Spy Twenty Years of Secret Service

Title:                      Spy Twenty Years of Secret Service

Author:                 Gordon Lonsdale (pseud. for Konon Malady)

Lonsdale, Gordon (1965). Spy: Twenty Years of Secret Service: Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale. New York: Hawthorn Books

LCCN:    65023634

UB271.R92 L6 1965

Subjects

 

Note:

  • Published in London as Spy: Twenty Years Of Secret Service; Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale. London: N. Spearman [1965]

Date Updated:  September 30, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Konon Molodiy, who used the name of Lonsdale, was the Soviet illegal caught in the British roundup of the Lord, John Portland spy ring in the early 1960s. This is a very unreliable work, without redeeming qualities. It is bursting with anti-Western propaganda notable for the absence of any finesse whatsoever. Even the publisher (British) is compelled at the end of the book to add an afterthought that calls attention to the Soviet censorship of the work, its glaring omissions, and its propaganda. The last is described as “clumsy, awkward and without subtlety.” According to Eleanor Philby, in her The Spy I Married[2], the Lonsdale memoirs were compiled by Kim Philby, and the Soviets offered to withdraw them from the English market in exchange for the release of the two Krogers, who had been involved with Lonsdale. Lonsdale had been released from a British prison in exchange for Greville Wynne.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[3]

Lonsdale [real name Konon Trofimovich Molodiy], a Soviet espionage agent, was taken in Britain in 1961 only to be traded back to the Soviet Union in 1964 for Greville Wynne. This book is probably one of the publications of the Cold War espionage game between British and American intelligence and the KGB. Neville Armstrong of the British publishing firm of Neville Spearman, Ltd., is responsible for having brought the Lonsdale memoir from behind the iron curtain. The account of this is provided in the publisher’s afterword.

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

Lonsdale’s own account of his career in Soviet intelligence, from anti-Nazi underground work to his 1964 release from a British prison (following his conviction for espionage in the “Portland Naval Secrets” case), in exchange for Greville Wynne.[5] The author’s views are presented purely for Soviet propaganda and disinformation purposes, but are of interest to the trained intelligence officer. It is believed that this book was edited by Kim Philby.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 298-298

[2] Philby, Eleanor (1968). Kim Philby: The Spy I Married. London: H. Hamilton

[3] 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. 153

[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. 41

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

 

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[5]

Exiting from Devonshire Mews South at its N end, and looking straight ahead into Devonshire Mews West, do not be so churlish as to seek accurate names for such charming streets. Take Devonshire Street to Portland Place and turn L. Follow Park Crescent into Marylebone Road and turn R. Almost immediately turn L into Albany/ Street. Behind the church, facing Osnaburgh Terrace, is nthe White House, Albany Street. Chapman Pincher in Traitors: The Labyrinths of Treason defines a spymaster as an experienced case-officer who runs a ring of several agents. He gives two examples: the American Julius Rosenberg and the Russian Konon Molody, a/k/a “Gordon Lonsdale.” Here in Room 634 of the White House, high above neighbouring rooftops for good wireless reception, Lonsdale had a tiny serviced flat in January, 1961, when MI5 concluded an extensive surveillance on him (partially from the adjacent flat) and arrested him and as much of his ring as they knew about. Arrested with him were the “Krogers” (see Site 94 190 Strand), Harry Houghton, and Ethel Gee.

With good reason, Oleg Gordievsky has described Lonsdale “one of the most gifted of all KGB residents.” Lonsdale was good his job. He gave Moscow invaluable data on Britain’s latest underwater defences—on submarine-detection systems, homing torpedoes, sonar buoys. And he was good at evading detection. He would probably never have been caught if a Polish double agent Michal. Goleniewski, hadn’t told the CIA that a British clerk named Houghton was taking material from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland; MI5’s surveillance of Houghton led straight to Lonsdale.

Perhaps none of this, though, would have earned Konon Molody his exalted position in the KGB’s secret Memory Room. Perhaps his most valuable service was in getting arrested when and where he did. He had left the country briefly during MI5’s surveillance, and Peter Wright argues that the Soviets “must have known from the beginning that we were onto Lonsdale”; only a leak at “the very summit” of MI5 could explain all the inconsistencies of the case. “The only way of forestalling the hunt inside MI5,” Wright believes, “was to send Lonsdale back.”

And so Lonsdale may have been sacrificed for someone more important. But for whom? Take your pick. An East German defector told the CIA that two East Germans running the Krogers had left England when the Krogers were arrested. Were there others who stayed? We may never know the magnitude of the KGB operation at survived because of Lonsdale’s arrest. For that matter, we may never know the magnitude of his operation before his arrest.

The eight-day trial of “the Portland ring” was exciting stuff: techniques of spying and counter-spying, protestations of innocence, admissions of guilt, and confessions of a spy’s loneliness. Dame Rebecca West, in The New Meaning of Treason[6], observes that Lonsdale’s letter to his wife was very similar to letters in the Abel spy case. Were· they all written, she wonders, to convince jury members that a spy is just “a man like themselves”?

Lonsdale was easily found guilty. Subminiature cameras, secret writing, microdots, transmitter, code pads, hidden compartments in taIcum-powder tins—he was caught red-handed, as it were. The other four were found guilty too, their sentences considered severe even by the appeals court that upheld them. Of his 25-year sentence, Lonsdale served only three years before being exchanged for Greville Wynne (see Site 34 19 Upper Cheyne Row.)

Back in the USSR in 1964, Lonsdale immediately wrote his memoirs, With Philby’s help. The book is absurd. True, it is titled Spy: Twenty Years in Soviet Secret Service, but the truth may end there. Molody continues to portray himself as a Canadian named Lonsdale (no matter that the real Lonsdale, long dead, was known to have been circumcised while Molody was uncircumcised). He continues to proclaim the innocence of the kindly Krogers who were merely his friends. The book stops at nothing: Lonsdale says he was successful in Britain in preventing the biological warfare that was planned by a Nazi war criminal—as he was also helpful in preventing. a nuclear holocaust. World· peace was his only desire. How they must have chuckled as they constructed this manuscript, Philby and all those sombre “active measures” specialists in Moscow. The first sentence alone is a flat-out lie: “I come from what social workers nowadays call a broken home.”

Nowhere in the book does he mention his women and free-spending entertainments while in London. His cover was the bubble-gum and vending-machine business, and he worked very hard at that too. Rebecca West notes his “great gift” for “the minor social festivities” and she dismisses him crisply: “He would have been the life and soul of a gala night at any Thames Valley hotel.”

He was not dismissed back in Moscow. He became a lecturer at the KGB’s training school and enjoyed a fame that caused some envy among other KGB “illegals.” But he didn’t enjoy it for long. He died in 1970 at the age of 48, Gordievsky tells us, “after a prolonged drinking bout at a picnic on a hot summer’s day.”

Two further notes about Konon Molody. He wasn’t even remotely Canadian (his father was a noted Moscow science writer). But he did spend five years in California, staying with an aunt. He argued that his kindergarten photograph, taken in San Francisco, would prove he was Lonsdale. (When the FBI located the school’s headmistress she did indeed choose the correct lad in the photograph but identified him as Konon Molody!) During those years in America, young Molody was able to master Western ways. “His story is one of a number,” writes Rebecca West, “which suggests that clever children are dedicated by their parents to service in the Soviet Intelligence long before they can make such a decision for themselves.”

He worked as an “illegal”—that is, without diplomatic immunity; If caught, he would be tried. What were the odds of getting caught? Here is Nigel West, in Games of Intelligence[7]: “Having accepted tha illegals are regarded by the KGB and GRU as essential, and knowing that greater emphasis was placed on their development as early as 1952, it is odd that the British authorities failed to uncover a single case of an illegal until the Portland spy ring was wound up in January, 1961.” And between 1961 and 1985”, continues West, “no illegals were caught in England.” How many were not caught? Estimates of the number of Soviet illegals operating in the West in the late 1960s ranged from several hundred to a thousand, according to Harry Rositzke’s The KGB: The Eyes of Russia[8]. (These estimates were based on the testimony of defectors, the size of training classes for illegals in Moscow, and the confessions of arrested illegals.)

In all probability, then, Lonsdale was the barely visible tip of an iceberg. This iceberg thawed not at all during the years of warming relations between the declining Soviet Union and the West; and we can assume it hasn’t fully melted yet. But we are at least getting a clearer view of it. In 1990 the Soviet government issued five postage stamps honouring Soviet spies. Along with Kim Philby, Rudolf Abel, and two partisans operating behind German lines in WWII, we see a dignified portrait not of “Gordon Lonsdale” but of “K. T. Molody.”

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 297-298

[2] Philby, Eleanor (1968). Kim Philby: The Spy I Married. London: H. Hamilton

[3] 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. 41

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

[5] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, Pp. 227-231

[6] West, Rebecca (1964). The New Meaning of Treason. New York: Viking

[7] West, Nigel (1989). Games of Intelligence: The Classified Conflict of International Espionage. New York: Crown Publishers

[8] Rositzke, Harry (1981). The KGB: The Eyes of Russia. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

 

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3 Responses to Spy Twenty Years of Secret Service

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