Oleg Gordievsky, pictured with wife Leila years after fleeing to the UK in 1985, is regarded as Britain’s ‘most valuable’ spy during the Cold War, but only escaped Moscow thanks to the quick-thinking wives of MI6 agents
MI6’s top spy within the KGB made an amazing escape to the west thanks to the quick-thinking wives of British agents sent to protect him, a new book has revealed.
Oleg Gordievsky was successfully smuggled across Russia’s border with Finland in July 1985 after hiding in the car boot of an MI6 boss, who was travelling across the border with his deputy and their families in separate vehicles.
Gordievsky was almost discovered at a checkpoint after sniffer dogs were used to inspect the vehicles, only for the diplomats’ wives to put off the hounds with the ‘distinctive’ smells of a bag of cheese and onion crisps and a baby’s soiled nappy.
It comes as the book – The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre – revealed the daring Operation Pimlico plan was almost scuppered when British officials struggled to get then prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s approval while she was visiting The Queen at Balmoral because the phone line was engaged for 20 minutes while the monarch tried to borrow her mother’s video recorder to watch Dad’s Army.
Gordievsky had been recruited by the West in the late 1960s while stationed with the KGB in Denmark and had been persuaded to become a double agent during a game of badminton.
He went on to be lauded as Britain’s ‘most valuable’ Cold War spy and eventually became the head of the KGB’s London station while actually undermining their efforts.
But earlier in 1985 he was called back to Moscow after officials suspected he was a traitor, prompting him to activate the Pimlico escape plan.
Gordievsky, who was under constant surveillance, fled to a meeting point around 26 miles from the Finnish border and hid in a ditch until his MI6 handler – referred to as Viscount Roy Ascot in the book – arrived as part of a small convoy.
He was accompanied in his car by wife Caroline and their 15-month old daughter Florence, while in the other vehicle was his deputy Arthur Gee and wife Rachel.
Gordievsky, pictured in 1976, was hidden in a car boot as part of a British diplomatic convoy crossing between Moscow and Finland. As sniffer dogs approached the vehicle, the women produced a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a baby’s dirty nappy that threw the hounds off the scent
According to The Times, Mrs Gee produced the Golden Wonder cheese and onion crisps as the border guards inspected the vehicles and even fed one of the sniffer dogs with them.
Macintyre wrote: ‘It [the dog] wolfed it down before being yanked away by the unsmiling handler.’
Then in a ‘completely spontaneous and highly effective’ move, Mrs Ascot began changing her daughter’s full nappy on the boot where Gordievsky was hidden, with the smell enough to ‘offend’ the dog and cause it to move away.
Macintyre added: ‘[It was] a weapon that had never been deployed before in the Cold War, or any other.’
Meanwhile, the book also reveals how years earlier Gordievsky had lived more than one double life after he began an affair with a typist Leila Alieva, the daughter of a high ranking KGB agent herself, while based in Copenhagen.
It was ‘love at first sight’ for the pair but it meant Gordievsky had to worry about keeping the relationship from his ‘shrewish’ wife Yelena as much as keeping his professional secrets from his KGB superiors.
Now 79, he has lived in Surrey since fleeing Russia and has worked as a security consultant. Gordievsky also received the Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and Saint George from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to UK security (pictured in 2007)
According to The Times, the couple met in secret trysts at various Copenhagen hotels every few weeks, but he could not divulge his life as a double agent to her and said ‘half of my existence and my thoughts had to remain secret’.
He was finally able to divorce Yelena in 1979 and quickly married Leila, with whom he had had two daughters, Maria and Anna.
Macintyre described their relationship as passionate and loving, with Gordievsky admiring her ‘lack of inhibition, vitality and dedication to family life’ and Leila seeing him as ‘perfect’.
The family went with Gordievsky when he was posted to London in 1982 and they quickly settled, enjoying British culture and never realising what the double agent was actually up to as he divulged secrets to MI6 on a weekly basis.
But they all returned to Moscow after he was recalled by the KGB, with his family told Gordievsky had suffered a heart problem.
He still kept the truth from his loved ones, telling them there was a ‘plot against him’ by jealous colleagues, which doubled up as a way to convince the agents watching him he was still loyal.
The spy mentioned the possibility of fleeing to London to his wife without telling her of his true identity and was quickly dismissed, which made him decide not to include her and his daughters, then aged five and three, in the Pimlico plan.
After completing his escape, he would not see his family again until the collapse of the Soviet regime six years later, although their marriage soon ended due to their prolonged time apart.
Gordievsky graciously accepted the award from the Queen, wearing top hat and tails. He receives a £20,000-a-year pension from MI6
Gordievsky, now 79, continues to defy Moscow but has escaped the fate of subsequent turncoat and defector Sergei Skripal, a victim of the Salisbury Novichok poison attack.
Macintyre’s book claims he was also the source of the information that alleged former Labour leader Michael Foot was giving information to the Russians in the late 1980s.
Foot, he said, had met his KGB handlers over lunch at the Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant in London’s Soho, and received the equivalent of £37,000 in today’s money for being ‘a confidential contact’.
The accusations were first published in the Sunday Times two decades ago. Foot fiercely challenged the story and won a famous libel victory against the newspaper.
He continued to deny the accusations until his death at the age of 96 eight years ago.
In 2007, Gordievsky was made a Companion to the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) ‘for services to the security of the UK’.
Gordievsky graciously accepted the award from the Queen, wearing top hat and tails. He now receives a £20,000-a-year pension from MI6.
Ever since his defection, Gordievsky has lived comfortably in the Surrey suburbs, for most of that time with his long-term British-born companion Maureen.
Since settling here, he has worked as a security adviser and has often appeared on TV as an expert on Russian espionage.
He has been a consultant editor for the journal of National Security and co-hosted the Channel 4 show Wanted in the Nineties, in which contestants had to complete a list of challenges without being detected by a ring of spymasters.
Gordievsky first came to the attention of the West in the Sixties when based in Copenhagen, running Soviet spies in Denmark and was thought to be vulnerable to blackmail after being spotted buying homosexual pornography in the city’s red light district
Gordievsky remains a passionate Anglophile, subscribing to The Spectator and penning articles for the Literary Review. Paintings hanging on the walls of his home in Surrey reflect his love of avant-garde art. One of his great pleasures, he says, is feeding the foxes who visit his garden.
There has been only one sinister episode during this gilded life in the stockbroker belt.
In 2008, he spent 34 hours unconscious in hospital after falling ill at his home. He was initially paralysed and still has no feeling in his fingers. He claimed he was the victim of a Kremlin-inspired assassination plot.
‘I’ve known for some time that I am on the assassination list drawn up by elements in Moscow,’ he said at the time. ‘It was obvious to me that I had been poisoned.’
He said he was poisoned with thallium, a highly toxic metal used in insecticides which was favoured by the KGB in assassinations during the Cold War.