Q&A Amy Knight author of How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies. Learn more about Gouzenko and ask the author your questions at SPY on Wednesday January 20th.
Q: Who was Igor Gouzenko?
A: Igor Gouzenko was a code clerk for the GRU, Soviet military counterintelligence, in Ottawa, Canada.
Q: How and why did he defect?
A: He defected in September 1945 with a large number of secret documents by turning himself in to the Canadian RCMP.
Q: Why was his defection so important in “starting” the Cold War?
A: 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.
Q: Beyond the documents Gouzenko defected with, how did the western intelligence agencies utilize him afterward? Did his training as a cipher clerk provide any unique opportunities?
A: Gouzenko’s training as a cipher clerk as such did not offer western intelligence 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.
Q: What became of Gouzenko in his later years? Did the Soviets ever attempt any known acts of retribution against him?
A: Gouzenko’s use to the west gradually declined because his knowledge became outdated.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.