I-Spy (in Coulsdon)

I’ve just finished The Spy and The Traitor centres on activities of Oleg Gordievsky, who was a high flying KGB agent.

Ben Macintyre starts this book with “a situation”.  The “hero” arrives back in Moscow after being sent home from London.

Oleg’s believes his call back to Russia may not be routine.

He stands outside his flat, but can’t get in. The top two locks turn but a third won’t budge.

Having never possessed a key for the bottom lock it can only mean one thing, the KGB have been inside “and tapped” the property.

Over the course of the next few chapters we discover more about Gordievsky’s family, training and early operations in Copenhagen.

His rise to prominence and disillusionment with the Soviet system leads into an “arrangement” with an MI6 agent.

What’s so remarkable about this story is that Oleg wasn’t after cash, and secondly that his actions had a profound effect on pretty much everyone in the developed world.

Over the course of 11 years his analytical mind, prodigious memory and good relationships with his handlers saw great fruit.

Gordievsky eventually “blew the cover” of Russian intelligence work, and hastened the collapse of the KGB.

His reports helped avert nuclear war, and significantly impacted The Cold War and dismantling of the USSR.

The book “come alive” for me as one of key villains was a lonely MI5 officer who posted classified information to the Russian HQ in London.

That man was Michael Bettaney who lived here at 5 Victoria Road, Coulsdon, Surrey.  His home (above) is just down the road from where I went to school.

Geoffrey Howe was the Foreign Secretary as the time of the diplomatic crisis when Bettaney sought to expose his countrymen.

He was probably handling this case when we saw him on our doorstep in Caterham campaigning for re-election.

Our “double agent” eventually found himself in the mire, and later in the book we learn about the British plan which allowed him to escape trial (and execution).

The whole story is quiet extraordinary, and is written very well.

Perhaps it warrants a “5 star” rating, but the truth of the account doesn’t scan like a James Bond novel.

Some of you may be disappointed – but that isn’t the author’s fault!



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