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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Writing – research – espionage, defectors

The defecting spy is a staple for many espionage novels and films.  Obviously, at the height of the Cold War, it seemed quite commonplace, and judging by the newspaper reports it appeared that the Soviets were better than the NATO countries at suborning dupes in the West.

But the Soviets didn’t get all their own way, by any means. Briefly, here are two defectors of note.


GRU Colonel Oleg Penkovsky first approached the Americans in 1960, but they dallied too long, so he approached the British the following year.

The Penkovsky Papers are reputed to have been written by the CIA, and some disinformation has been bandied about that Penkovsky wasn’t actually shot as a traitor or committed suicide in his cell (1963); the message was that he actually lived in retirement, having fooled the West into believing that the Cuban missiles were important to Kruschev, rather than in effect protecting Castro from US invasion – part of the deal struck at the height of the 1962 crisis. Yet the perceived repercussions in Moscow and within the echelons of the GRU and the KGB suggest that Penkovsky’s information, passed on at risk of his life did indeed damage the Soviet spy machine.
[Also of interest, see]


In September 1971, the mass expulsion of 105 Russian diplomats and trade officials by Britain caused a storm. While MI6 and the CIA were aware of most of the individuals’ true purpose, the defection of Oleg Adolfovitch Lyalin revealed that their espionage activities were much worse than thought. Lyalin was an officer in the KGB’s Department V, responsible for sabotage and assassination. PM Heath and Foreign Secretary Douglas Home warned Moscow that if any reprisals against Western envoys followed the expulsions, even more Soviets would be sent back to the USSR.

Lyalin had arrived in London in 1969 and enjoyed the life there as a Soviet trade delegate. He was conducting an affair with his secretary, though he was a married man with a family in Russia. He was stopped for a drink driving offence and was persuaded that any subsequent disgrace would ruin him, so he agreed to cooperate with the authorities. He revealed that teams of saboteurs had been prepared to exact maximum damage on British radar stations, communications centres and other important complexes 24 hours before any surprise attack by the Soviet Union. Lyalin’s specific target was to blow up the Fylingdales early warning system in Yorkshire; he had plans and maps to link up with Russian commandos on the coast. Other plans entailed blocking the Clyde estuary, thus trapping the nuclear submarine fleet at Holy Loch, the London Underground system to be flooded, and indeed to employ British traitors to attack air bases using weapons from arms caches. This was some of the background to the expulsion of those 105 Soviets, and shows how serious and sinister the Cold War had become.

Britain lodged a formal protest to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and advised friendly countries about the details of the expulsions. By doing this, they effectively pulled the teeth from the mouths of the Soviet planners. Foreknowledge is power, after all.
The Prague Papers will be released as an e-book on 26 November by Crooked Cat Publishing. It's set in 1975, and yes, defectors are involved in the story... The first of the chronicles about Tana Standish, psychic spy (in action 1965-1988). 

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