Divulging Canadian Secrets at the Spy Museum

Photo courtesy of
‘Spies, More Spies, & Still More Spies’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’

“Certain death lay ahead if the least hint of my intended desertion got about.”—Igor Gouzenko

In September 1945, a cipher clerk named Igor Gouzenko walked out of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, Canada with secret papers and a plan. For Western intelligence, Gouzenko’s defection, and the layered information he shared, ushered in a new era of cooperation against a common foe. Tonight, join Amy Knight, author of How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, to hear her ground-breaking findings. She was the first to explore recently de-classified records of the Gouzenko case in Canada, Britain, and the United States.

Ms. Knight is a well-known specialist on Soviet/Russian intelligence; in addition to her discussion, guests will also have a chance to see artifacts on loan from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service related to the case. The event is co-sponsored by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Embassy of Canada in celebration of the 25th anniversary of CSIS and in recognition of the collaborative and enduring security relationship between the United States and Canada.

A brief Q&A with Ms. Knight, after the jump.

Who was Igor Gouzenko, and why did he defect?

Igor Gouzenko was a code clerk for the GRU, Soviet military counterintelligence, in Ottawa, Canada. He defected in September 1945 with a large number of secret documents by turning himself in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Gouzenko’s defection had a huge impact, contributing to the growing Cold War between the Soviets and the West because he had clear proof that the Soviets had an extensive espionage operation in North America.

Beyond the documents Gouzenko defected with, how did the western intelligence agencies utilize him afterward?

Gouzenko’s training as a cipher clerk as such did not offer any unique technical opportunities to learn more about Soviet espionage, but his broader knowledge about what the Soviets were up to was seen as invaluable to western intelligence. However, his use to the west gradually declined because his knowledge became outdated. He lived with his large family under an alias in a town near Toronto and became very embittered with Canadian authorities, who he thought did not treat him fairly. The Soviets never attempted to go after Gouzenko, as far as I know. Stalin reportedly ordered that Gouzenko be left alone because an act of retribution would make the Soviets look bad.

Defector: Igor Gouzenko and the Start of the Cold War begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the International Spy Museum. Tickets are $12.50 and may be purchased online or in person.

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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