Konon Molody

Lona Cohen Harry Houghton Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)

Konon Molody
Konon Molody 1961.jpg
Molody c. 1961
Born17 January 1922[1]
Moscow, Russia[1]
Died9 September 1970 (aged 48)[1]
AwardsOrder of the Red Banner
Order of the Patriotic War
Order of the Red Star
Molody on a 1990 Soviet stamp

Konon Trofimovich Molody (Russian: Ко́нон Трофи́мович Моло́дый; 17 January 1922 – 9 September 1970) was a Soviet intelligence officer, better known in the West as Gordon Arnold Lonsdale. Posing as a Canadian businessman, he was an illegal resident spy during the Cold War and the mastermind of the Portland Spy Ring, which operated in England from the late 1950s until 1961.

The true Gordon Lonsdale

A person by the name of Gordon Arnold Lonsdale was born on 27 August 1924 in Cobalt, Ontario, Canada. His father Emmanuel Jack Lonsdale was a miner. His mother Olga Elina Bousa had immigrated from Finland. The Lonsdales separated in 1931. A year later, Olga took her 8-year-old son with her back to her native Finland. He is believed to have died c. 1943 and the Soviets obtained his papers for use by their agents.[2] The actual Gordon Lonsdale was recorded as having been circumcised; the imposter was not.[2]

Molody's early life

Konon Molody was born in Moscow in 1922, the son of a scientist and his wife. His father died when he was a child. According to Konon's son, Trofim Molody, who wrote a book about his father, Soviet intelligence already had their eyes on the young boy.[3][4] 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,[5] a dance teacher named Tatiana Piankova. He was a pupil at the A to Zed School in Berkeley between 1936 and 1938.[6] (According to his official SVR biography, he left the USSR in 1932).[7]

Molody returned to the Soviet Union in 1938, having learned English and became aware of United States culture.[7] In October 1940, he was conscripted and served as an intelligence officer during World War II.[1]

After the war, in 1946, Molody became a student at the Law Department of the Institute of Foreign Trade, where he studied Chinese.[1]

Spying career

In 1951 he was recruited to the Soviet foreign intelligence service of the KGB and trained as an "illegal" spy. He married and had two children.[1]

In 1953,[4] Molody travelled to Canada on a Soviet merchant ship, using a passport issued in the name of "Gordon Lonsdale". The true Lonsdale had died in the early 1940s in Finland, as discussed above. The Soviets had used Finland's public records to establish identities for some of their spies. They took possession of the records after the war.[4] From Canada, "Gordon Lonsdale" went to the US. There the atomic spy, Rudolph Abel helped to develop his espionage skills.[4] He also first met Morris and Lona Cohen (whose cover names in the UK were Peter and Helen Kroger), an American couple who worked for the KGB because of their communist beliefs.[8]

In 1954, Konon Molody settled in London, where he took courses at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies in Chinese.[9] He was an outgoing character and had numerous female friends in London and Europe. Molody used a business as a cover, installing jukeboxes, bubble-gum and gambling machines, which were established using KGB funds.[10] He travelled to Europe on business, where he may have recruited other agents and set up dead letter boxes. Once a year he would visit Prague or Warsaw to spend time with his Russian wife Galina. She was led to believe Konon was posted in China as a Soviet trade representative.[4]

In 1959, Molody began receiving British military secrets from Harry Houghton, who was working at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment on the Isle of Portland. During his continental trips, Molody met the Krogers, whom he also often visited in London. He ran other spies, including Melita Norwood.[11] The Krogers acted as his technical support; he communicated with Moscow via their hidden radio transmitter.[10][12]

UK conviction for espionage

Lonsdale first came under suspicion from MI5 in 1959 after information was received from the CIA. The Treasury were required to give permission for the opening of a security box held in a branch of the Midland Bank in Great Portland Street.[13] Concealed within a lighter was a London map for places to conceal or collect information.[13]

In London, on 7 January 1961,[13] Metropolitan Police 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 officers 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 real name or address. Western intelligence services, including MI5, the 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, the authorities still did not know his true identity.

Lonsdale was put on trial in London charged with spying, along with associates Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee, and Morris and Lona Cohen (Peter and Helen Kroger). The defendants were all found guilty, with Lonsdale sentenced to 25 years in prison in March 1961.[14] 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.[4] In due course, the British and American security services managed to work out his true identity as being Konon Molody.[6]

On 22 April 1964,[15] he was exchanged in a spy-swap for Greville Wynne, a British businessman apprehended and convicted in Moscow for his contacts with Oleg Penkovsky. The prisoners were swapped at the Heerstraße Checkpoint in Berlin.[16]

Later life in Russia

In 1965, a year after Molody's return to the Soviet Union, a book called Spy: Memoirs of Gordon Lonsdale with the author still maintaining he was born in Ontario Canada.[9] Issued with the approval of the Soviet authorities,[4] he also claimed Peter and Helen Kroger, convicted as members of the Portland Ring, were innocent.

Molody died during a mushroom-picking expedition in October 1970;[17] 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 had headaches he never had before the injections but the doctors said he should expect to "feel worse before he felt better".[4]

He was buried in the Donskoy Cemetery in Moscow next to another spy, Vilyam Genrikovich Fisher (alias Rudolf Abel). A 1968 film Dead Season was based on the intelligence work of Molody.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Молодый Конон Трофимович. Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)
  2. ^ a b Tietjen, Arthur (1961) Soviet Spy Ring. Pan Books.
  3. ^ Мертвый сезон. Конец легенды ("The Dead Season. End of the Legend", 1998)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Womack, Helen (15 August 1998). "At last, the truth emerges about Gordon Lonsdale's shadowy life". The Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
  5. ^ Lonsdale, Gordon (1965). Spy: 20 Years Of Secret Service. London: N. Spearman. pp. 44–49. ASIN B0000CMR28. LCCN 66001151.
  6. ^ a b Low, Valentine (29 August 2020). "How MI5 and FBI teamed up to unmask jailed Soviet agent Gordon Lonsdale". The Times. Retrieved 29 August 2020. (subscription required)
  7. ^ a b Молодый Конон Трофимович Archived 9 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine Molody's biography on the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) web site.
  8. ^ Dalziel, Stephen (7 January 2020). "The Krogers' Radio Transmitter". Science Museum. London. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  9. ^ a b Laqueur, Walter (20 January 1966). "Spies". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  10. ^ a b Walton, Calder (27 November 2017). "The Unbelievable Story of How the CIA Helped Foil a Russian Spy Ring in London". Politico. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Charles Elwell". The Daily Telegraph. 22 January 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  12. ^ Dowd, Vincent (11 November 2014). "The spies in a suburban bungalow". BBC News. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  13. ^ a b c MacIntyre, Ben (24 September 2019). "Portland spies undone by a giant lighter". The Times. Retrieved 29 August 2020. (subscription required)
  14. ^ "5 Serntenced in British Court". Meriden Journal. Meriden, CN, USA. 22 March 1961. p. 1. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  15. ^ Кого и как обменивал Советский Союз // История вопроса Kommersant, 8 July 2010.
  16. ^ Gordon Corera, The Art of Betrayal, London, Phoenix, 2012 pp. 230
  17. ^ "Viewpoint: Life after spying – BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 13 January 2016.