Espionage: Honest-to-Badness

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Beyond the least shadow of a doubt, this is the year of the spy. Television abounds with glamorous and garrulous agents; movies are bottled in Bond and sandwiched with Ipcress. But the truth of that grim, grubby business, espionage, will never be told on film—or even through the written word. Last week the West was buzzing with two new spy "memoirs," both of which proved once again that while honest-to-badness spies really exist, their reflections are inevitably suspect.

The authors are Soviet Agent Gordon Lonsdale, whose account of his 20 years in the upper echelons of the British government is now available in Europe under the title Spy, and Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky, executed by the Russians in 1963 after 16 months of spying for the CIA and Britain's M.I.5, whose fuddled and footnoted journal is due this month under the title The Penkovsky Papers.

Hating Nikita. Penkovsky was the optimum spy: unlike the mere information gatherers, he had the golden gift of evaluation. As a colonel in the GRU (Russia's military intelligence agency), he not only had access to top defense information but was also trained by no less a lot of key figures than Top Spy Ivan Serov and Missile Boss Sergei Varentsov to spot what was most valuable in the Soviet military treasure chest. Penkovsky's equivalent in U.S. circles, say his U.S. editors, would have been "a vice president of the Rand Corp., a graduate of West Point and the Military War College, a close friend of the general in charge of SAC, secretly a division head in the Central Intelligence Agency, with important contacts in the Pentagon."

According to his journal, Penkovsky approached Western sources—both in Moscow and abroad—many times before he convinced the West that he was a legitimate informer. His reasons: sheer hatred of Nikita Khrushchev, coupled with fear of thermonuclear war. Once in the confidence of the West, Penkovsky turned his embittered talents to transmitting everything he knew to the West. Penkovsky's contact was Greville Wynne, a businessman and go-between for British intelligence who served as Penkovsky's chief courier.

Through Wynne and others, Penkovsky leaked details of the impending Berlin Wall operation (apparently disbelieved by the West, or at least not acted upon), and the presence and location of missiles installed by Russia in Cuba before the crisis of 1962 (information that may have aided Washington in calling Khrushchev's bluff).

Penkovsky's memoir—smuggled out of Russia on one of the secret routes that carried Abram Tertz's and Boris Pasternak's works westward—is gritty and gripe-ridden in its condemnation of Moscow's upper-echelon morals, and filled with "revelations" presumably intended to compromise Soviet agents.

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