4.5 out of 5 stars

A  man dressed in a drab grey suit standing in a street corner in the middle of Moscow looking like the other citizens passing him by would have been almost unnoticeable, but because he was holding a plastic bag from the British supermarket, Safeway, for the people looking out for him he stood out like a beacon. He was not a regular Soviet citizen, he was a senior KGB officer and he had just activated his escape plan. He now had to hope that his signal had been noticed by those who needed to see it and not by those that were hunting for him.

In the world of smoke and mirrors that constitutes the fragmented world of the intelligence agencies, the truth is often stranger than fiction and often way beyond that. No one would have thought that pillars of the establishment would have spied for the Russians, but when Philby and his cohorts defected it was realised that your background was not a passport to trust. The same logic could have been applied to Oleg Gordievsky. His father and brother were KGB officers and staunch supporters of the regime but he carried a secret that not even his KGB wife knew. For the past eleven years, he had been a spy for MI6.

In this book, Macintyre takes us right through Gordievsky’s life, from his earliest days in the KGB, his realisation that the regime that he worked for did not suit his growing liberal outlook the horror he experience when he was there when the Berlin Wall went up. He has his first contact with MI6 in the early 1970s when he was based in Denmark. For MI6 it seemed too good to be true and they took a while to realise that he was not going to be a double agent, but he was for real and had a genuine and personal reason for passing on the information that he did. As he rose in the rank he managed to get a posting to the UK, ideal for MI6 as they could meet him under much more relaxed circumstances. That was until he was recalled to Moscow suddenly, he knew he had been betrayed, but he didn’t know just by who or how much.

MI6 knew that things were not right and set about implementing the escape plan that they had codenamed Pimlico to snatch Gordievsky right from under the noses of the KGB and spirit him across the border to freedom.

The book is pieced together from a series of interviews that Macintyre has completed with the people involved in his unique case. The actual files concerning Gordievsky are still secret and I guess that they will remain that way for a long time. It reads like an actual spy thriller most of the time, including a stunning ending as they try to get him out of the Soviet Union. Gordievsky is still alive and well and living under an assumed name somewhere in the home counties. Given the reach of the FSB, his home is under 24-hour surveillance. One countries spy is another countries traitor, but from the accounts in here, it could be said that he helped stop nuclear war and bring about the demise of the totalitarian state. Another stunning book from Macintyre

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