A “line PR” political reports specialist of the Third Department of the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate, which covered Scandinavia and Great Britain, Gordievsky was disillusioned after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and had been warned of his future behavior because of his affair with his secretary.
Gordievsky had been a member of Mikhail Luibimov’s rezidentura in Copenhagen since October 1972, on his second tour of duty in Denmark as press attaché, and was pitched by the Secret Intelligence Service station commander, Robert Browning, whom he had encountered casually at a local squash club.
Quite apart from producing a veritable bonanza of highly relevant information from the very heart of the Third Department, Gordievsky’s survival represented SIS’s essential integrity, proving that the organization could run a successful penetration into the KGB without fear of compromise. Gordievsky was responsible for a series of Soviet expulsions. The first to go, in December 1982, was a naval attaché, Capt. Anatoli Zotov of the GRU, and he had been followed a month later by Vladimir Chernev, ostensibly a translator at the International Wheat Council. Finally, in April 1983, three diplomats and a correspondent, Igor Titov, had been expelled. All had been fingered by Gordievsky, who had given the SIS a comprehensive analysis of the KGB’s rezidentura, thus allowing MI5 to concentrate its limited resources on the best targets.
Gordievsky’s knowledge extended far beyond the Third Department, and he revealed that his brother had trained as an illegal for deployment by Directorate S into West Germany. He also knew where his contemporaries had been posted, and his information was a contributor to the West’s efforts to curb the KGB. The positive identification of a Soviet diplomat as an intelligence professional can be of immense value to an overstretched security apparatus unsure of which target to concentrate on, and the statistics of Soviet expulsions worldwide began to escalate markedly in 1983, when 111 officials were declared persona non grata from 16 countries during the first eight months of that year. Between 1978 and August 1983 a total of 316 espionage suspects were removed from 43 countries, a figure that might have indicated to a vigilant analyst in Moscow that the KGB had sprung a leak. If the tips had been traced back to the SIS, doubtless the KGB would have conducted a mole hunt to trace the culprit.
On 17 May 1985, having been named the rezident designate, Gordievsky was unexpectedly summoned home to Moscow, supposedly for consultations, but he was very suspicious and agreed only when he had been assured by his SIS handler at an emergency meeting that there was no reason to believe he was in any danger. However, upon his arrival he realized his apartment had been searched, and when he reached KGB headquarters at Yasenevo, he was accused of being a spy. He denied the accusation and resisted his interrogators, who used drugs in an attempt to extract a confession, but although the KGB had been tipped off to his dual role, there was apparently not sufficient evidence to justify an arrest. Although under heavy surveillance, Gordievsky was able to shake off his watchers while jogging in a park at the end of July and make contact with the SIS, sending an emergency signal requesting a rescue. The ostensibly innocuous signal was nothing more elaborate than Gordievsky appearing on a prearranged street corner, at a particular time, carrying a shopping bag, but it was received and promptly relayed to London.
The distress signal prompted the SIS chief, Christopher Curwen, to fly to Scotland immediately to brief Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was then staying with the queen at Balmoral, while the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe was visited at Chevening in Kent.
When informed of the need for their permission to undertake the perilous act of removing Gordievsky from Moscow under the watchful eyes of the KGB, both approved the plan, and arrangements were made for him to be exfiltrated to Finland by the Moscow station commander, Viscount Asquith, in his Saab. He acted as a good Samaritan, escorting a pregnant member of the embassy staff for medical treatment in Helsinki, while Gordievsky climbed aboard at a rendezvous outside Leningrad and was driven over the frontier at Viborg. Once in Finland he was greeted by the Helsinki commander, Margaret Ramsay, and then driven to Tromsø, Norway, for a flight the next day from Oslo to London. He was then accommodated briefly at a country house in the Midlands, where he was visited by Curwen, and then put up at Fort Monkton for a lengthy debriefing, lasting 80 days, conducted by the SIS’s principal Kremlinologist, Gordon Barrass. Among Gordievsky’s other visitors was Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, who was flown down to the
fort for a lunch hosted by Curwen.