Abel (Geordie Spy)

Title:                      Abel (Geordie Spy)

Author:                 Vin Arthey

Arthey, Vin (2015). Abel: The True Story of The Spy They Traded For Gary Powers. London: Biteback Publishing

LCCN:    2015463129

UB271.R92 A228 2015


  • The true story behind the events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Bridge of Spies. On 10 February 1962, Gary Powers, the American pilot whose U2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace, was released by his captors in exchange for one Colonel Rudolf Abel, aka Vilyam Fisher —one of the most extraordinary characters in the history of the Cold War. Born plain William Fisher at 140 Clara Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, this bona fide British grammar schoolboy was the child of revolutionary parents who had fled tsarist oppression in Russia. Retracing their steps, their son returned to his spiritual homeland, the newly formed Soviet Union, aged just eighteen. Willie became Vilyam and, narrowly escaping Stalin’s purges, embarked on a mission to New York, where he ran the network that stole America’s atomic secrets. In 1957, Willie’s luck ran out and he was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. Five years later, the USSR’s regard for his talents was proven when they insisted on swapping him for the stricken Powers. Tracing Willie’s tale from the most unlikely of beginnings in Newcastle, to Moscow, the streets of New York and back again, Abel is a singular and absorbing true story of Cold War espionage to rival anything in fiction — Source other than Library of Congress.


  • Machine generated contents note: 1. German-Russian beginnings — 2. Newcastle upon Tyne — 3. Gun-running — 4. To the coast — 5. Return to Russia — 6. Recruitment — 7. Scandinavian mission — 8. Home again — Moscow and London — 9. The Great Purge — 10. Special tasks — 11. Training for a new assignment — 12. First US missions — 13. Undercover artist — 14. Testing times — 15. Trial — 16. Exchange of prisoners — 17. An unquiet death.



  • “First published as The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy in Great Britain in 2010—Colophon.

Date Updated:  March 21, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The first edition of this book was published under the title, Like Father Like Son: A Dynasty of Spies. It told the life story of KGB illegal Col. Vilyam “Willie” Fisher, aka: “Col. Rudolf Abel, KGB.”[2] The new title may puzzle American readers, but it makes immediate sense to a Brit. A Geordie is the common nickname for those from the Tyneside region of North East England, the region in which Willie Fisher was born on 18 April 1902, in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Author Vin Arthey explains Fisher’s connections to the USSR—his father had been active in revolutionary activities in Russia and in 1901 fled to the UK, where he was involved in clandestine shipping of arms and literature back to Russia. The family returned to the Soviet Union when the younger Fisher was 17. He subsequently served in the Red Army as a radioman. In 1927 he joined the NKVD. His first overseas assignment was to England in 1935. There he worked for Alexander Orlov and Arnold Deutsch of Cambridge Five fame. Dismissed from the service during the Great Purge of1938, Fisher was recalled in September, when there was a need for trained radio operators. After WW II, he was trained as an illegal and in 1948 was sent to the United States, where the Soviet networks were in disarray thanks to defectors and the VENONA decrypts.

Arthey reviews Fisher’s many assignments, including the handling of Soviet agents Morris and Leona Cohen and atom spy Theodore “Ted” Hall. Fisher used a number of codenames-the best known was EMIL Goldfus—and his cover was as a commercial artist. Things began to go bad with the arrival of his future replacement, Reino Hayhanen, who proved to be an irresponsible drunk. Fisher had him recalled, but on the way home Hayhanen defected to the CIA in Paris and revealed that he knew a KGB illegal in New York. When the FBI arrested Fisher he gave his name as Col. Rudolf Abel, a prearranged signal to the KGB that he was in trouble. (The real Col. Abel was dead.) Fisher was serving a 30-year sentence when he was traded for U-2 pilot Gary Powers. Fisher returned to limited duty for a while but soon retired. He never revealed what he did in England or the United States. He died on 15 November 1971 at age 59.

While there are no major changes in this edition, a number of corrections have been made and new details added. These include Fisher’s date of birth, the name of his imprisoned brother—Ivan not Boris—and spelling errors. There is also some new material on Fisher’s trial, the negotiation that led to his return to the Soviet Union, and “the Forbidden City”—the location of the KGB headquarters in Potsdam.

The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy is the only biography of Willie Fisher in English that includes details of his KGB career. Arthey examined new materials from Russia, Britain, and the United States to piece together Fisher’s extraordinary career. The result is a welcome contribution to the intelligence literature.

[1] Hayden Peake, in Intelligencer (19, 1, 2012, p. 115). Hayden Peake is the curator of the CIA Historical Intelligence Collection. He is a frequent contributor to AFIO’s journal and other publications. Most of his reviews were previously released in the unclassified edition of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence.

[2] Arthey, Vin (2004) Like Father Like Son: A Dynasty of Spies. London: St. Ermin’s Press

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One Response to Abel (Geordie Spy)

  1. Pingback: The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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