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Soviet intelligence officer Konon Molody as depicted on a 1990 USSR commemorative stamp

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.


A man from nowhere

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 a purported Canadian businessman named Gordon Lonsdale who dealt in jukeboxes, bubble-gum and gambling machines. He often travelled to continental Europe, hosted many parties and had a number of lady friends.

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.

The real Gordon Lonsdale

A 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 ca 1943 and that his papers were obtained by the Soviets for use by their agents.[1]

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.[1]

The 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. While serving in Wormwood Scrubs prison he and Kroger met convicted traitor George Blake.

In 1964, he was exchanged for the British spy Greville Wynne who had been arrested by the Soviets. The exchange is said to have originated by contact between the wives of the two agents. As part of the process, the Soviets admitted he was a spy and gave the British his real name, Konon Molody.

Early life

Konon Molody was born in Moscow in 1922, the son of a scientist. At age 10, he went to California to live with a maiden aunt and learn English. Molody returned to the Soviet Union to serve in the Red Army during World War II. After the war, he studied Chinese at a university. In 1951 he was hired by Soviet foreign intelligence service and trained as a spy. He also married and had two children.

In 1954, Molody set off for Canada on a Soviet merchant ship, using documents that named him as Gordon Lonsdale. The following year he went to London, taking courses at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. He was popular and outgoing, and hosted many parties. He 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 atom spy Morris Cohen (then using the pseudonym Peter Kroger), whom he often visited in London. He may also have met his wife in Prague. He "ran" other spies, including Melita Norwood.[2]

"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. As a result he was given a post of minor importance and took to drinking. Konon Molody died during a mushroom-picking expedition in October 1970. He was 48.

He was buried in the Donskoy monastery in Moscow next to another illegal resident spy, Vilyam Genrikovich Fisher (alias Rudolf Abel).


  1. ^ a b Soviet Spy Ring, by Arthur Tietjen, published by Pan Books, 1961
  2. ^ Obituary, Charles Elwell, The Telegraph, 23 January 2008

Further reading

  • 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.

External links



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