The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre

The incredible true story of one of the greatest assets every recruited by MI6 during the Cold War. This is the story of a rising star in the USSR who becomes disillusioned to the system while working as a KGB agent outside of the USSR. He turns into a double agent for MI6. His activities are uncovered by another double agent from the other side. This required him to make an incredible escape from Moscow, through Finland, then Norway and back to the U.K. This book is a great overview of the whole Cold War era. It traces the history of the spy along with the contours of Cold War.

In a craven and hierarchical organization, the only thing more dangerous than revealing your own ignorance is to draw attention to the stupidity of the boss.

Oh boy. That applies to every school I’ve ever worked at!

If you like spy movies, this book should excite you. This story was more exciting than most spy movies I’ve watched. It’s even more amazing since this is a true story.

Interesting tidbits

  • “The ELMEN team nicknamed themselves “the Nadgers”. A slang term from The Goon Show in 1950s. Also slang for testicles.

  • September 1st, 1983 a Soviet plane shot down a Korean Air 747 that went into soviet airspace. This killed 269 passengers and crew. Wow, it’s crazy that this happened and it didn’t set off WW3. I was born right as this happened so I had never even heard of this. Now, I’ll be deep-diving into Wikipedia to find out more about this.

  • The term they use when they kick out spies from embassies for spying:

    Guk was declared persona non grata for “activities incompatible with his diplomatic status,”

  • On the term ‘Finlandization’:

    The Finns deeply resented the term “Finlandization,” but it accurately represented the situation of a country forced to look both ways, keen to be seen as Western but unwilling and unable to alienate the Soviet Union. The Finnish cartoonist Kari Suomalainen once described his country’s uncomfortable position as “the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West”. It’s funny that the Soviet Union was once the East, now the great power in the East is China.

  • The book that Gordievsky used to signal to his friend that he was going to escape the Soviet Union. He was lucky that his friend missed the reference:

    …“Mr. Harrington’s Washing” is the tale of a British spy who escapes from revolutionary Russia through Finland.

  • After the Soviets realized that a spy had escaped Moscow many people were sacked or demoted.

    Among those affected was Vladimir Putin, a product of the Leningrad KGB who saw most of his friends, colleagues, and patrons purged as a direct consequence of Gordiesky’s escape.

  • This is how spies get your hooks into you.

For many years, the KGB used the acronym MICE to identify the four mainsprings of spying: Money, Ideology, Coercion, and Ego.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #89 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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