Individuals who physically switch sides in a conflict and change their allegiance to an adversary. This has been perceived as pejorative, although invariably the receiving authorities welcome their guest as a hero, whereas a defector will be regarded as a traitor in his or her country of origin.
During World War II, Allied servicemen who threw in their lot with the enemy were described as “renegades.” There were no Allied intelligence defectors to the Nazis, although both victims of the Venlo incident were treated with great suspicion and were thought, wrongly as it turned out, to have been guilty (see BEST, SIGISMUND PAYNE). Some British intelligence personnel actively collaborated with their captors, but the element of duress probably excludes them from this category.
By far the largest group of people regarded as defectors are those Eastern Bloc intelligence officers who, during the Cold War, chose to accept resettlement in the West. Leaving aside the low-level line-crossers, some 40 KGB and GRU officers defected, following the example of Igor Gouzenko, who may be regarded as the first of the Cold War, having accepted resettlement in Canada in September 1945. GRU defectors were outnumbered by KGB defectors, and most opted to seek political asylum in the United States. Indeed, between the receipt of Grigori Tokaev in 1946 and Oleg Lyalin in August 1971, not a single Soviet intelligence defector chose to go to Great Britain. Three that considered doing so—Konstantin Volkov, Ivan
Skripkin, and Yuri Rastvorov—ultimately did not. Volkov and Skripkin were arrested before they could switch sides, and Rastvorov opted to go to the United States at the last minute.
In intelligence terms, among the most significant Soviet defectors were Walter Krivitsky in the prewar era and, during the Cold War, Vladimir Petrov, who defected from Canberra in 1954; Lyalin in London in 1971; Vitali Yurchenko in Rome in 1985; Oleg Gordievsky, who was exfiltrated from Moscow in 1985; and Vasili
Mitrokhin, who arrived in London from Tallinn, Estonia, in 1992.
Each supplied important information, as did Michal Goleniewski, a Polish UB officer who defected in Berlin in 1961; Arkadi Shevchenko, the most senior Soviet diplomat to defect, who was received by the Central Intelligence Agency in New York in 1978; and Gen. Jan Pacepa, the chief of the Romanian Departmentule Informatii Externe, who was resettled in the United States in July 1978.
Defectors are expected to bring a “meal ticket”—information of sufficient importance to earn them a home and pension in the West.
Many defectors find the process of resettlement hard to cope with and contemplate redefection.
The motives of defectors are many, but although most claim they were prompted by ideological reasons, almost all seem to have experienced professional or family setbacks in the weeks and months prior to their decision to switch sides. The one exception was Vladimir Kuzichkin, a KGB Line N illegals support officer who acknowledges that he feared the consequences of the accidental loss of a vital document in the Tehran referentura where he worked when he approached the British in June 1982. Although Gordievsky asserts that he was influenced by the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, his decision to collaborate with the British did not occur until 1974, soon after he had been told that his career had been compromised by an extramarital affair.
American intelligence defectors to the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War are limited to Victor Hamilton, a National Security Agency cryptanalyst of Arab descent, who took up residence in Moscow in 1963, four years after he had resigned; and Edward Lee Howard, who escaped Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance in 1985 just as his arrest was planned.
British intelligence defectors to the Soviets are rather more numerous and include Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby.