Swift-moving tale of true espionage in the most desperate years of the Cold War.
Oleg Gordievsky (b. 1938) seemed to be a true believer in communism, a man who had emerged from secondary school, writes Macintyre (Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit that Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War, 2016, etc.), as “a competent, intelligent, athletic, unquestioning and unremarkable product of the Soviet system.” Yet, after being admitted to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations and groomed for service, Gordievsky revealed radical leanings toward democracy. Recruited as a KGB officer all the same, he was an appalled witness to the building of the Berlin Wall, but it “did not prevent him faithfully carrying out the orders of the KGB.” Then came the invasion of Czechoslovakia and a home visit to a country that seemed to be increasingly poor and shabby in what he called a “totalitarian cacophony.” At this point, Gordievsky was ripe for the turning. He became a valued asset of MI6, identifying Soviet spies and fellow travelers. So important was Gordievsky’s role, and so difficult for the spymasters to manage, that MI6 tried to conceal his identity from their CIA allies, which gave the Americans fits—until, in 1985, a disgruntled, shabby CIA officer named Aldrich Ames “chose to sell out America to the KGB in order to buy the American Dream he felt he deserved.” One of those he revealed was Gordievsky, who, for all his “knack for detecting loyalty, suspicion, conviction and faith,” was caught in the KGB’s net and returned to Moscow. The closing pages of Macintyre’s fluent yarn find Gordievsky attempting to escape captivity and flee to the West in a scenario worthy of John le Carré, even as another net tightens around the American spy whom Gordievsky scorns as a "greedy bastard.”
Oddly timely, given the return of Russian spying to the front pages, and a first-rate study of the mechanics and psychology of espionage.