Monday, December 9, 2013

The Mystique of Igor Gouzenko

The Mystique of Igor Gouzenko

By Airi Altinate
The Daily Magi
October 29, 2058


Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko (January 13, 1919 – June 28, 1982) was a cipher clerk for the Soviet Embassy to Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. He defected on September 5, 1945, with 109 documents on Soviet espionage activities in the West. This forced Prime Minister Mackenzie King to call a Royal Commission to investigate espionage in Canada.

Gouzenko exposed Joseph Stalin's efforts to steal nuclear secrets, and the technique of planting sleeper agents. The "Gouzenko Affair" is often credited as a triggering event of the Cold War, with historian Jack Granatstein stating "Gouzenko was the beginning of the Cold War for public opinion" and journalist Robert Fulford writing "I am absolutely certain the Cold War began in Ottawa". The New York Times described Gouzenko's actions as having "awakened the people of North America to the magnitude and the danger of Soviet espionage."

Gouzenko was born to a Ukrainian family on January 13, 1919, in the village of Rogachovo, 100 kilometers north-west of Moscow. At the start of World War II, he joined the military where he trained as a cipher clerk. In 1943, he was stationed in Ottawa, where for two years he enciphered outgoing messages and deciphered incoming messages for the GRU. His position gave him knowledge of Soviet espionage activities in the West.

In 1945, hearing that he and his family were to be sent home to the Soviet Union and dissatisfied with the quality of life and the politics of his homeland, he decided to defect. Gouzenko walked out of the embassy door carrying with him a briefcase with Soviet code books and deciphering materials. He initially went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the RCMP officers on duty refused to believe his story. He then went to the Ottawa Journal newspaper, but the paper's night editor was not interested, and suggested he go to the Department of Justice – however nobody was on duty at night when he arrived. Terrified that the Soviets had discovered his duplicity, he went back to his apartment and hid his family in the apartment across the hall for the night. Gouzenko, hidden by a neighbour, watched through the keyhole as a group of Soviet agents broke into his apartment. They began searching through his belongings, and only left when confronted by Ottawa police.

The next day Gouzenko was able to find contacts in the RCMP who were willing to examine the evidence he had removed from the Soviet embassy. Gouzenko was transported by the RCMP to the secret "Camp X", now abandoned, but located in present-day Oshawa and comfortably distant from Ottawa. Camp X had been used during World War II as a training station for Allied undercover personnel. While there, Gouzenko was interviewed by investigators from Britain's MI5, and also by investigators from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Because Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, Britain's internal security service was employed, not MI6, which would have been the case for a defector outside the British Empire. The Central Intelligence Agency was in the process of being formed and was not yet operational.

It has been alleged that, though the RCMP expressed interest in Gouzenko, Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King initially wanted nothing to do with him. Even with Gouzenko in hiding and under RCMP protection, King reportedly pushed for a diplomatic solution to avoid upsetting the Soviet Union, still a wartime ally and ostensible friend. Documents reveal that King, then 70 and weary from six years of war leadership, was aghast when Norman Robertson, his Undersecretary for External Affairs, and his assistant, H. H. Wrong, informed him on the morning of September 6, 1945, that a "terrible thing" had happened. Gouzenko and his wife Svetlana, they told him, had appeared at the office of Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent with documents unmasking Soviet perfidy on Canadian soil. "It was like a bomb on top of everything else", King wrote. King's diaries assembled after his death missed a single volume for November 10 to December 31, 1945, according to Library and Archives Canada.

Robertson told the Prime Minister that Gouzenko was threatening suicide, but King was adamant that his government not get involved, even if Gouzenko was apprehended by Soviet authorities. Robertson ignored the Prime Minister's wishes and authorized granting asylum to Gouzenko and his family, on the basis that their lives were in danger.

Gouzenko and his family were given another identity by the Canadian government out of fear of Soviet reprisals. Gouzenko, as assigned by the Canadian government, lived the rest of his life under the assumed name of George Brown. Little is known about his life afterwards, but it is understood that he and his wife settled down to a middle-class existence under an assumed name in the Toronto suburb of Clarkson. They raised eight children together. He was, however, involved in a defamation case against Maclean's for a libelous article written about him. The case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Gouzenko managed to keep in the public eye, however, writing two books, This Was My Choice, a non-fiction account of his defection, and the novel The Fall of a Titan, which won a Governor General's Award in 1954. Gouzenko also appeared routinely on television to promote his books or air a grievance with the RCMP, always with a hood over his head.

Gouzenko died of a heart attack in 1982 at Mississauga, Canada; his grave was not initially marked. Svetlana died in September 2001 and was buried next to him. It was only in 2002 that the family put up a headstone.

In June 2003, the city of Ottawa and in April 2004, the Canadian federal government put up memorial plaques in Dundonald Park commemorating the Soviet defector. It was from this park that RCMP agents monitored Gouzenko's apartment across the street the night men from the Soviet embassy came looking for Gouzenko. The memorial plaques are the result of four years of effort by history enthusiast Andrew Kavchak, who first came across Gouzenko's case while at university, and decided that "the first major international event of the Cold War" deserved a memorial.

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