May 18, 1985
For the KGB’s counterintelligence section, Directorate K, this was a routine bugging job.
It took less than a minute to spring the locks on the front door of the flat on the eighth floor of 103 Leninsky Prospekt, a Moscow tower block occupied by KGB officers and their families. While two men in gloves and overalls set about methodically searching the apartment, two technicians wired the place, swiftly and invisibly, implanting eavesdropping devices behind the wallpaper and baseboards, inserting a live microphone into the telephone mouthpiece and video cameras in the light fixtures in the sitting room, bedroom, and kitchen. By the time they had finished, an hour later, there was barely a corner in the flat where the KGB did not have eyes and ears. Finally, they put on face masks and sprinkled radioactive dust on the clothes and shoes in the closet, sufficiently low in concentration to avoid poisoning, but enough to enable the KGB’s Geiger counters to track the wearer’s movements. Then they left, and carefully locked the front door behind them.
A few hours later, a senior Russian intelligence officer landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on the Aeroflot flight from London. Colonel Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky of the KGB was at the pinnacle of his career. A prodigy of the Soviet intelligence service, he had diligently risen through the ranks, serving in Scandinavia, Moscow, and Britain with hardly a blemish on his record. And now, at the age of forty-six, he had been promoted to chief of the KGB station in London, a plum posting, and invited to return to Moscow to be formally anointed by the head of the KGB. A career spy, Gordievsky was tipped to ascend to the uppermost ranks of that vast and ruthless security and intelligence network that controlled the Soviet Union.
A stocky, athletic figure, Gordievsky strode confidently through the airport crowds. Inside him, though, a low terror bubbled. For Oleg Gordievsky, KGB veteran, faithful secret servant of the Soviet Union, was a British spy.
Recruited a dozen years earlier by MI6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service, the agent code-named NOCTON had proven to be one of the most valuable spies in history. The immense amount of information he fed back to his British handlers had changed the course of the Cold War, cracking open Soviet spy networks, helping to avert nuclear war, and furnishing the West with a unique insight into the Kremlin’s thinking during a critically dangerous period in world affairs. Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had been briefed on the extraordinary trove of secrets provided by the Russian spy, though neither the American president nor the British prime minister knew his real identity. Even Gordievsky’s young wife was entirely unaware of his double life.
Gordievsky’s appointment as KGB rezident (the Russian term for a KGB head of station, known as a rezidentura) had prompted rejoicing among the tiny circle of MI6 officers privy to the case. As the most senior Soviet intelligence operative in Britain, Gordievsky would henceforth have access to the innermost secrets of Russian espionage: he would be able to inform the West about what the KGB was planning to do, before it did it; the KGB in Britain would be neutered. And yet the abrupt summons back to Moscow had unsettled the NOCTON team. Some sensed a trap. At a hastily convened meeting in a London safe house with his MI6 handlers, Gordievsky had been offered the option to defect and remain in Britain with his family. Everyone at the meeting understood the stakes: if he returned as official KGB rezident then MI6, the CIA, and their Western allies would hit the intelligence jackpot, but if Gordievsky was walking into a trap he would lose everything, including his life. He had thought long and hard before making up his mind: “I will go back.” Once again, the MI6 officers went over Gordievsky’s emergency escape plan, code-named PIMLICO, that had been drawn up seven years earlier in the hope that it would never have to be activated. MI6 had never exfiltrated anyone from the USSR before, let alone a KGB officer. Elaborate and hazardous, the escape plan could be triggered only as a last resort.
Gordievsky had been trained to spot danger. As he walked through the airport, his nerves ragged with internal stress, he saw signs of peril everywhere. The passport officer seemed to study his papers for an inordinate length of time before waving him through. Where was the official who was supposed to be meeting him, a minimal courtesy for a KGB colonel arriving back from overseas? The airport was always stiff with surveillance, but today the nondescript men and women standing around apparently idly seemed even more numerous than normal. Gordievsky climbed into a taxi, telling himself that if the KGB knew the truth, he would have been arrested the moment he set foot on Russian soil and already on his way to the KGB cells to face interrogation and torture, followed by execution.
As far as he could tell, no one followed him as he entered the familiar apartment block on Leninsky Prospekt and took the elevator to the eighth floor. He had not been inside the family flat since January.
The first lock on the front door opened easily, and then the second. But the door would not budge. The third lock on the door, an old-fashioned deadbolt dating back to the construction of the apartment block, had been locked.
But Gordievsky never used the third lock. Indeed, he had never had the key. That must mean that someone with a skeleton key had been inside, and on leaving had mistakenly triple-locked the door. That someone must have been the KGB.
The fears of the previous week crystallized in a freezing rush, with the chilling, paralyzing recognition that his apartment had been entered, searched, and probably bugged. He was under suspicion. Someone had betrayed him. The KGB was watching him. The spy was being spied upon by his fellow spies.
Reprinted from The Spy and the Traitor. Copyright © 2018 by Ben MacintyrePublished by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.