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The Spy Who Helped Bring the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. back from the Brink of Nuclear War

The Spy Who Helped Bring the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. back from the Brink of Nuclear War

In 1983 a man named Oleg Gordievsky saved the world.

Gordievsky, a disillusioned officer in the KGB, had in 1968 offered himself to Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, as a double agent.  Fifteen years later Gordievsky found himself posted at the Soviet Embassy in London.  Ronald Reagan, who was ramping up both diplomatic and military pressure on the Soviet Union, was president of the United States.  Yuri Andropov was General Secretary of the U.S.S.R.  Two years earlier KGB Chairman Andropov had instituted Operation RYAN, an aggressive push to confirm what he’d long suspected:  That America was preparing to launch a nuclear attack against the U.S.S.R. and, soon enough, in order to please their boss, KGB agents confirmed his suspicions.

Panic set in at the Kremlin.

At the same time, three events pushed the world closer the brink.  One, Ronald Reagan labeled the U.S.S.R. an “evil empire.”  Two, the United States Department of Defense announced the development of the “Star Wars” program designed to knock Soviet nuclear missiles from the sky.  And third, a massive NATO military exercise known as Operation Able Archer happened, which was a simulated response to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

To Andropov, Operation Able Archer was the stalking horse for a surprise nuclear attack.  He thought it all a ruse to a real invasion.  Soviet bombers in Poland and East Germany were armed and placed on standby alert, the country’s vast intercontinental ballistic missile system was unlimbered, and nuclear submarines slipped beneath the Arctic ice, invisible to enemy radar and sonar, ready to strike.  While Operation Able Archer ended uneventfully Andropov remained convinced a surprise nuclear attack was coming.

Recognizing the danger, Oleg Gordievsky sent a stark warning to his British handlers.  Soviet paranoia is a powder keg.  The barest of sparks will set the world ablaze.  Gordievsky’s message was relayed first to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then to Ronald Reagan.  Both immediately moderated their anti-Soviet rhetoric.  Back channel diplomatic initiatives between Washington and Moscow were also set in motion.

Tensions eased.

Forty-one years ago we were yanked from the brink of war not by technology, but  by human judgment and courage.  Where today’s espionage landscape of signals intelligence, AI, surveillance satellites, and cryptography reign supreme, Gordievsky’s world was one of old school espionage tradecraft where agents passed classified information via dead drops and brush-passes, eluded surveillance through dry-cleaning and steely nerve, and met debriefing handlers in safe houses.  This is the world in which Magellan Billet operative, Luke Daniels, moves in his second solo adventure, Red Star Falling.

Dispatched to Russia to rescue missing CIA case officer, John Vince, Luke finds himself facing a Russia embracing its Soviet past under the dictatorship of President Konstantin Franko, himself a former KGB officer who, like Yuri Andropov, sees confrontation with the West as unavoidable.

Two years earlier, tasked with establishing the most prized of intelligence assets, a spy network capable of providing boots-on-the-ground human intelligence, Luke and John slipped into Ukraine as ‘illegals,’ a Soviet term for spies working without diplomatic cover.  In western intelligence circles they are known as NOC, or non-official cover agents.  These are the men and women who, if caught by the enemy, end up either with a bullet in the head or locked away in a secret prison.  This is what befell John Vince when Operation Summerhaus imploded.  From the lone survivor of the Summerhaus network word reaches the CIA that Vince is still alive and has information of tectonic importance.

Like Oleg Gordievsky, Luke’s only clue to Vince’s location lies with a “walk-in,” a term used to describe an agent who suddenly approaches an intelligence service and volunteers to spy for them.  Her name is Danielle Otero, a Russian intelligence officer who, also like Gordievsky, is driven by moral outrage.  Namely, Russia’s aggression toward its neighbor Ukraine.

Working as agents who’ll be disavowed by the CIA should they be arrested, Luke and Danielle quickly find themselves on the move through Russia, chasing relics of the Cold War, from Konstantin Franko’s reconstituted system of gulags where political prisoners languish, to remote Atomic Cities that once housed thousands of Soviet scientists bent on pursuing the USSR’s most dangerous military aims, and finally to a 60-year old satellite program known as Red Star, an unstoppable first-strike nuclear weapon.

Even more incredible the key to solving it all is to be found within a treasure lost for over five hundred years.  The famed Library of Ivan the Terrible.  A fabulous collection of rare manuscripts that have not been seen in centuries.  Many have searched, but no one has ever found them.  But like with the Cold War itself Luke not only must find Ivan’s lost library, he must also battle competing political forces, all working against him—one bent on dangerous military expansionism, another determined to stop a new brand of Stalinism from engulfing Russia, and a third who is playing a dangerous game of betrayal and nuclear brinksmanship.

What’s old is new again.

And, like the largely unknown Oleg Gordievsky from decades past, Luke Daniels must rely not on technology but his own wits and resourcefulness to stop Red Star falling.