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Gouzenko wearing his white hood for anonymity
Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko (January 13, 1919, Rogachevo, Soviet Unionmarker – June 28, 1982, Mississaugamarker, Canadamarker) was a cipher clerk for the Soviet Embassy to Canadamarker in Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker. He defected on September 5, 1945, with 109 documents on Soviet espionage activities in the West. This forced Prime Minister Mackenzie King to call a Royal Commission to investigate espionage in Canada.

Gouzenko's defection exposed Joseph Stalin's efforts to steal nuclear secrets, and the then-unknown technique of planting sleeper agents. The "Gouzenko Affair" is often credited as a triggering event of the Cold War.


Gouzenko was born on January 26, 1919, in the village of Rogachevo not far from Moscow. At the start of World War II, he joined the military where he trained as a cipher clerk. In 1943, he was stationed in Ottawa, where for two years he enciphered outgoing messages and deciphered incoming messages for the GRU. His position gave him knowledge of Soviet espionage activities in the West.


In 1945, hearing that he and his family were to be sent home to the Soviet Union and dissatisfied with the quality of life and the politics of his homeland, he decided to defect. Gouzenko walked out of the Embassy door carrying with him a briefcase with Soviet code books and deciphering materials. He initially went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker, but the RCMP officers on duty refused to believe his story. He then went to the Ottawa Journal newspaper, but the paper's night editor was not interested, and suggested he go to the Department of Justicemarker - however nobody was on duty at night when he arrived. Terrified that the Soviets had discovered his duplicity, he went back to his apartment and hid his family in the apartment across the hall for the night. Gouzenko, hidden by a neighbour, watched through the keyhole as a group of Soviet agents broke into his apartment. They began searching through his belongings, and only left when confronted by Ottawa police.

The next day Gouzenko was able to find contacts in the RCMP who were willing to examine the evidence he had removed from the Soviet embassy. Gouzenko was transported by the RCMP to the secret "Camp Xmarker", now abandoned, but located in present-day Oshawamarker and comfortably distant from Ottawa. Camp X had been used during World War II as a training station for Allied undercover personnel. While there, Gouzenko was interviewed by investigators from Britain's MI5marker, and also by investigators from the American Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker. Because Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, Britain's internal Security Service was employed, not MI6marker, which would have been the case for a defector outside the British Empire. The Central Intelligence Agency was in the process of being formed and was not yet operational.

It has been alleged that, though the RCMP expressed interest in Gouzenko, Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King initially wanted nothing to do with him. Even with Gouzenko in hiding and under RCMP protection, King reportedly pushed for a diplomatic solution to avoid upsetting the Soviet Union, still a wartime ally and ostensible friend. Documents reveal that King, then 70 and weary from six years of war leadership, was aghast when Norman Robertson, his Undersecretary for External Affairs, and his assistant, H. H. Wrong, informed him on the morning of September 6, 1945, that a "terrible thing" had happened. Gouzenko and his wife Svetlana, they told him, had appeared at the office of Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent with documents unmasking Soviet perfidy on Canadian soil. "It was like a bomb on top of everything else", King wrote.

Robertson told the Prime Minister that Gouzenko was threatening suicide, but King was adamant that his government not get involved, even if Gouzenko was apprehended by Soviet authorities. Robertson ignored the Prime Minister's wishes and authorized granting asylum to Gouzenko and his family, on the basis that their lives were in danger.

Ramifications of the defection

When word got out in the media (February, 1946) that Soviets operated a spy network in Canada in which Canadians gave classified information to the Soviet government it created a great stir. Much of the information taken was of public knowledge and the Canadian government was less concerned with the information stolen but more of the potential of real secrets coming into the hands of future enemies.Canada played an important part in the early research with nuclear bomb technology and that kind of vital information could be dangerous in the hands of other nations.

Gouzenko's defection "ushered in the modern era of Canadian security intelligence".The evidence provided by Gouzenko led to the arrest in Canada of a total of 39 suspects, of whom 18 were eventually convicted, including Fred Rose, the only Communist Member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons and Sam Carr, the Communist Party's national organizer. On the basis of Gouzenko papers, scientist Raymond Boyer was also arrested and found guilty of conspiracy for passing information to the Soviets (just like Fed Rose and Sam Carr. Both Rose's, Carr's and Boyer's defence failed and both received a jail sentences. These three accused justified their dealing with the Soviets as helping the anti-Nazi cause movement but that defence went on deaf ears. Only half of those arrested and accused were found guilty , of lesser charges. All this left the Canadian public with a great unease.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate espionage, headed by Justice Robert Taschereau and Justice Roy Kellock, was conducted into the Gouzenko Affair and his evidence of a Soviet spy ring in Canada. It also alerted other countries around the world, such as the United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker, that Soviet agents had almost certainly infiltrated their nations as well.

Gouzenko provided many vital leads which assisted greatly with ongoing espionage investigations in Britain and North America. His testimony is believed to have been vital in the successful prosecution of Klaus Fuchs, the German communist physicist who emigrated to Britain and who later stole atomic secrets for the Soviets. Fuchs spent some time at the Chalk River Laboratoriesmarker, northwest of Ottawa, where atomic research had been underway since the early 1940s. His information also likely helped in the investigation of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the U.S. Gouzenko, being a cipher clerk by profession, likely also assisted with the Venona investigation, which probed Soviet codes and which eventually led to the discovery of vital Soviet spies such as Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross (the so-called Cambridge Five), as well as Alan Nunn May.

Life in Canada

Gouzenko and his family were given another identity by the Canadian government out of fear of Soviet reprisals. Gouzenko, as assigned by the Canadian government, lived the rest of his life under the assumed name of George Brown. Little is known about his life afterwards, but it is understood that he and his wife settled down to a middle class existence under an assumed name in the Toronto suburb of Clarksonmarker. They raised eight children together.

Gouzenko managed to keep in the public eye, however, writing two books, This Was My Choice, a non-fiction account of his defection, and a bombastic novel The Fall of a Titan, which won a Governor General's Award in 1954. Gouzenko also appeared routinely on television to promote his books or air a grievance with the RCMP, always with a hood over his head.

Along with his wife, Svetlana, he considered himself to be a heroic figure in the fight for freedom, and often complained that he was not being compensated well enough in that regard, even though the rest of his life was financed by the RCMP.

Gouzenko died of a heart attack in 1982 and his grave was not initially marked. Svetlana died in September 2001 and was buried next to him. It was only in 2002 that the family put up a headstone.

In June 2003, the city of Ottawa and in April 2004, the Canadian federal government put up memorial plaques in Dundonald Parkmarker commemorating the Soviet defector. It was from this park that RCMP agents monitored Gouzenko's apartment across the street the night men from the Soviet embassy came looking for Gouzenko. The memorial plaques are the result of four years of effort by history enthusiast Andrew Kavchak, who first came across Gouzenko's case while at university, and decided that "the first major international event of the Cold War" deserved a memorial.


The story of the Gouzenko Affair was made into a film, produced by Twentieth Century Fox. The Iron Curtain (1948), directed by William Wellman, with screenplay by Milton Krims, and starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney as Igor and Anna Gouzenko. The film was shot in the actual Canadian locales and used original documents of the Embassy. Unfortunately, the film was never widely distributed.

See also


  1. The Gouzenko Affair|CBC Archives
  2. Finkel, Alvin. Conrad, Margaret (2002). History Of the Canadian People: 1867 to Present. Toronto:Addison Wesley Longman Publishing, p.347.
  3. Finkel, Alvin. Conrad, Margaret (2002). History Of the Canadian People: 1867 to Present. Toronto:Addison Wesley Longman Publishing, p.347.
  4. Finkel, Alvin. Conrad, Margaret (2002). History Of the Canadian People: 1867 to Present. Toronto:Addison Wesley Longman Publishing, p.347.
  5. Finkel, Alvin. Conrad, Margaret (2002). History Of the Canadian People: 1867 to Present. Toronto:Addison Wesley Longman Publishing, p.347.
  6. Finkel, Alvin. Conrad, Margaret (2002). History Of the Canadian People: 1867 to Present. Toronto:Addison Wesley Longman Publishing, p.347.
  7. Gouzenko honoured by plaque in Ottawa - CBC News
  8. Канада отдала дань перебежчику Гузенко


  • "The Defection of Igor Gouzenko: Report of the Canadian Royal Commission" (Intelligence Series, Vol. 3, No. 6), Aegean Park, 1996. ISBN 0894120964
  • Amy Knight, "How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies", Carroll & Graf, 2006. ISBN 0786718161
  • J. L. Black & Martin Rudner, eds., "The Gouzenko Affair", Penumbra Press, 2006. ISBN 1894131916
  • Sawatsky, John, "Gouzenko: the untold story", Gage Publishing Ltd., 1984. ISBN 0-775-9812-2
  • Granatstein, J.L., & Stafford, David, "Spy Wars", Key Porter Books Ltd., 1990. ISBN 1-55013-258-X
  • Stevenson, William, "Intrepid's Last Case".
  • Gouzenko, Igor, "This was My Choice", Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1948

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