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On this Day, in 1945: the “Gouzenko Affair” marked the beginning of the Cold War

On September 5, 1945, three days after the end of World War II, Soviet embassy clerk Igor Gouzenko defected to Canada, exposing Soviet espionage activities in the West. The “Gouzenko Affair” is often credited for marking the beginning of the Cold War.

Upon learning that he and his family were to be sent home to the Soviet Union, a cipher clerk for the Soviet embassy to Canada, Igor Gouzenko decided to defect and walked out of the embassy door carrying with him a briefcase with Soviet code books and deciphering materials.

After being turned down by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ottawa Journal newspaper, who refused to believe his story, Igor Gouzenko was eventually brought to the secret World War II military camp known as Camp X, where he was interviewed by the MI5 and the FBI.

Gouzenko revealed an extensive Soviet espionage operation in the country and exposed Soviet intelligence’s efforts to steal nuclear secrets as well as the technique of planting sleeper agents.

By February 1946, news spread that a network of Canadian spies under control of the Soviet Union had been passing classified information to the Soviet government.

The evidence provided by Gouzenko led to the arrest of 39 suspects. A total of 18 were eventually convicted, including Fred Rose, the only Communist Member of Parliament, Sam Carr, the Communist Party’s national organizer, and scientist Raymond Boyer.

After spending two years in Camp X, Igor Gouzenko and his family were given a new identity and he lived the rest of his life under the assumed name of George Brown. But Gouzenko remained in the public eye, writing two books about his defection, and appearing on television, always with a hood over his head. He died of a heart attack in 1982.

The “Gouzenko Affair” is often credited for marking the beginning of the Cold War, three days after the end of World War II.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.