Contact on Gorky Street

Title:                  Contact on Gorky Street

Author:                 Greville Wynne

Wynne, Greville (1968). Contact on Gorky Street: A British Agent’s Own First-Hand Account of His Mission to Moscow. New York: Atheneum

LCCN:    68012549

HV8195 .W9 1968



  • Published in London: Hutchinson, 1967. The Man from Moscow.

Date Updated:  October 14, 2016

Russia’s secret-police agency, the KGB, is on a constant lookout for potentially useful Western visitors—and not above using sex to provide evidence for blackmail. With an increasing number of businessmen visiting Russia and other Communist countries, the British government took public account of this fact. In a pamphlet issued by the Board of Trade, it offered Britons the delicate warning that “a liaison between a visitor and a local girl will not long remain unknown to the local intelligence service. The girl may be acting for that service from the outset.”

One way of handling the KGB was related by British Agent Greville Wynne in his 1967 book Contact on Gorky Street. Returning to his hotel one night, Wynne recalled, he found a “dark, smiling girl” in his bed. Forewarned by British intelligence as to what to do in such circumstances, he left the door open, ran downstairs, and told the clerk that his room had been rented to someone else by mistake. Then he went for a walk.

Some other counter-sex methods were offered by London Columnist Angela Ince. Writing in the Evening News, she advised wives of Russia-bound businessmen to “1) Insist that he take an extra vest [undershirt] and his tummy pills with him; a man in a vest eating digestion tablets is as morally safe as a man can be. 2) See that he packs no fewer than four pictures of you, taken ten years ago in a bikini and a bad light. Write across them ‘Counting the seconds till you get back, Darling’ in purple ink. 3) Ask him to phone you every night at nine. The amount of trouble a man can get into is minimal when he spends his evenings trying to make a telephone link between Omsk and Bexleyheath. 4) Go with him. The Board of Trade should jolly well buy your ticket. You’re traveling for your country, aren’t you?”

Greville Maynard Wynne was a British spy famous for his involvement with, and imprisonment as a result of, the espionage activities of Oleg Penkovsky (see The Spy Who Saved the World, by Jerold Schecter, 1992). Wynne was an electrical engineer, trained at the University of Nottingham, and a businessman. He was recruited to MI5 just before World War II. He was transferred to MI6 and assisted with the 1959 defection of the Soviet intelligence officer, Major Kuznov.

Penkovsky’s activities were revealed by Jack Dunlap, a double-agent working for the KGB. The KGB swiftly drew the conclusion that there was a mole in their ranks and set about uncovering him. The Soviets concluded that one of the likely conduits of information would be a British diplomat in Moscow. George Blake, a Soviet mole inside MI6, had already pointed out Ruari Chisholm and his wife, Janet Chisholm, as MI6 operators in the British embassy in Moscow. Janet Chisholm was a go-between for Penkovsky and MI6.

Penkovsky’s visits to an adjacent building identified him as a likely source of the leaks. He was arrested, giving up Wynne’s name. The Chisholms were expelled from Moscow for behavior incompatible with their diplomatic status. Wynne was arrested in Budapest and extradited to the Soviet Union. He was convicted of spying on 11 May 1963 and sentenced to eight years in prison; Penkovsky was sentenced to death and executed. Wynne was released in exchange for the spy Gordon Lonsdale in 1964.

Penkovsky had been stationed in Ankara, Turkey, in 1955 and MI6 had spotted him then as a possible defector, according to Greville Wyne. Visiting Moscow on a technical trade mission, Wynne got to know Penkovsky, who after a few nervous starts provided Wynne with a thick envelope of documents and films.

Once the contact was established, Wynne was able to make arrangements for Penkovsky to head a trade and technical delegation to visit Britain. In April and May, 1961, Penkovsky visited London, where it became clear that he shoes to remain in the Soviet Union and continue to provide fresh materials, rather than defecting with what he knew.

Wynne wrote about his time as a spy in a book entitled The Man from Odessa, first published in 1981. He preceded this book with The Man from Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky (1967) and published in the USA as Contact on Gorky Street: a British Agent’s Own First-Hand Account of His Mission to Moscow (1968). This was one of the early examples of a book being published about secret work that the government never expected to be made public.

Penkovsky is a perfect example of a “defector in place,” in that he preferred to stay in his homeland while providing critically sensitive information to the West. He is the most famous of them. The term is used to define informants in the Soviet bloc countries who stayed on the job to provide information.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Wynne was the British agent who was used as the contact with Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (see his The Penkovsky Papers[2]). Part of this memoir is devoted to Wynne’s trial and jail term which lasted for a year and a half until he was exchanged for Gordon Lonsdale (Konon Molodiy), the Soviet agent held by the British. The principal value of Wynne’s account is, of course, that it is the only first-hand one on this most important espionage case. It contains examples of good tradecraft required for the secure handling of a sensitive agent in a hostile environment. Concurrently, he alleges instances of questionable security and tradecraft. Examples: Penkovsky met twenty Soviet defectors in London on his first trip there to assure himself; Wynne made an SIS apartment available to Penkovsky for a tryst with a woman from a Soviet embassy; a large number of persons were involved in the meeting in Paris and in the United Kingdom; Wynne was used only a few months after Penkovsky had managed to get him out of the USSR, where he was under suspicion. DIS’s Bibliography[see below] considered Wynne’s account somewhat colored. For one view of the suspicions that some have raised about the value of Penkovsky’s intelligence, see Pincher’s Their Trade Is Treachery[3]. Since Wynne’s account is ex parte, a fuller perspective would require further research.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[4]

A British agent’s first-hand, though somewhat colored, account of his missions to Moscow to contact Colonel Penkovskiy. This book, read as a companion-piece to The Penkovskiy Papers[5], provides a fuller appreciation of this remarkable intelligence operation.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[6]

In London’s Chelsea district, along Chelsea Walk which runs along the Thames, you can find the place where Turner painted the Thames and Whistler painted his mother. Back at Upper Cheyne Row find 19 Upper Cheyne Row. In this house, the British businessman Greville Wynne maintained his home and small exporting business. “The company’s main asset” (Nigel West tells us in Seven Spies Who Changed the World[7]), “the longest articulated truck ever built in England, had been paid for in full by SIS so as to provide Wynne with suitable cover: a mobile trade fair demonstrating British goods in Eastern Europe.”

It was Wynne who was approached by GRU officer Oleg Penkovsky in Moscow in 1961; Penkovsky’s earlier approaches to several Americans and a Canadian had been rebuffed. It was Wynne who for almost 18 months helped the GRU officer deliver some of his material to Anglo-American Intelligence (see Site 76, the Mount Royal Hotel). Wynne was arrested on 2 November, 1962, in Budapest shortly after Penkovsky’s arrest in Moscow. Sentenced in 1963 to eight years in the Soviet prison and forced-labour system, Wynne was exchanged a year later for Konon Molody (see Site 88, the White House, Albany Street). He returned to England a wrecked man.

During Wynne’s service to SIS, the Soviet delegations visiting him here were impressed by his fitted carpet, his air-conditioning, his cocktail bar. They were impressed too by his business zeal and his ability to bring together British entrepreneurs and Soviet functionaries. Wynne enjoyed his dual role. He later- wrote, “What excited me more than anything else was the opportunity I was going to have to work closely with the ‘Establishment’ and be one of the select individuals who are trusted with their country’s secrets. Call it vanity, if you like. It was something akin to knowing that the most elusive club in the world had accepted me for membership.”[8]

Wynne had a “tendency to invention” as Nigel West delicately puts it. Wynne apparently grew up in a poor Welsh mining village, his father a foreman in an engineering works that made equipment for e collieries. But he did not begin his espionage career by exposing a German spy in Britain in 1938; no such person existed, according to Nigel West in Seven Spies. (Nor did Wynne work for MI5 during the war.) He did not exfiltrate Major “Kuznov” from Odessa in 1959; again, no such person existed. He did not attend a London meeting of 20 Soviet defectors supposedly gathered to greet Penkovsky in 1961; such a meeting would have been an outrageous breach of security. He did not escort Penkovsky to Washington to meet President Kennedy in 1961; such an expedition would have been quite inappropriate and, as Nigel West concludes, couldn’t have occurred in the way that Wynne recounted. There’s more. As Jerrold L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin reveal in their 1992 book on Penkovsky, The Spy Who Saved the World,[9] MI6 did not plan to have Wynne exfiltrate Penkovsky from Budapest, much less in the supposed secret compartment of Wynne’s mobile exhibition. And although Wynne doesn’t mention it, SIS seems to have warned him against going to Budapest to meet Penkovsky in November, 1962. (Penkovsky hadn’t been heard from in weeks; Western Intelligence rightly feared he had been arrested.)

Wynne wrote about Penkovsky in The Man from Moscow (1967)[10] and about “Kuznov” in The Man from Odessa (1981)[11]. The first book was ghost-written by his novelist brother-in-law; the second was written with help from another professional writer. Both are “good reads” but are marred by Wynne’s almost pathological propensity to embroider on the truth. Nigel West suggests that Wynne suffered not only from his Soviet prison ordeal but also from a “post-usefulness syndrome.” When Wynne’s grandiose claims finally began to collapse, he brought a series of lawsuits “against almost anybody who wrote about him” (West observes), none of which he won and most of which he abandoned before they even came to trial.

Wynne’s years after the Soviets released him were difficult—a physical and nervous breakdown; two divorces; several disappointing business ventures; a severe drinking problem. He moved from the Canary Islands to Malta to Mallorca, living on the $213,700 provided by British and American Intelligence. In 1990, when he died, he was growing roses for. export.

Greville Wynne was part of what the CIA has called “the most productive classic clandestine operation ever conducted by CIA or MI6 against the Soviet target.” Many people believe that Penkovsky “saved the world from nuclear war” as the Schecter-Deriabin book proclaims. Penkovsky, who initiated it all, was destroyed—executed by the Soviets (he was not a suicide, as Wynne claimed). But Wynne. paid a high price too.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[12]

The memoirs of the British intelligence agent who contacted and handled Soviet army colonel Oleg Penkovskiy. Penkovskiy provided volumes of information on USSR military, political, and economic capabilities and intentions for sixteen months in 1961 and 1962 (see The Penkovskiy Papers[13]). Wynne concludes that it was partially Penkovskiy’s information about Soviet missile developments that enabled . President Kennedy to penetrate Khruschchev’s bluffs during the Cuban missile crisis. Wynne, a World War II counterintelligence operative, was in the postwar period owner of a company that sold electrical equipment; in that capacity he traveled extensively in Europe, the Far East, and India. In 1955 he was selected and trained for developing Penkovskiy as a source of information. In 1963 he was arrested outside a Budapest hotel and taken to Moscow for trial with Penkovskiy who had already been taken by Soviet counterintelligence. Much of the book is taken up with descriptions of Wynne’s trial and subsequent eighteen-month jail term until he was traded for Soviet agent Gordon Lonsdale. However, there are also quite a few insights into how the Penkovskiy operations were conceived and carried out, with details describing the method of contact with Penkovskiy. Wynne acknowledges having had the help of a professional writer in preparing these memoirs—which are not without their Cold War messages.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 501-502

[2] Penkovsky, Oleg (1965). The Penkovsky Papers: Introd. and Commentary by Frank Gibney. Foreword by Edward Crankshaw. Translated by Peter Deriabin Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

[3] Pincher, Chapman (1981). Their Trade is Treachery. London: Sidgwick & Jackson

[4] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 75

[5] Penkovsky, Oleg (1965). The Penkovsky Papers: Introd. and Commentary by Frank Gibney. Foreword by Edward Crankshaw. Translated by Peter Deriabin Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

[6] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 74-75

[7] West, Nigel (1991). Seven Spies Who Changed the World. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd

[8] Wynne, Greville (1968). Contact on Gorky Street: A British Agent’s Own First-Hand Account of His Mission to Moscow. New York: Atheneum

[9] Schecter, Jerrold L.(1992) and Peter S. Deriabin. The Spy Who Saved The World: How A Soviet Colonel Changed The Course of The Cold War. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons

[10] Wynne, Greville (1967). The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne And Penkovsky. London, Hutchinson [LCCN: 67102920]

[11] Wynne, Greville (1981). The Man from Odessa. London : Hale [LCCN: 82119680]

[12] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 158-159

[13] Penkovsky, Oleg (1965). The Penkovsky Papers: Introd. and Commentary by Frank Gibney. Foreword by Edward Crankshaw. Translated by Peter Deriabin Garden City, NY: Doubleday.


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4 Responses to Contact on Gorky Street

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