Thursday, February 4, 2010

Igor Gouzenko: The Thing Who Wouldn't Leave

Who was Igor Gouzenko you might well ask? He was perhaps the first great Soviet defector of the Cold War.  He was a cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa when he defected to Canada in September 1945. At that time (just after the end of WWII) it was almost inconceivable to many in the West that the Soviets would have cultivated an extensive ring of highly placed spies in the United States, Canada and Britain.  But Gouzenko carried with him information that exposed dozens of such highly placed traitors.  It was a real wake up call for the West.  That's what he was most famous for.

But he was really famous for two things.  The second was how, as he lived on in Canada for another 37 years until his death of a heart attack in 1982, he increasingly wore out his welcome with boorish and even fraudulent behavior.  First it was with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the 'Mounties') who guarded him for years after he was placed in a sort of witness relocation program.  He was imperious with them, apparently, and used them shamelessly (and inappropriately) as chauffeurs and handymen.  Then it was with the Canadian government.  He spent money like water apparently, and was forever agitating to get his state pension increased, loudly complaining that Canada was insufficiently grateful for his service.  Lastly it was with the journalists and lawyers who worked with and for him, as they gained increasing insight over the years into his unapologetically fraudulent behavior.  He sold the rights to his story many times over, for example. And he also famously sued for libel almost any publication that wrote about him, no matter how minimal the criticism.  His quick out-of-court settlements became a source of regular income.

Embedded below is a 2 minute clip of an appearance he made on Canadian TV in 1966, which I stumbled upon this morning. He became known at the time for always wearing a pillowcase over his head when he appeared on TV, to disguise his identity. That's why he's dressed like that in this clip.  It's interesting that his interviewers are so focussed on the role of sex in espionage.  Perhaps that's related to the popularity of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films of the time.

If you're interested in him, the 1984 book Gouzenko: The Untold Story tells a very entertaining "warts and all" version of Gouzenko's defection and his troubled life in Canada.  You can buy it on Amazon HERE.

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