1981: Ronald Reagan’s inauguration marks a new escalation in the United States’ Cold War with the USSR. Months later, François Mitterrand is elected president of France with the support of the French Communist Party. The predicted tension between these two men, however, is immediately defused when Mitterrand gives Reagan the Farewell dossier, a file he would later call "one of the greatest spy cases of the 20th century".
Vladimir Ippolitovich Vetrov, a promising technical student, joins the KGB to work as a spy. Following a couple of murky incidents, however, Vetrov is removed from the field and placed at a desk as an analyst. Soon, burdened by a troubled marriage and frustrated at a failing career, Vetrov turns to alcohol. Desperate and in need of redemption, in 1980 he offers his services to the DST, the French counterintelligence service. Thus Agent Farewell is born. Soon he is sneaking files and photographing sensitive documents, keeping the West informed of the USSR’s plans - right in the heart of KGB headquarters.
The most complete account of these dramatic events ever recorded, Kostin and Raynaud’s thorough investigation is a fascinating tour de force. Probing further into Vetrov’s psychological profile than ever before, they provide groundbreaking insight into the man whose life helped hasten the end of the Cold War.
©2009 Editions Robert Laffont, S.A., Paris; translation copyright 2011, Amazon Content Services LLC (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Say something about yourself!
All espionage geeks will love this and foreign policy wonks will have to acknowledge the indispensable role played by the espionage services. For every intelligence fiasco there is a 'Farewell" and we should all be grateful for the latter and forgive the former.
The lesson that I thought was most interesting is that this only succeeded because the French handlers DIDN'T use spy craft, which the KGB would certainly have noticed. Really good book but extremely detailed and, thus, long. But if you're interested in the craft (or lack thereof) and the psychology of treason this is the book for you.
The fact that history often hinges on the acts of unknown individuals unrelated to the "leaders" strutting their stuff on history's stage is an irony that is inescapable. This true story is the proof. Great listen.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
Farewell is the code name of one of the most important spy stories of the 20th century. A Russian KGB agent, frustrated with his treatment by the KGB, turned over thousands of pages of documents to the French secret service (the FBI equivalent, not the CIA equivalent) and was perhaps more responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union than any other single person.
The story really is both incredible and fairly simple. Vladimir Ippolitovitch Vetrov, a talented athlete, a good student and a handsome young man is recruited to the KGB. He is trained as a foreign operative and serves two terms outside of Russia. But because of some of the problems of the KGB and some of Vetrov’s own problems he gets called back to Moscow and ends up as a technical analyst.
Frustrated by his lack of importance and the lack of respect he feels he is getting, he decides to become an informant and contact the French DST. Working with a French secret service he is first given a handler (a businessman that is close, but not a spy) and then a single agent. But it may have been the very lack of tradecraft that allows Vetrov to sneak out hugely important technical details of the Soviet infrastructure, military and spy systems.
This information was then used by Reagan and his security team to double down on the USSR. The US both increased our military expenditure (to try and force the USSR into spending more than it was capable of spending to keep up) and fed bad information to the USSR on areas that the US knew were research dead ends.
It is a fascinating story, but not the best written one. Farewell was originally written in French and then translated and updated into English. The translation I think is probably pretty good, but like a real spy story it is big on details and angles and short on action. So nearly half of the book is focused on Vetrov history, his relationship with his wife, his mistress, his son, and his early work experience. And then right about half way through the book, finally the main action occurs and the rest of the book is spent dissecting what happened and why.
Part of me really is fascinated by the story and the almost excruciating detail. But the other half of me just wanted them to get to the conclusion and be done. I think it showed lots of the problems of the Russian system (both the KGB and the Russian system of government that encouraged the paranoia and mistrust.) But also it showed the problems of spying in general. It is the paradox of the spy world that the agencies have to trust their spies because they literally cannot completely police the spies to make sure that they are not turning sides.
It is also interesting to see that what was important in the end was not the military strength or the spy tradecraft, but the research and economic issues. (It feels like a similar story to Al Capone, it was the accounting that brought Capone down.)
This is a story that I recommend with some strong caveats. It feels long and overly detailed because it is long and overly detailed. It is not a great book, but it is interesting.
(originally posted on my blog, Bookwi.se)
I started reading the book and enjoyed it so much that I thought buying the audio version would be a good idea so I could listen in the car. Wrong! The narrator has a monotone voice and almost sounds like a robot. I tried listening to it for about a week but the narrator was so unbearable that I just went back to reading.
With all the Spies of the 20th century, why had I never heard of "Farewell". Reading the story I found out why he was really a no-body His story lacks many things - suspense, the use sophisticated technology or techniques, life threatening intrigue, and a sense that this spy could have changed the balance of world power with secrets being traded. It does tell in interesting story about a spy who's affair with a woman went wrong and how he eventually dealt with it (her). The back story looks at international relationships in the world of espionage, and give the reader a picture of how uninteresting it was to be a spy in Russia during that time. When you finish you will not feel a sense of relief that our nation can rest easy now that this spy was caught.
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