Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Spy and the Traitor *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd November, 2018

76D19536-DA19-40CB-A8F0-5A9F4FED3297When I first started working for the BBC World Service in the early 1980s, the name Oleg Gordievskh resonated round Bush House. He was the senior KGB operative who became disenchanted with the brutal reality of the Soviet Union, as well as of his own organisation, so became a mole for British intelligence. It would be an exaggeration to say that he brought down the old USSR, but he certainly mortally wounded the KGB. Particularly when he was based at the Soviet Embassy in London, he fed his handlers at MI6 a mountain of material about the KGB and its operatives and even briefed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on how she should behave at the funeral of former KGB Head and Soviet Leader, Yuri Andropov, as well as how to relate to the up-and-coming Mikhail Gorbachev. Gordievsky was such a valuable resource that the British didn’t even fully inform the American CIA about the man who was handing over so much information. But little did they know that within the CIA there was a traitor working for the Russians: Aldrich Ames. Whereas Gordievsky betrayed his country because he felt that it had a rotten system that needed to be overthrown, to become more like the West, Ames was in it purely for the money, earning over four million dollars from the Russians until he was finally rumbled. By then, thanks to Ames’s deductions the Russians had also worked out that Gordievsky was working for the enemy. Back in Moscow, his very life was at risk, but the British had long before worked out a complicated rescue plan to smuggle him out of the country via Finland if ever the need should rise. That is exactly what happened, though he had to leave his wife and children behind, leaving him guilt-ridden for years. The actual escape plan was worthy of a John Le Carre novel, but it is a central thread in Ben Macintyre’s superb book, The Spy and the Traitor, (Penguin Viking, £25). The cover does not lie when it trumpets this as the greatest espionage story of the Cold War and the tremendous amount of research the author has put in, along with an absolute mastery of pace, makes this a stunning achievement, not least as a portrait of a man who was driven by his conscience to betray his fatherland. Highly recommended.

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