Friday, February 17, 2012

Russian, Englishman, Dead, Spy

I don't really have any sort of leadup to this story; I just like it, though one of the sources I was using (my primary source is The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics by David Borgenicht and Turk Regan) noted that it was referenced in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It's a spy story. You people like spy stories, right?

The most obvious- and the most critical- occupational hazard to be aware of when spying is that people aren't always on the side they seem to be on. If you aren't up on that little detail, you have literally never seen spy fiction in your life of any kind and I would like to play poker against you sometime. Almost as important to know is that people can change sides; they defect. Basic, basic stuff.

Meet Konstantin Volkov, a Soviet diplomat assigned to Turkey. He also happened to be in the NKVD, which for all intents and purposes was what they called the KGB at the time. In 1945, Volkov decided that he didn't want to be Soviet anymore. He wanted to defect to the United Kingdom. So one day he loaded up a briefcase with Soviet intelligence and made an application for British citizenship.
When you're a defecting spy, you have to do something to prove yourself. So, as his effort to do so, he offered to reveal the names of a number of double agents in Turkey and the UK, including two of them in the British Foreign Office. One of them, it would turn out, was named Kim Philby.

The application, as it happened, had to go through the British Foreign Office. The first person to get a hold of the application: Kim Philby.

This is what we call an 'uh-oh'.

Philby, staring his own exposure in the face, took... steps to ensure the problem was taken care of. Steps. Just steps. No need to know what those steps are, stop asking questions, you're going to know too much. All that's really clear from the sources I have is that he called a meeting in Istanbul to discuss Volkov, made some other calls, and that he showed up to it three weeks late.

When Philby arrived, Volkov was not there. It may have had something to do with the fact that a guy wrapped in bandages was hustled onto a Soviet plane bound for Moscow. Perhaps the two are connected somehow. Reportedly, Volkov was subsequently tried and executed via live cremation, while Philby enjoyed a long and illustrious career of being a Soviet mole before putting out his memoirs and going peacefully in 1988 at age 76.

We won't have anything here tomorrow; it'll be a pure soccer-book day on my end. Or for normal people, Carnival kicks off in Brazil tomorrow. Enjoy.

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