Brooke, with his wife, arrives home in North London, 24 July 1969

Brooke, with his wife, arrives home in North London, 24 July 1969.

Soviet Spy Swap

Gerald Brooke’s time in a Soviet prison was a pivotal moment in Cold War espionage.

The Cold War was at its height in the 1960s, when arrests, expulsions and exchanges were rife. In 1967, for example, the American John A. Walker walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC and offered his services as a naval cryptographer with access to highly classified material. Walker had worked as a key supervisor in the communications centre for the US Atlantic Fleet’s submarine force and had knowledge of top-secret technologies, such as the SOSUS underwater surveillance system. He was one of the Soviet Union’s most successful and highly paid agents (he is said to have received between $500 and $1,000 per week from his handlers) until his arrest in 1985, when he agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors. Walker received a life sentence and remained in prison until his death in 2014.

At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, information was reaching the Soviets from Britain’s Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and HMS Osprey at Portland, Dorset, where the Royal Navy tested equipment for undersea warfare. The CIA had received letters in 1959 from a mole, codenamed ‘Sniper’, and passed them on to MI5, which began surveillance of a number of suspects. The so-called Portland Spy Ring was rounded up and shut down in the early 1960s. Its prominent members included Gordon Lonsdale (aka Konon Molody, later exchanged for Greville Wynne, a British businessman, in 1964) and Morris and Lona Cohen (aka Peter and Helen Kroger).

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