Review : Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century

Next up in the review section is Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century. The title promises a lot, but does it hold up?

In a word, yes!
Unlike some of the other books written by defectors, this one was co-authored by researchers Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud, as for the subject of the book, it was about a spy code named Farewell who was active in the cold war period - he was later excited as a traitor.

I have to say, this was one of my favorite so far, I was really drawn into it.
The book starts with his his background, right from the beginning of future-spy Vladimir Vetrov's life.

In short, he was a technical wiz, specializing in the then-cutting edge of electronics. After getting a job, he was noticed by the KGB and offered the chance to study at the KGB academy -the rest is history.
He was lucky enough to be one of the privileged agents in the foreign intelligence section to be sent abroad for a five year posting to France, essentially to keep an eye on other agents and recruit new agents.

He and his family fell in love with French life and by all accounts, he did a great job of agent recruiting and 'developing' new agents. The secret service in France was particularly weak and as a result there were a shit-ton of Soviet agents working there.    

After this stint, the family returned to Moscow and were later sent to French Canada for another 5 year stint, but this was where things went wrong. His wife had taken some un-declared jewelry to be re-sized, when she came back a week later, she found the store had been robbed and the store owner had given purchase and order details, including names of customers to the police for insurance inventory.

This kind of transaction was viewed as a crime by the KGB, not something agents should be doing, and he was recalled to Moscow - along with the wife and kid. 
There was also other speculation as to why he may have been recalled, although you can read the book and decide for yourself.

After his return, he knew he would no longer get any more placements abroad which meant, basically, his career was over. This was where things gradually started to fall apart for him. He was shuffled off to the analytic department - the place for burned or incompetent agents.

After some vain attempts at promotion, he was being ignored professionally and bearing witness to the stunning levels of incompetence and nepotism surrounding him. At some point, he snapped and contacted the French internal Intelligence services (the equivalent of the FBI).

He started pumping thousands of pages of highly highly sensitive information to the French, who then shared the goods with Europe.
Thanks to the documents he leaked, the US realized the state of technical espionage that was going on - the Soviets knew everything.

Spy Vetrov was having a mental breakdown and, by the looks of it, wanted to take revenge on the KGB, although he didnt want to defect.
The authors via their interviews give a really detailed profile of the guy, it's fascinating.

In a crazy turn of events (or maybe planned, again, the conclusion is left to the reader), he ends up trying to stab his lover to death (he wife were kind of prolific cheaters) but he failed in his attempt, although he did kill a retired police man who caught him in the act.

He was arrested, sentenced and the KGB still didn't know a thing. They only stated to suspect something was awry when Vetrov let out a few slips in prison, something his cellmate - who used to be a KGB interrogator - picked up on a few signs and started to report them.

The evidence building carried on behind the scenes while Vetrov did his time in a Siberian camp.

They got him in the end, but the damage his intelligence caused was huge and some say, helped contribute to the end result of the cold war, again, the conclusions are left to the reader.

The best part is the authors are very unbiased and they present all the events in their different lights and balance up all the conclusions based on the two years of work, research and interviews taken.

This is very well written, well-paced book as well as an excellent spy tale and in depth look at the mysterious agent code named Farewell.  
Highly, highly recommended


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