Ben Macintyre immediately brings readers into the world of betrayal and treason in his Cold War thriller-biography “The Spy and the Traitor.”
“Oleg Gordievsky was born into the KGB: shaped by it, loved by it, twisted, damaged, and very nearly destroyed by it,” McIntyre writes in the first chapter. His father worked for the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnnosti or Committee for State Security all his life. The Gordievskys lived on a block allocated for members of the intelligence community. They relished special food reserved for officers, socialized with the families of fellow secret agents, and enjoyed other perquisites reserved for spies.
Oleg attended the best schools and graduated from secondary school as “a competent, intelligent, athletic, questioning unremarkable product of the Soviet system.” He attended the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations where he was further educated in Communist ideals.
Even though he showed some leanings toward democracy while at the Institute he was inducted into the KGB in 1968. He quickly rose through the ranks and became the top rezident in the Soviet embassy in London. In a rare act of covert activity, Gordievsky represented both England and the Soviet Union when he wrote the briefing notes for the first diplomatic meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. His secret preparation for the leaders of both countries readied the genial relations that developed between them.
As he pursued his career, Gordievsky increasingly became drawn to the West. He was outraged over the erection of the Berlin Wall and by the crushing rout of the democratic revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1968. He decided to defect and joined England's Secret Intelligence Service, the M16, in 1973.
He became Britain's most valuable spy. At the height of the Cold War, Gordievsky’s identification of numerous Russian spies saved England from countless scurrilous Soviet plots.
In an effort to keep the circle of trust closed, M16 never revealed Gordievsky's name to the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S. Members of the CIA became obsessed with identifying England's top source of Soviet intelligence. This persistent CIA drive to uncover the mole’s identity led to Gordievsky’s doom in 1985.
That year his identity was exposed by another spy, Aldrich Ames, a CIA analyst. Ames chose to reveal Gordievsky’s identity when he sold out the United States to the KGB for 4.6 million dollars. “He needed to pay for Rosario’s [his girlfriend] shopping trips to Neiman Marcus and dinners at the Palm restaurant. He wanted to move out of his one-bedroom apartment, pay off his ex-wife, hold an expensive wedding, and own his car outright.”
After being tipped by Ames, the KGB called Gordievsky back to Moscow where he was interrogated, drugged and kept under surveillance. The imperiled agent sent a message to the British to rescue him. The remainder of the book is an account of the action-packed, swiftly moving, nail-biting attempt by Gordievsky to escape to the West.
Macintyre’s true tale is a lively, captivating portrayal of the particulars of spy craft. This work is professionally researched, a must-read for fans of espionage fact and fiction. Two folios of photos further document Gordievsky’s personal and professional lives. Additional references, notes and a thorough index complete the volume.