- Most literature on espionage lists four reasons people betray their country and become spies or defect: money, ideology, compromise, and ego (or MICE). These indeed explain the bulk of Cold War espionage cases. While both Western and Soviet intelligence service portrayed their own agents as selfless heroes and their traitors as evil incarnate, some generalizations can be made about what motivated Westerners and Soviets to spy against their country. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, many Westerners agreed to spy for Moscow out of deep ideological commitment. The Ring of Five all agreed to betray Great Britain and the ruling establishment out of deep disgust with capitalism and British imperialism. Julius Rosenberg told his Soviet case officer that he wanted to be a good soldier of Stalin. For them, Moscow was the New Jerusalem. A jaundiced former KGB officer who worked in Washington believes that ideology is not the reason people decide to change sides. Rather, retired Colonel Viktor Cherkashin argues, ideology helps a person explain after the fact why he or she became a spy.Revelations about the Soviet system, especially Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of February 1956, put paid to the idea that Moscow was the city on the hill. Beginning in the 1950s, therefore, the Soviets increasingly recruited agents through money. John Walker went to the Soviet embassy in 1967 to find funds to support his failing bar. Aldrich Ames needed money for a divorced wife and a new spouse. Yet it was not simply money that made Walker, Ames, and other Americans spy. Anger, often rage, about their personal lives and their lack of professional success also contributed. They might not be a success in the U.S. armed forces or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but they could be the greatest spy in the world. Anger tinged with contempt of their superiors led many in the American military and intelligence professions to spy. Both James Hall and Clyde Conrad had deep contempt for their superior officers, whom they “knew” they could outwit. Edward Howard clearly volunteered out of his fear of prosecution for civil crimes committed in New Mexico, but another factor may have been the desire to get even with the CIA, which no longer needed him.A great deal has been written in spy novels about people being recruited after they were placed in compromising situations. While a few minor agents were recruited after having been compromised by prostitutes—both male and female—far more were recruited for financial or personal reasons. William Vassall is one of the most important agents who was blackmailed into serving the Soviets. But in his case, money and ego also played roles. Clayton Lonetree, an American marine serving in Moscow, was literally seduced into serving as a KGB agent in the 1980s. Yet Lonetree’s decision to work for the KGB also was a product of his anger with U.S. Marine counterparts who repeatedly humiliated him.In the first years of the Cold War, a number of Soviet intelligence officers defected to the West, but relatively few worked in place for the West. In the West, spying was punished by terms in jail, but in the Soviet Union, conviction almost invariably meant the firing squad. Defections from the Soviet services were caused by personal and professional concerns. However, many officers defected or volunteered out of a deep anger with the system. Both GRU colonels Petr Popov and Oleg Penkovskiy, and later General Dmitry Polyakov, were deeply offended by the system they served. Other Soviet intelligence officers defected to have access to the Western way of life they had grown accustomed to.During the last 15 years of the Cold War, a number of GRU and KGB officers changed sides, and the balance swung dramatically in favor of the West. The factors motivating the second season of defectors had a great deal to do with what was seen as the faltering Soviet economy and the corruption of the ruling class. Oleg Gordievskiy volunteered to serve the British secret service (SIS) out of his anger with Moscow’s intervention in the Prague Crisis in 1968. Other officers clearly were motivated by hopes of resettlement in the West.The best text on motivation, treason, and espionage may be C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a work of fiction in which a senior tempter writes letters to a young apprentice devil, arguing that the way to hell is very gradual, and temptation to mortal sin seems very venal and minor at first. Analysis of many Cold War spy cases suggests that most men and women seduced (and self-seduced) into treason move to the other side for a variety of reasons that impact gradually on their consciousness.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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