King's College London
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Espionage during the Cold War

Notorious Agents

Cover photo for file on defectors, with restricted and confidential written over itFile of Verified British DefectorsDuring the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the eventual disbanding of the Soviet Union, countless documents outlining the names of intelligence workers began to surface.

Some of these names were responsible for de-escalating a tense situations that could have led to thermonuclear war between the East and the West.

In many cases intelligence workers did not seek out jobs as spies; in fact, large numbers defected to the opposing side because of their ideological beliefs, and were subsequently recruited as espionage workers.

Profile picture of Dennis Harrop with details on his height, army rank, date of birth and date of defectionDefector: Dennis Harrop Profile picture of Brian Patchett with details on his height, army rank, date of birth and date of defectionDefector: Brian Patchett Profile picture of Malcolm Burrows with details on his height, army rank, date of birth and date of defectionDefector: Malcolm BurrowsThey were trained in the art of espionage by whichever state they defected to. Intelligence workers in Britain were aware of this and made sure they kept track of these individuals, seeking to follow and identify each defector's movements and location in order to make sure that they did not infiltrate back into Britain.

However, some defectors were not so easily identified.

Rainer Rupp

Rainer Rupp, codename Topaz, was one of the most valuable agents working under the Ministry for State Security in East Germany, known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Rupp was born in West Germany, known as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) but had strong left-wing political leanings.

Whilst studying in the FRG, he agreed to spy for the East Germans. By pure chance, Rupp, while operating in West Germany, was offered a high ranking job working within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which he then accepted.

Rupp became inherently valuable to the East Germans, relaying back an assortment of valuable information straight from the mouths of officials. He served up until 1990 when a GDR defector revealed the true identity of Topaz to be Rainer Rupp. 

It is claimed that Rupp’s intelligence work saved the world from full nuclear exchange in 1983, during the Able Archer training exercise of the NATO military, which the Soviets wrongly perceived to be a preparation for invasion.

Rupp's reassurance that NATO was not intending to invade deterred the Soviets from preemptively launching nuclear weapons to counter, what to them seemed to be preparation for an attack on them by the West.

Oleg Govdievsky

Oleg Gordievsky was previously Colonel of the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB). After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Gordievsky became disenchanted with the East and was approached by the British intelligence agency MI6, who successfully recruited him as a double agent.

In 1982 the KGB assigned Gordievsky to the Soviet embassy in London, making him responsible for a network of Soviet agents across the UK.

Gordievsky became vital to British operations as he was able to manipulate the information fed back to the Soviets, giving them false data on movements, while reporting to the British whatever the Russian officials were interested in at any given period.

Gordievsky was eventually revealed to the Soviets and returned to the USSR in 1985, where he was subjected to intense interrogation by counterintelligence agents. After alerting MI6 to his situation, an elaborate liberation plan was put in place, leading to Gordievsky’s escape from the USSR.

Gordievsky was a key figure for relaying information to the British about Soviet fears during the build up to the 1983 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Able Archer.

Soviets were fearful that this exercise was actually a cover for a Western invasion of the Soviet Union, and their forces were put on high alert. Gordievsky managed to identify the fear of his Soviet superiors and informed the British of their alarm. From this the British could inform the rest of the NATO alliance of the Soviet fears to ultimately defuse the situation. 

Gordon Kerr

Brigadier Gordon Kerr was one of Britain’s most notable intelligence officers positioned in East Berlin. His previous experiences of intelligence gathering in Ireland allowed him to effectively gain vital information on troop movements as well as vehicles coming in and out of the GDR which allowed for Britain and her allies to place and plan their troops accordingly in the effective break out of a war.

Steve Gibson

Steve Gibson was notable for watching troop and vehicle movements from the railway lines, claiming to be a part of the ‘railway men’ group. Gibson would make note of the cargo and destination of trains which carried important military supplies. From this Gibson gained vital insights into the GDR’s military deployment, being able to report if there was a drastic increase in supplies.

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