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The Spy and the Traitor

The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

By Ben Macintyre
18-minute read
Audio available
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre

The Spy and the Traitor (2018) details the real-life spy story of Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet double-agent whose efforts contributed to the end of the Cold War. These blinks trace Gordievsky’s progress through the KGB and his years spying for MI6, the British secret service, before his final daring escape to the West.

  • Fans of espionage and spy stories
  • History buffs looking for a fresh perspective on the Cold War
  • Political science nerds who want to see realpolitik in action

Ben Macintyre is a historian and newspaper columnist for the Times. He has written ten books, several of which have been shortlisted for esteemed book prizes. His titles include the SAS: Rogue Heroes (2016) and Agent Zigzag (2007).

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The Spy and the Traitor

The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

By Ben Macintyre
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre
Synopsis

The Spy and the Traitor (2018) details the real-life spy story of Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet double-agent whose efforts contributed to the end of the Cold War. These blinks trace Gordievsky’s progress through the KGB and his years spying for MI6, the British secret service, before his final daring escape to the West.

Key idea 1 of 11

Oleg Gordievsky seemed destined to join the KGB but became disillusioned with communism from an early age.

The communist Soviet Union’s reputation for its terrifyingly effective state apparatus has barely dimmed since its dissolution in 1991. One name still instantly recalls the pervasive fear that riddled the country: The KGB. The Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security, was the country’s primary security agency. To put it mildly, it was ruthlessly efficient.

Oleg Gordievsky’s father, Anton Lavrentyevich Gordievsky was a lifelong member of the KGB. Although the exact details are scarce, he likely identified many “enemies of the state” during the Great Purge of 1936-8. This state campaign under Stalin resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Though he never spoke of these atrocities, Gordievsky was proud of his role in the KGB, even opting to wear his uniform on the weekends.

Oleg Gordievsky was born 10 October 1938. It seemed that he, like his brother Vasili, was assured of employment at the KGB thanks to his father’s membership. That was just how it worked with the children of KGB members. Gordievsky’s career path to the KGB was settled, but his conscience was not. From early on, there were signs that he was discontented with the communist ideology fueling the organization.

Two early influences on Gordievsky were his mother, a gentle nonconformist who kept a quiet distance from Soviet ideology, and his grandmother. The latter kept her religious beliefs secret, an absolute necessity in a country where religious faith was illegal. By the time 17-year-old Gordievsky enrolled at Russia’s most esteemed university for diplomats, politicians and spies – the Moscow State Institute of International Relations – a change was in the air. After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev began to liberalize some of the Soviet Union’s most oppressive practices, for example, allowing foreigners to visit, as well as making previously banned publications and magazines available.

Gordievsky was thus able to learn more about the West from foreign newspapers and periodicals in the institute’s library. At night, he began tuning his radio to the BBC World Service and Voice of America, even though that was still forbidden. Around this time, he found a companion at the institute, Stanislaw Kaplan. Like Gordievsky, he was skeptical about communism. The two became fast friends, and often went out jogging together. Though neither Gordievsky nor Kaplan had yet dropped their loyalty to communism, it was clear that this friendship would shape the rest of their lives.

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