Oleg Gordievsky is certainly the most prominent former secret agent of the last 20 years. Thanks to his co-operation with the writer Christopher Andrew and his incredible escape from the USSR, he became a public figure required as an expert in cases as the death of Alexander Litvinenko.
Born in Moscow in 1938, after attending the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) he became part of the diplomatic corps and as a first job he was sent to East Berlin in August 1961, shortly before the wall was completed.
After a year of training, he joined the KGB in 1963 and he spent nine years at the headquarters of the Soviet secret service in Moscow, the so-called Centre (1963-1965 and 1970-1972) and at the residence of Copenhagen (1966 -1970) for the development of the activities of illegal residents, spies operating under a false name in a foreign country without the cover of their embassy.
After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces, an event which effectively suppressed the first shoots of freedom that had begun to flourish during the Prague Spring, Gordievsky decided to move away from communist totalitarianism. The story repeated itself: first the terror, then the war and now new atrocities, it seemed that communism was capable to bring only crimes and death.
The plan to move to the West started with an apparently innocuous phone call to his wife from the room of his residence in Denmark: during the conversation Gordievsky expressly and severely criticized the Soviet intervention. He knew that the line was under control by the Danish secret service: Western intelligence services didn’t actually miss the message. In 1974, after a period of mutual testing, he started a full-time collaboration with SIS (MI6).
Over the following years he worked at the political information service in Copenhagen, with the Centre and in London. With the assignment conferred in 1980, consisting in preparing the chapters on the KGB’s operations in England, Ireland, Scandinavia and Australia for a strictly confidential story of the first Director of Central, to be used only within the service, he was able to sift, on behalf of the West, the records of the PDC (First Managing Director for foreign intelligence).
He had long conversations with senior executives of the KGB, diplomats and officials of the Communist Party. He made regular visits to the office of the deputy head of the PDC Gruscko Victor, head of covert operations in Europe. The most important executive of the Party who Gordievsky reported to on the current problems was Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. During the first visit to Britain in December 1984, three months after becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Gorbachev received three or four secret reports prepared by Gordievsky. Gorbachev expressed his opinion about the future activities of the Soviet embassy and of the KGB residence in London.
Gordievsky experienced firsthand the applicant obsessive psychosis of the KGB about imaginary conspiracies. In the early 80′s, the Kremlin was alarmed by an imaginary plan from the west about nuclear aggression. Gordievsky found himself deeply engaged in the largest initiative of the secret Soviet history, an unprecedented worldwide collaboration between KGB and GRU (military intelligence), codenamed RYAN: they had to try to find out the plan of West nuclear attack by using quite bizarre methods such as assessment of stocks of British blood in blood bank, the number of animals slaughtered in slaughterhouses, the frequency of meetings between Mrs Thatcher and the Queen.
Gordievsky also followed the story of the “Cambridge Five”, the famous five spies recruited at the University of Cambridge. Gordievsky will be the one to reveal to the SIS the name of the last and fifth man, John Cairncross. In particular, he studied with interest the career of the most famous of the five, Kim Philby, who defected to Moscow in January 1963.
Many years later, in Copenhagen, Gordievsky bought a copy of the book written by Seale and McConville entitled “Philby: The Long Road to Moscow”, and sent it to Philby through a friend. Philby read the book and sent it back to Gordievsky with an inscription saying: To my dear colleague Oleg: Do not believe anything you see posted up on me! Kim Philby.
In 1983 Gordievsky was head of PR and added resident in London, had received high praise for its political relations. His success was definitively established thanks to the reports he provided during the visit of Gorbachev in December 1984. In January 1985 he was summoned to the center, where he learned that he had been appointed as the new owner of the residence in London, a position he would have covered since May of that year, after the returning to Moscow of the resident officer, Nikitenko. In May of 1985 he received a telegram recalling him to Moscow for official confirmation of the appointment as a resident of London: the sixth sense of a secret agent suggested Gordievsky that something was unclear. Upon arrival in Moscow, his feelings were confirmed: at the airport the KGB officer assigned to the control of documents, Seremet, took more time than necessary to verify his diplomatic passport. When he reached the apartment at 109 Leninsky Prospekt he knew even before opening the door that the flat had been raided: he and his wife were using only two of the three locks, but that time all three were locked.
The next day he was led to the building of the First Directorate to Jasen Central where he was assigned a room at the Third Department. He tried to get information about the planned meetings with Cebrikov, chairman of the KGB, and Kryuchkov, head of the First Directorate Central, but they told him he had to wait; he spent a week but nothing happened. Then he received a call from General Gruska, First Deputy Head of Central Directorate, inviting him to an important meeting to discuss a new approach to high-level infiltration of agents in Britain.
They went on a black Volga owned by Gruska and reached a KGB dacha, where they waited for a breakfast of sandwiches. Gordievsky reluctantly accepted a glass of Armenian Brandy and he realized that he had been drugged: he was seized by a sense of euphoria and started talking freewheeling. Obtaining a confession was very important for the KGB, a written or recorded evidence that he was a British spy; however for some reason Gordievsky, even bombarded with questions, was able to resist. Gordievsky felt ill and fell into a confused state, he woke up the next day and was taken back home. He soon began thinking about an escape from the Soviet Union, returned to the room at the Third Department and was immediately summoned to the office again Gruska who accused him of being a spy. Gordievsky strongly denied any wrongdoing, but declared he was willing to accept, as an officer and gentleman, the decision to be expelled from the First Central Directorate.
Gordievsky was granted a license, and knowing that he needed time to organize the escape, he accepted the job in a KGB “sanatorium” about one hundred kilometers from Moscow. Always shadowed by agents of the KGB, he was able to look in the library of “sanatorium” each and every guide map concerning the region where he was planning to cross the border. The contingency plan was contained in the SIS cardboard cover of a novel Gordievsky was always bringing with himself. His life was hanging by this plan. He returned to Moscow and, surprisingly, his contacts with the SIS escaped the vigilance of the KGB; during the two weeks before the flight to the West, he spread a number of false tracks aimed at detecting the supervision of the KGB. He arranged several meetings with friends and familiars for the week following the scheduled departure from Moscow, he fumbled on his rickety Lada to prepare it for the technical review. His observers were used to seeing him out in the afternoon and usually didn’t follow him, so he managed to cross the open area between the building and a park where he lived and to merge among the people of a market. He reached the station where he bought a ticket to Leningrad, he jumped on the train just few moments before departure to avoid talking with other fellow travelers and took sedatives to sleep on the train and be in force for the day of truth. Gordievsky laid on his bunk and stood with his eyes open while waiting for the sedative effect, trying to figure out who had betrayed him. Perhaps the dose of sedative was excessive and the morning after he was awakened by a companion: he had fallen asleep on the floor, his face swollen. He managed to minimize the incident with people who wanted to accompany him to the hospital, as the train entered the station in Leningrad. There he took another train to Bivorg, and boarded a bus to get to the place fixed for the meeting with two agents of the SIS. The agents, aware of being followed by the KGB, accelerated near the meeting place gaining an advantage whereby they got Gordievsky in a trunk without being seen. From inside the trunk Gordievsky counted five checkpoints, five inspections, but the trunk was never opened. Then finally Finland.
Oleg Gordievsky escaped from a sure death sentence, but who had betrayed him? To find out, continue following us!