7 – The defection of Igor Gouzenko

well_chuffed, Going Postal

On September 5th 1946 Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk working in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa defected. He had been told he was going back to the socialist paradise that was the USSR and decided life in the West was better. He took 109 documents with him. First he knocked on the door of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who didn’t believe his story. Then he went to the Ottawa Journal but the night editor was not interested in his story but suggested he try the Department of Justice. When he arrived there, nobody was on duty. He went back to his apartment and took his family and stayed with a neighbour, correctly surmising that the Soviets would be after him. They were and were caught trashing his apartment by the Ottawa Police. The next day he finally found someone in the RCMP who was prepared to look at the documents he had brought with him.

So began the discovery that the Soviets were working against the Canadians and also led to the unmasking of the atomic spies. Some have credited this defection as the real beginning of the Cold War. It came as a shock to the Canadians who had no idea the Soviets were spying on them. Unlike Chambers and Bentley, Gouzenko arrived with documentation and a lot of knowledge. He unmasked Fred Rose, a Communist MP in Canada’s parliament, and Sam Carr, the national secretary of the Canadian Communist Party, or Labour Progressive Party as it was called at the time.

He also produced evidence of Soviet spying on the atomic programme, some of which was located in Canada. After being interviewed by the RCMP, MI5 turned up to have a go at Igor. Seemingly it was MI5’s jurisdiction because Canada was in the Commonwealth. Of course everything went through Kim Philby in Washington who immediately passed it on to Moscow. Panic in Moscow, they significantly reduced their activities hoping to avoid even more of their agents being discovered. Beria, Stalin’s security boss,  decided the solution was to close everything up and make sure nobody knew what anyone else was up to. Not the best solution though his forte was the gulags.

Jospeh Davis who had been US Ambassador in Moscow and was a keen Stalin apologist said that the Russians had a right to know the details of this type of weapon. He had also supported Stalin’s Great Terror and the associated show trials.

Fred Rose MP was arrested and tried for espionage. He asked for D.N. Pritt to be his defence lawyer. This was the man who defended the spies in the Woolwich arsenal case and would later be requested as defence for the atomic spies who were tried in the USA. Pritt is a name that keeps on cropping up and he was a Labour MP but had been expelled in 1940 for supporting the Soviet invasion of Finland. After that he sat as an independent Labour MP.

In March 1945 Dunford Smith working for the National Research Council had informed the Soviets that secret work was being done on nuclear physics. The work was being done at two Canadian Universities. His handler was told to ask him if he could get hold of some Uranium 235. Instead the handler asked another spy, Israel Halpern to acquire a sample. He did not manage to do get any. The job was then handed to Allan Nunn May. Nunn May was working at Montreal Laboratory which was building a reactor at Chalk River. He supplied small amounts of both Uranium 233 and 235. The courier who transported them was not told how dangerous it was and developed lesions from the radioactivity. He returned to England shortly afterwards and was arrested and confessed.

From the evidence passed on by the Canadians, the FBI started to chase their atomic spies of whom there were many.

This leads on to the next series of articles on the so called atomic spies ending up with the death sentence passed on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

© well_chuffed 2019

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