THE HOODED MAN
"At the end of the war, the Soviet Union was an ally and then quickly became the enemy. You need a big event to make a 180-degree shift like that. Gouzenko was the big event." The words of John Sawatsky, biographer of Igor Gouzenko, may come as a surprise to many history lovers. For one thing, most of us think of the Cold War as having slowly evolved from the messy geopolitical situation at the end of WW2, with the broken battlefield of Europe being squabbled over by the rival Allies. Also, just who is this Igor Gouzenko anyway?
Simply put, he was a Russian spy who defected while stationed in Canada in 1945. But why was this such a major event in world history, to the point where Gouzenko became something of a celebrity, even appearing on TV panel shows with a hood over his head so potential assassins couldn't see what he looked like?
THE CLERK WHO TURNED
In September 1945, as the war came to its gruelling end, Igor Gouzenko was working in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. Outwardly an ordinary clerk, his real job was the decipher coded messages, and he knew all about Stalin's network of spies in the West. Igor's faith in Communism was shaken by the freedoms he saw Canadians enjoying - a stark contrast to what he described as the "blood and tears" of Russians in his motherland.
On discovering he and his family were to be recalled to the Soviet Union, Gouzenko got desperate. "What do I do?" he asked his wife. Her advice was simple, blunt and bold: defect to the West, and take a heap of top secret documents with him. On 5 September 1945, just days after the official end of the war, Gouzenko did just that, literally stuffing a wad of espionage documents under his clothes and strolling out of the embassy. "The documents felt like they weighed a ton and I imagined that they were bulging out from under my shirt," he later recalled.
THE DODGY DEFECTION
Things didn't go according to plan. In an almost comical series of misunderstandings, Gouzenko was turned away by the Canadian Mounties, who didn't believe his claims, and also by the local newspaper, whose journalists were similarly unimpressed by this clerk claiming to be a Russian spy. Indeed, even when word did finally get to Prime Minister Mackenzie King about this strange man lifting the lid on a massive Soviet spy ring, Canada's leader's was more worried about upsetting Stalin. Who, after all, was still regarded as an ally.
Gouzenko was almost handed right back to the Soviets, but disaster was averted with the intervention of Sir William Stephenson, a top ranking secret agent Ian Fleming once described as a direct inspiration for James Bond. Stephenson argued in Gouzenko's favour, arranging for the defector to be hidden in Camp X, an ultra-secret training school for spies.