In the beginning, the man who lit the fuse on the Cold War timebomb couldn't get anyone to listen to him.

Igor Gouzenko was a relatively low-level cipher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa when, faced with an order to return to Russia with his family, he opted in September 1945 to defect instead.

Armed with more than 100 incriminating files documenting Soviet spy activities in Canada, he first went to the RCMP, who stupidly disbelieved him, and then to an Ottawa newspaper -- which equally stupidly (and maybe more so) dismissed him.

Fearful for his life and that of his family, he went into hiding at a friend's house until the next day when someone who was actually awake at the RCMP apparently tipped off William Stephenson -- the brilliant Second War Canadian spymaster Intrepid.

The Gouzenkos were moved to Camp "X", the secret espionage training centre not far from Toronto, and debriefed by the RCMP, Britain's MI5 and the FBI.

Not only was the extent of Soviet penetration revealed, so too was the target: the secrets of the atomic bomb that had ended the war in the Pacific a few weeks earlier. (Canada and Britain had been major players in the super secret "Manhattan Project".)

Despite the best efforts of the relentlessly boring prime minister of the day -- William Lyon Mackenzie King -- to bury the whole thing so as not to annoy the USSR, Gouzenko's revelations touched off a firestorm when made public the following February.

Alarmed intelligence agents eventually arrested nearly 40 alleged Canadian participants in the espionage, including Fred Rose -- the only avowed Communist ever elected to the House of Commons.

If the Gouzenkos weren't treated as royalty, they certainly came off better than they might have. Their identities were changed and they were moved to an undisclosed location.

Igor died in 1982. To the end, his face was hidden whenever he had to testify or otherwise appear in front of cameras, including a lawsuit against Maclean's Magazine for defamation.

(It's possible my general contempt for most alleged "intelligence" agencies didn't come across very well. Herewith a song by a group known as the Brothers-in-Law -- they were all cops whom I knew -- about the RCMP and their usually ineffective Red-baiting tactics:

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Comment by koshersalaami on March 9, 2016 at 4:27pm

Always in the hood. I guess disguising his voice wouldn't be as much of a priority. 

Comment by koshersalaami on March 9, 2016 at 4:34pm

Igor probably got witness protected as a car mechanic somewhere. That way no one hiding him would ever get in trouble for calling him the man under the hood. 

Comment by JMac1949 Today on March 9, 2016 at 4:36pm

R&L... I wonder how many dozens of similar episodes the CIA and FBI botched over the years of the Cold War.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on March 9, 2016 at 4:37pm

interesting  ty!

Comment by Dandy Lion on March 9, 2016 at 6:46pm

Before he met Stephenson I read that he was also spurned (though not in person) by Mackenzie King.  Gouzensko also plays a role in the suspicion that Roger Hollis was a Soviet spy.  Gouzensko was once interviewed by someone in disguise who had a British accent.  The Brit was apparently discouraged him from revealing too much.  Nice to read something about him. 

Comment by older/exasperated on March 10, 2016 at 9:25am

The newspaper and the RCMP had good reason for not exposing him as being a Russian spy, the RCMP no doubt contacted the government who in turn contacted the US. By not exposing him 20 or more collaborators in both Canada and the US were arrested. During this time Stalin was in a Eastern European land grab and the Allies presumed the Soviets had successfully made one or two bombs and the prospect of Stalin introducing nuclear war in Europe already devastated would be ruinous, so the Cold War began as did the race to build more powerful and accurate nuclear weapons. Half the world is in a cold war now the other half are causing war. Question my friend: You think it's scary that Cruz or Trump will have the nuke codes if elected? Adios.....o/e

Comment by Boanerges on March 10, 2016 at 9:35am

Kosh, I remember as a kid seeing him hood and all on, I think, on the news digest program "This Hour Has Seven Days" and wondering what that was all about. It was only later I appreciated what had been going on and got kind of fascinated by it all. (Funny comment about the mechanic, by the way.)

They're pretty much legion, JMac. Check out the FBI's handling of British double agent "Tricycle"  (Dusan Popov) during the war itself, and all the spies who've been caught inside the agencies to this day. Stupid barely begins. Hence my general disdain for the unintelligence community -- fuelled, I have to say, by a recruitment pass made at me (of all people) back in the 70s.

Thanks, Jon.

Yeah, Dandy, there was a whole lot of stuff I didn't mention here, including Mackenzie King's communing with his dead mother in seances. As for Hollis, I think the jury's still out on whether or not he was one of the Cambridge bunch, no matter what Wright said. If Philby's career is anything to go by, he certainly could have been -- but he was supposedly cleared by two investigations. And if that doesn't raise a snicker or six, nothing will.

Comment by Boanerges on March 10, 2016 at 9:57am

Think you're giving away more credit than is due to that idiot night news editor and the Horsemen, O/E. They had no idea until late in the year what they had on their hands, and it was Stephenson et al. who told them. For sure, it touched off international investigations (hello, Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May), although I don't think the USSR had the bomb quite that early. And for the record, yes it scares the knobs off me that a Canuck could have his hand on the throttle (Trump is beneath regard).

Comment by old new lefty on March 13, 2016 at 12:06pm

This article provides documentation that in fact there was a basis in fact for a good part of the anti-communist hysteria that created the McCarthy period and the Cold War.  Of course, where America went after all of this is a different story altogether.  Great job of giving me something I didn't know, Boanerges!

Comment by Boanerges on March 13, 2016 at 2:31pm

Thanks, ONL. There was never any doubt in my mind that the espionage was real -- and it's not like we in the West weren't doing the same damn thing, which makes Tail Gunner Joe and the witch-hunts even more abhorrent. It's just how it got revealed (or perhaps confirmed, if you credit Stephenson's bio) that was so interesting, at least to me.

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