Konon Trofimovich Molody (January 17, 1922 - September 9, 1970) was a Soviet intelligence officer, better known in the West as Gordon Arnold Lonsdale. He was an illegal resident spy during the Cold War and the mastermind of the Portland Spy Ring.
The real Gordon Lonsdale
A person by the name of Gordon Arnold Lonsdale was born on 27 August 1924 in Cobalt, Ontario, Canada. His father was a miner, Emmanuel Jack Lonsdale, and his mother was Olga Elina Bousa, an immigrant from Finland. The Lonsdales were separated in 1931 and a year later, Olga took her son with her back to her native Finland. It is presumed that he died c. 1943 and that his papers were obtained by the Soviets for use by their agents.
There is little doubt the Lonsdale born in Cobalt in 1924 was not the Lonsdale arrested in London in 1961: the former had been circumcised, the latter was not.
Molody's early life
Konon Molody was born in Moscow in 1922, the son of a scientist. His father died when he was a child. According to Konon's son Trofim Molody who authored the book about his father Мертвый сезон. Конец легенды ("The Dead Season. End of the Legend", 1998), the Soviet intelligence had their eyes on the young boy, when the NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda helped Konon's mother get a passport for him to go to the US in 1934 to live with an aunt in California (according to his official SVR biography, he left the USSR in 1932).
After the war, in 1946, he became a student at the Law Department of the Institute of Foreign Trade, where he studied Chinese. In 1951 he was recruited to the Soviet foreign intelligence service and trained as an 'illegal' spy. He married and had two children.
In 1953, Molody set off for Canada on a Soviet merchant ship, using the passport of a dead man, whose late mother was a Finn married to Canadian citizen Arnold Lonsdale (this had been made possible thanks to the use of Finland's public records captured by the Soviets during the war). From Canada 'Gordon Lonsdale' went on to the US, where he helped the atomic spy Rudolph Abel with his communications; there, he also met Peter and Helen Kroger, two Americans, who worked for the KGB because of their communist beliefs.
In 1954, Konon Molody went to London, where he took courses at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. He was an outgoing character and had numerous female friends in London and Europe. Molody went into business, selling and renting jukeboxes, bubble-gum and gambling machines to pubs, clubs and cafes. This took him to continental Europe, where he may have recruited other agents and set up dead letter boxes.
It was in 1959 that Molody began receiving British military secrets from Harry Houghton. His continental trips also led him to meet Morris Cohen (then using the pseudonym Peter Kroger), whom he often visited in London. He ran other spies, including Melita Norwood.
Conviction of espionage in the UK and exchange
In London, on 7 January 1961, Special Branch officers, led by Detective Superintendent George Gordon Smith, arrested five people, all of whom were part of the Portland Spy Ring. One of the five was Gordon Lonsdale who was caught by Scotland Yard taking secrets from a British spy Harry Houghton on Waterloo Bridge.
Taken to Scotland Yard, Lonsdale told Smith he would not disclose any information, including his name or address. Western intelligence services, including MI5, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), had to resort to extensive enquiries to learn anything about him. All they could determine was that he was Russian, had a naval background, and was not the man his papers made him out to be. By the time he and his associates came to trial at the Old Bailey on 13 March 1961, no-one knew his true identity.
"Lonsdale" who was put on trial in London in 1961 was charged with spying, along with associates Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee and Morris and Lona Cohen (who were using the aliases Peter and Helen Kroger). Still refusing to reveal his real identity, "Gordon Lonsdale" was sentenced to 25 years in jail in March 1961. He was taken to Winson Green Prison, Birmingham, to start his sentence. Although he was in a single cell, he fraternised with some of the Great Train Robbers.
On 22 April 1964, he was exchanged for Greville Wynne, a British businessman apprehended and convicted in Moscow for his contacts with Oleg Penkovsky. As part of the process, the Soviets admitted he was a spy and gave the British his real name, Konon Molody. The prisoners were swapped at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin.
"Memoir" and later life
In 1965, a year after Molody's return to the Soviet Union, a book called Spy: Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale was published with the approval of the Soviet authorities. Allegedly the autobiography of "Gordon Lonsdale", it has to be read with caution. For instance, he claims he was the Lonsdale born in Canada, when he wasn't. He also claims Peter and Helen Kroger, convicted as members of the Portland Ring, were innocent. In fact they were veteran spies as the Soviets confirmed when they were exchanged in 1969.
For Molody, life back in the Soviet Union was not a happy one. According to Blake he was particularly critical of the way trade and industry were handled. He was given a post of minor importance and took to drinking.
Konon Molody died, under what was thought by some to be mysterious circumstances, during a mushroom-picking expedition in October 1970; he was 48. Retired KGB officer Leonid Kolosov, Konon's youth friend, who co-authored The Dead Season. End of the Legend, maintained that upon Konon's return from the UK, he was healthy, but shortly afterwards he began complaining that KGB doctors were giving him injections for supposed high blood pressure, whereafter Konon was having headaches he never had before the injections but the doctors said he should expect to "feel worse before he felt better"
- Soviet Spy Ring, by Arthur Tietjen, published by Pan Books, 1961
- Womack, Helen (15 August 1998). "At last, the truth emerges about Gordon Lonsdale's shadowy life". The Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- Молодый Конон Трофимович Molody's biography on the SVR web site.
- Helen Womack. Playboy, Prisoner, Salesman, Spy. - The Moscow Times, 8 August 1998, p. 7.
- Obituary, Charles Elwell, The Telegraph, 23 January 2008
- Кого и как обменивал Советский Союз // История вопроса Kommersant, 8 July 2010.
- От Абеля до Анны Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 12 July 2010.
- Helen Womack. Playboy, Prisoner, Salesman, Spy. - The Moscow Times, 8 August 1998, p. 8.
- Soviet Spy Ring, by Arthur Tietjen, published by Pan Books, (1961)
- SPY: twenty years of secret service: memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale, Hawthorn Books NY, N. Spearman, London, (1965).
- Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage, by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen, published by Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-278-5 (1997)
- The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, published by Penguin Press History, ISBN 0-14-028487-7 (1999)
- "The Portland Spy Case" by Ludovic Kennedy, in Great Cases of Scotland Yard by Reader's Digest, pages 306-414.