is deeply affected by his friendship with the cultivated Czech, Kaplan, by his experiences in East Germany and most of all his time in Denmark, where he delights in the freedom and opens himself to the wonders of classical music and western literature forbidden in Moscow. Vague alienation turns to loathing of the drab conformity of his homeland. Informal contacts are made with the Danish intelligence service PET and Oleg is now disillusioned with his life at home and nourished by western values. He is ripe for turning.
At the same time his career is forging ahead. He is promoted to the rank of Major in the KGB, even as he suffers withdrawal symptoms on returning to Moscow. Key events move things on: the defection of Kaplan, the death of his brother, the appearance of Bromhead, who is to initiate Oleg’s defection as the codename SUNBEAM is born, a secret kept from the CIA.
Mcintyre now picks up the intrigue that leads to the overcoming of suspicions within the intelligence services and the British government and eventually launches PIMLICO, the escape plan should it be necessary to get Gordievsky out of the USSR in a hurry. There are major obstacles ahead. Oleg’s re-marriage is one of them. The activities of an at first unpromising CIA agent, Aldrich Ames is a far more dangerous one. We are also approaching the 1982 nuclear crisis and Andropov’s assumption of supreme power – an old -fashioned, inward -looking ex-KGB officer.
It is not long before Ames will uncover a key KGB agent working for British intelligence, even if his exact identity remains unknown for some time. Ames himself is to rise to become the chief of the CIA’s Soviet counter-intelligence unit and himself to desert to the Soviet cause. Gordievsky is promoted to become Rezident in London, the highest-ranking officer in the KGB in the UK. He is in a position now to pass almost all secret KGB documents to his new friends. Then comes the summons to Moscow. No pressure is placed on Gordievsky but in the end he elects to return. PIMLICO goes on to high alert.
Amazingly, despite their knowledge via Ames, the KGB do no more than question Oleg and his new wife before sending the former to an expensive health resort. PIMLICO is now triggered and the exciting finale to the book is under way. McIntyre, sustains the suspense via precise detail while relentlessly turning the screw till it reaches unbearable tension.
McIntyre deals fully with the aftermath, the meeting with Mrs Thatcher at Chequers, the conviction for treason and the death sentence passed on Gordievsky, the world tour that McIntyre describes as a “one man intelligence roadshow”, through to Gorbachev’s refusal to discuss the issue of Oleg’s family joining him in Britain. Not least is the loneliness that a man in hiding is unable to avoid.
McIntyre, both directly and indirectly gives us a profound insight into the life of an illegal and the lives of espionage agents in general. From early on we see that spies are motivated in many different ways: for ideology, money, sex, blackmail and other far more confused needs. Whereas Ames sends at least 25 people to their deaths for money, others, Gordievsky and Philby among them, were ideologically motivated. As McIntyre tells us at the end, Oleg Gordievsky “is one of the bravest men I have ever met and one of the loneliest.” We are reminded of Kim Philby, who attempted to kill himself. The two, have much in common. Though Philby may have had the sharper intellect and the icier nerve, Gordievsky comes across as the more human figure, a man tortured by his conscience and his personal feelings.
McIntyre is a first-rate writer, lucid and forever not just presenting events, but reaching beyond to the human realities that affect his subjects and all of us. This is a remarkable book. I cannot recommend it too highly.
It is gripping, all the more for recalling the period in which the events took place.
In the epilogue the book continues right up to the poisoning of the Skripals.
I am glad Gordievsky was treated so well on his return to Britain as his contribution to this country was enormous.