This Was My Choice

Title:                  This Was My Choice

Author:                Igor Gouzenko

Gouzenko, Igor (1948, 1968). This Was My Choice. Montreal: Palm Publishers

LCCN:    72399259 (48007039)

DK268.G6 A3 1968



  • Published in the US with the title The Iron Curtain. [New York: Dutton, 1948]

Date Updated:  September 28, 2016

Date Updated:  September 28, 2016

The book was published in the US with the title The Iron Curtain (New York: Dutton). It was reviewed in “Fall of a Titan”, Saturday Review (July 17, 1954). Bernade Kale wrote a column on Gouzenko as well in this issue. The cover of the magazine features a graphic in which manacled hands symbolize the bleak enslavement of honor and culture behind the Iron Curtain, the theme of Igor Gouzenko’s, The Fall of a Titan.

Igor Gouzenko began his career as a front-page disgrace to the Kremlin in September 1945, only a month after Hiroshima. Gouzenko, a twenty-six-year-old graduate of Moscow’s Military Intelligence School, had spent two years as a code clerk in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa when he decided to walk out on the USSR with 109 documents stuffed under his shirt. Unwrapped, these reports and memorandums represented the first pieces of evidence of a Soviet atom spy ring in North America. They disclosed that Dr. Allan Nunn May, a physicist whose subsequent conviction led to Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, had tipped off the Russians about our A-bomb experiments and had even passed along a sample or two of uranium.

As for Gouzenko, he, his wife and their two children were promptly absorbed into Canada’s day-to-day life under assumed names (his boy and girl didn’t even know they were little Gouzenkos). Someone from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was always within shouting distance, just in case.

In his disguise, as just another Iron Curtain refugee, Gouzenko became a writer and, “somewhere in Canada” he discussed how he’d gone from dabbling in short stories in his youth to The Fall of a Titan. “When I was a pupil in Russia I wrote good compositions,” he began proudly. “one about a boy becoming a famous violinist was particularly praised by my teachers. I was then in the fifth grade, about eleven years old.” His memoirs, The Iron Curtain (This Was My Choice), followed in 1948 when he was about twenty-nine. He spent four years on The Titan – one looking for a subject, three in the writing. It was turned down by a half-dozen American publishers before Norton accepted it, unaware that Igor Gouzenko was the Igor Gouzenko. Not long afterwards the Jenner Committee went to Canada to discuss the espionage business with Gouzenko, and his picture appeared in the front pages. His was head was in a hood.

Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko (January 13, 1919 – June 28, 1982) was a cipher clerk for the Soviet Embassy to Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. He defected on September 5, 1945, with 109 documents on Soviet espionage activities in the West. This forced Prime Minister Mackenzie King to call a Royal Commission to investigate espionage in Canada, resulting in a Royal Commission Report.[1]

Gouzenko exposed Joseph Stalin’s efforts to steal nuclear secrets, and the technique of planting sleeper agents. The “Gouzenko Affair” is often credited as a triggering event of the Cold War, with historian Jack Granatstein stating: “I am absolutely certain the Cold War began in Ottawa”. The New York Times described Gouzenko’s actions as having “awakened the people of North America to the magnitude and the danger of Soviet espionage.”

Gouzenko was born to a Ukrainian family on January 26, 1919, in the village of Rogachovo, 100 kilometers north-west of Moscow. At the start of World War II, he joined the military where he trained as a cipher clerk. In 1943, he was stationed in Ottawa, where for two years he enciphered outgoing messages and deciphered incoming messages for the GRU. His position gave him knowledge of Soviet espionage activities in the West.

In 1945, hearing that he and his family were to be sent home to the Soviet Union and dissatisfied with the quality of life and the politics of his homeland, he decided to defect. Gouzenko walked out of the embassy door carrying with him a briefcase with Soviet code books and deciphering materials. He initially went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the RCMP officers on duty refused to believe his story. He then went to the Ottawa Journal newspaper, but the paper’s night editor was not interested, and suggested he go to the Department of Justice – however nobody was on duty at night when he arrived. Terrified that the Soviets had discovered his duplicity, he went back to his apartment and hid his family in the apartment across the hall for the night. Gouzenko, hidden by a neighbor, watched through the keyhole as a group of Soviet agents broke into his apartment. They began searching through his belongings, and only left when confronted by Ottawa police.

The next day Gouzenko was able to find contacts in the RCMP who were willing to examine the evidence he had removed from the Soviet embassy. Gouzenko was transported by the RCMP to the secret “Camp X”, now abandoned, but located in present-day Oshawa and comfortably distant from Ottawa. Camp X had been used during World War II as a training station for Allied undercover personnel. While there, Gouzenko was interviewed by investigators from Britain’s MI5, and also by investigators from the US FBI. Because Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, Britain’s internal security service was employed, not MI6, which would have been the case for a defector outside the British Empire. The Central Intelligence Agency was in the process of being formed and was not yet operational.

It has been alleged that, though the RCMP expressed interest in Gouzenko, Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King initially wanted nothing to do with him. Even with Gouzenko in hiding and under RCMP protection, King reportedly pushed for a diplomatic solution to avoid upsetting the Soviet Union, still a wartime ally and ostensible friend. Documents reveal that King, then 70 and weary from six years of war leadership, was aghast when Norman Robertson, his Undersecretary for External Affairs, and his assistant, H. H. Wrong, informed him on the morning of September 6, 1945, that a “terrible thing” had happened. Gouzenko and his wife Svetlana, they told him, had appeared at the office of Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent with documents unmasking Soviet perfidy on Canadian soil. “It was like a bomb on top of everything else”, King wrote. King’s diaries assembled after his death missed a single volume for November 10 to December 31, 1945, according to Library and Archives Canada.

Robertson told the Prime Minister that Gouzenko was threatening suicide, but King was adamant that his government not get involved, even if Gouzenko was apprehended by Soviet authorities. Robertson ignored the Prime Minister’s wishes and authorized granting asylum to Gouzenko and his family, on the basis that their lives were in danger.

When word got out in the media (February, 1946) that Soviets operated a spy network in Canada in which Canadians gave classified information to the Soviet government it created a great stir. Much of the information taken was of public knowledge and the Canadian government was less concerned with the information stolen but more of the potential of real secrets coming into the hands of future enemies. Canada played an important part in the early research with nuclear bomb technology and that kind of vital information could be dangerous in the hands of other nations.

Gouzenko’s defection “ushered in the modern era of Canadian security intelligence” The evidence provided by Gouzenko led to the arrest of 39 suspects; a total of 18 were eventually convicted of a variety of offences. Among those convicted were Fred Rose, the only Communist Member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons; Sam Carr, the Communist Party’s national organizer; and scientist Raymond Boyer.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate espionage, headed by Justice Robert Taschereau and Justice Roy Kellock, was conducted into the Gouzenko Affair and his evidence of a Soviet spy ring in Canada. It also alerted other countries around the world, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, that Soviet agents had almost certainly infiltrated their nations as well.

Gouzenko provided many vital leads which assisted greatly with ongoing espionage investigations in Britain and North America. The documents he handed over exposed numerous Canadians who were spying for the Soviet Union. A clerk at the Canadian Foreign Ministry, a Canadian Army captain, and a radar engineer working at the National Research Council were arrested for espionage. A spy ring of up to 20 people passing information to the Soviets led by Communist MP Fred Rose was also exposed.

In addition, his testimony is believed to have been vital in the successful prosecution of Klaus Fuchs, the German physicist who emigrated to Britain and who later gave atomic secrets to the Soviets. Fuchs spent some time at the Chalk River Laboratories, northwest of Ottawa, where atomic research had been underway since the early 1940s. It is also likely that his information helped in the investigation of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the U.S. Gouzenko, being a cipher clerk by profession, likely also assisted with the VENONA investigation, which probed Soviet codes and which eventually led to the discovery of vital Soviet spies such as Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross (the so-called Cambridge Five), as well as Alan Nunn May.

Gouzenko and his family were given another identity by the Canadian government out of fear of Soviet reprisals. Gouzenko, as assigned by the Canadian government, lived the rest of his life under the assumed name of George Brown. Little is known about his life afterwards, but it is understood that he and his wife settled down to a middle-class existence under an assumed name in the Toronto suburb of Clarkson. They raised eight children together. He was, however, involved in a defamation case against Maclean’s for a libelous article written about him. The case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Gouzenko managed to keep in the public eye, however, writing two books, This Was My Choice, a non-fiction account of his defection, and the novel The Fall of a Titan, which won a Governor General’s Award in 1954. Gouzenko also appeared routinely on television to promote his books or air a grievance with the RCMP, always with a hood over his head.

Gouzenko died of a heart attack in 1982 at Mississauga, Canada; his grave was not initially marked. Svetlana died in September 2001 and was buried next to him. It was only in 2002 that the family put up a headstone.

In June 2003, the city of Ottawa and in April 2004, the Canadian federal government put up memorial plaques in Dundonald Park commemorating the Soviet defector. It was from this park that RCMP agents monitored Gouzenko’s apartment across the street the night men from the Soviet embassy came looking for Gouzenko. The memorial plaques are the result of four years of effort by history enthusiast Andrew Kavchak, who first came across Gouzenko’s case while at university, and decided that “the first major international event of the Cold War” deserved a memorial.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[2]

Gouzenko’ s defection from the Soviet embassy in Ottawa at the end of World War II was one of those intelligence events of strategic consequence. The GRU code clerk’s disclosures of Soviet espionage against its allies has been called a watershed in U.S. attitudes toward the USSR. The revelations shocked the West and, according to one writer, caused concern in the U.S. military about the U.S. lead in nuclear technology. The case was an eye-opener on the methods, levels, and quality of Soviet agents, as well as their political and ideological motivations, and was the prelude to subsequent discoveries of other well-placed Soviet spies. Reading of Gouzenko’s attempts at defection and Canadian reactions (including that of the government) reminds us how far the West has come in its understanding of Soviet intelligence, the value of defectors, and the need for procedures to handle them when they appear. Gouzenko’ s story must be supplemented by the reading of the Canadian Royal Commission’s report of 1946 [see note 1 above], based to a great extent on Gouzenko’s testimony and documentary evidence. John Sawatsky in his book on the RCMP Security Service, Men in the Shadows[3], provides a look at the RCMP’s handling of the case and the later problems of Canadian authorities with Gouzenko’s resettlement and demands.

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

The account of the Russian code clerk {who defected from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa) regarding espionage in Canada immediately after WWII. (see Canada, Report of the Royal Commission, note 1 above).

See also, U.S. Congress. Senate. Internal Security Subcommittee. Hearing. Testimony of Former Russian Code Clerk Relating to the Internal Security of the United States. 11 January 1955.pp. 1-67.[5]

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[6]

The memoirs of a former cipher clerk with the GRU who defected from the Soviet embassy in Ottawa in 1945. He provided solid evidence of Soviet espionage conducted to learn the secrets of atomic weaponry.

[1] Canada (1946). The Report of The Royal Commission Appointed under Order in Council P. C. 411 of February 5, 1946 to Investigate The Facts Relating to and The Circumstances Surrounding The Communication, by Public Officials and Other Persons In Positions of Trust, of Secret and Confidential Information to Agents of A Foreign Power, June 27, 1946. Ottawa: E. Cloutier, Printer to the King

[2] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 215-216

[3] Sawatsky, John (1980). Men In The Shadows: The RCMP Security Service. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

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

[5] Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary (1955). Testimony of former Russian code clerk relating to the internal security of the United States. Questioning on January 4, 1954, in Ottawa, Canada, of Igor Gouzenko, former code clerk in the Soviet Embassy at Ottawa, by representatives of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate, on matters relating to the internal security of the United States. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.

[6] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 152


This entry was posted in Defectors and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to This Was My Choice

  1. Pingback: Red Star over Prague | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Canada. Royal Commission | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s