“The Spy and the Traitor” Is the Real Life Espionage Thriller Unlike Any Movie

Marcus Studinski

The British flag entered the public domain, but I found it in Wikimedia Commons.
Soviet Flag. Whitney., Smith (1980). Flags and arms across the world. Smith, Whitney. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 203. ISBN 9780070590946. OCLC 4957064.

“The Spy and the Traitor” is a story about the KGB, a Russian Intelligence agency and secret police force and their spy, Oleg Gordievsky, and his betrayal of the Soviets to Britain. It is by Ben Macintyre, an author who had access to intelligence agents who knew Gordievsky and agents who interacted with the man. The author also had access to a variety of intelligence archives and information kept within them, particularly regarding this true story. And with this information, the author creates a nail-biting, true account of exfiltrating a spy from the Soviet Union in secrecy. For the spy’s capture would mean certain death. Oleg Gordievsky flees Moscow and the heart of the Soviet Union to be extracted at a specific point, under KGB surveillance the entire time.

The story starts in the heart of the Soviet regime, in Moscow. Several surveillance agents are bugging an apartment, or planting hidden microphones in the place to pick up incriminating evidence. The job is treated as a rather casual affair for the intelligence agents. The author describes it in the introduction as such. “…this was a routine bugging job.” Already, it’s clear that someone has made a mistake. Why else would Soviet intelligence agents be on to them? Although it seems mundane, the atmosphere carries a quiet significance if you understand what bugging means and what it entails.

The man pointing is by Erika Iser at Pixy.org.

The atmosphere quickly changes. Oleg is actually afraid, as he can tell his apartment has been bugged. This is where the book ups the ante. The KGB is on to him. And there isn’t much time. The author then goes back, and in stunning detail, explores and explains Gordievsky’s life and what has led up to this point. And several times, the mood intensifies and the suspense eats away at the reader. After all, this is the Cold War.

Oleg reveals lots of key details about Soviet beliefs:“Gordievsky revealed that the Kremlin believed, wrongly but completely seriously, that the West was about to press the nuclear button.”  This intelligence got the West to understand the Soviets were serious and afraid of nuclear war, due to Yuri Andropov, chair of the KGB, telling the spy stations and all of his fellow officers that the West was preparing for nuclear war. This was  under the guise of the ABLE ARCHER exercise by NATO. The public may not have noticed, but Gordievsky’s intelligence potentially stopped nuclear war in the 1980’s from coming to fruition. According to an internal CIA document on the nuclear war incident that almost came from NATO’s ABLE ARCHER exercise scare, “…only Gordievsky’s timely warning to Washington via MI6 kept things from going too far.”