Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Spy And The Traitor: How A KGB Officer Stopped The Soviets From Launching A Nuclear Attack On The West

Cole Moreton at the Daily Mail offers a piece on the former KGB officer who helped prevent WWIII.

We’re walking through a park in London where a Soviet spy once carried out a secret drop – just before he saved the world. ‘Most people have no idea how close we were to nuclear war at that time,’ says Ben Macintyre, author of The Spy And The Traitor, which tells the extraordinary true story of a KGB agent turned British informant called Oleg Gordievsky (seen in the above photo). ‘He was able to crack open the inner secrets of the Kremlin. No spy had ever done that for Britain before.’

Gordievsky worked undercover for the KGB – the Soviet secret service – in London in the early Eighties, sending reports back to Moscow. But he was also, bravely, spying for the West. ‘If Oleg had been caught he would have been tortured and executed, and most of his family would have been rounded up as well.’ 

Then came Able Archer 83, a NATO war-game training exercise in November 1983, leading up to a simulated nuclear attack. The Soviets thought it was real. ‘Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric about the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” was interpreted in Moscow as a direct threat. The Kremlin genuinely believed the West was going to launch a first nuclear strike.’

The Soviets panicked and prepared to launch their missiles first, believing it was the only way to save themselves. Gordievsky heard all about it as a senior KGB operative, but quickly passed word on to his handlers, who took it to the highest level.

‘People in Downing Street and the Oval Office didn’t believe it at first, but Oleg managed to convince them it was true – and say that unless they calmed down the fighting talk, the West would effectively press the button on its own destruction.’

Moves were made to calm down the Soviets, who never fired. ‘A lot of what spies do doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. This is one of the few cases in which spying changed history.’

Gordievsky was even more intimately involved in the next historic development, when the Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to London in 1984 for a meeting with the Prime Minister that would hasten the end of the Cold War. ‘Oleg was briefing both sides. He was telling Thatcher what to say to Gorbachev and he was telling Gorbachev to say to Thatcher. Extraordinary.’

Gordievsky had been brought up a loyalist, the son of a KGB agent, but his stomach was turned by the sight of the Berlin Wall going up while he was stationed there. ‘He came to believe that he was serving a corrupt, barbarian regime. He didn’t do it for money; he did it purely for ideological reasons.’

All this is laid out in The Spy And The Traitor, which is about to be released in paperback. So I’m walking with Macintyre, a short, bespectacled 55-year-old with a tweed jacket and a fierce intelligence, through Coram’s Fields near Holborn. This is where Gordievsky carried out his last dead-drop, hiding £8,000 in the bushes for a newly arrived Soviet spy. ‘He brought his kids as cover. They would have been aged three and six. He left them on the swings, went behind the hedge and dropped a brick with the notes, wrapped in a plastic bag.’

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link: 

You can also read my review of The Spy and the Traitor via the below link: 

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