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What if British Prime Minister Harold Wilson really was a spy?

 muses Chris Oakley

Author says: please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).


Necessary Evil The Year 1974


August 20th,

on this day British prime minister Harold Wilson was found dead on a beach in Great Britain's Scilly Isles, victim of a gunshot wound to the skull.

Part 1 - LiquidationInitial press reports described his death as a suicide brought on by depression over the failure of his economic policiies, but investigation by Scotland Yard detectives soon turned up evidence the late prime minister had in fact been murdered by unknown assailants; within two days of Wilson's demise a nationwide manhunt for the suspected killer or killers was on. What wasn't known as the time -- and wouldn't be known for another three decades -- was that Wilson had been assassinated by rogue MI-6 agents who'd recently learned he was spying for the KGB and decided to liquidate him before he could escape to the Soviet Union.

When the truth about Wilson's murder finally came to light in a Guardian investigative report published on the 30-year anniversary of his death, it touched off a political firestorm which rocked the British government to its core and prompted new prime minister Tony Blair to order a full-scale inquiry into the Wilson assassination. Scores of MI-6 officials were forced to resign as a result of the ensuing scandal and a dozen more arrested on suspicion of having played a role in the assassination conspiracy. The controversy even touched intelligence agencies on the other side of the Atlantic, as the CIA's European section was found to have provided the final confirmation Wilson was working for the Soviets.

August 25th,

on this day thousands of people crowded the heart of London to pay their final respects to slain British prime minister Harold Wilson as his casket was driven through the streets of the British capital prior to his memorial service at Westminster Cathedral. Part 2- PinnacleThat same day Wilson's KGB handlers, shaken by their contact's untimely demise and fearing their other agents in Britain might have been compromised, ordered all remaining Soviet intelligence personnel in the UK to go to ground immediately.

Classified documents released by the Russian government after the collapse of the Soviet Union would reveal Wilson's handlers had just cause for alarm; three days before the British prime minister's assassination a KGB defector code-named "Pinnacle" by MI-6 had given British intelligence highly detailed and credible reports Wilson was preparing to escape to the Soviet Union before anyone could arrest him for his espionage activities. The information provided by "Pinnacle" enabled British police to arrest hundreds of Soviet agents and forced dozens more to flee the UK.

September 2nd,

the KGB underwent a massive shakeup in its top echelons as agency chief Yuri Andropov and his five most senior deputies, along with the KGB's London station chief and western European regional director of operations, were all fired for their respective roles in the chain of events leading to the assassination of Harold Wilson and the subsequent collapse of the agency's spy network in Britain.

Part 3 - KGB Shake-upPost-Cold War historians would cite the shakeup as the beginning of the end for the KGB; the loss of so many experienced executives, with the collapse of Soviet intel operations in the UK, would compromise Soviet covert activities in the West to such a degree that Reagan administration CIA director William Casey would later compare the KGB to "a truck with three flat tires and both headlights broken".

The shakeup also seriously disrupted KGB efforts to combat foreign espionage on Soviet soil - and last but not least, it effectively ended Andropov's political career. Before the Wilson fiasco Andropov had been one of the most powerful men in the Kremlin and was considered in some circles a possible successor to CPSU general secretary Leonid Brezhnev; after his firing, however, Andropov would effectively become persona non grata in Moscow. His dismissal is thought to have been a factor in his death from cirrhosis in 1979 at the age of 65.


Necessary Evil The Year 1977


July 21st,

the rogue MI-6 agent who had led the conspiracy to assassinate Harold Wilson was himself killed in a car crash in Switzerland.

Part 4 - The OarsmanAt the time of his death the agent, formerly known to his co-conspirators as "Oarsman", had been on the run since 1975; there were outstanding warrants for his arrest in both France and Belgium, where he'd been waging a personal "black ops" campaign against KGB-sponsored radical leftist groups, and back in his native Britain an MI-6 internal probe had turned up evidence suggesting "Oarsman" was embezzling agency funds for personal use. He was buried under one of the dozen or so aliases he had used to conceal his true identity during his time on the lam.

Part 4 of the Necessary Evil ThreadEven after the Blair government's 2004-05 inquiry had clearly established the role of "Oarsman" and his cohorts in Harold Wilson's death, the rogue MI-6 operative's fate was still something of a mystery as far as the British public was concerned. It wasn't until 2008 -- when Blair's successor Gordon Brown launched a further investigation of the assassination plot - that the facts about the agent's untimely demise finally came to light. A DNA test authorized by the Swiss courts proved the body interred in Zurich's Friedhof Nordheim cemetery was indeed that of "Oarsman". From there, Swiss and UK police began a joint probe into the circumstances behind the crash that killed the renegade MI-6 agent; the investigation would lead to three arrests in the summer of 2009.

When Brown himself left office in May of 2010, new British prime minister David Cameron pledged that his government would continue the reforms of the UK's intelligence network which Brown and Blair had started instituting in the aftermath of the 2004-05 inquiry into the Wilson assassination conspiracy.

Necessary Evil The Year 1979


October 16th,

on this day disgraced ex-KGB chief Yuri Andropov died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 65. Since being sacked five years earlier in the aftermath of the Harold Wilson assassination, he had fallen into a steady, irreversible mental and physical decline; the post-mortem autopsy on Andropov turned up substantial amounts of alcohol in his system, confirming long-held suspicions that he had been drinking illicit home-brewed vodka on a daily basis for most of the time he was confined at the Siberian labor camp to which he'd been exiled since his dismissal as KGB chairman.

Part 5- The demise of a disgraced spychiefAlthough manufacturing bootleg liquor had officially been prohibited in Soviet labor camps for decades, unofficially Andropov's jailers had long since turned a blind eye to his drinking.

A new installment in Necessary EvilVery little mention of Andropov's death was made in the state-controlled Soviet media, but it got considerable press coverage in the West-- particularly in the United States, where veteran CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite called it "a potential turning point in the history of Russia". Cronkite was more accurate than he realized; even as arrangements were being made for Andropov's funeral, the ideological disputes that had been roiling the CPSU's upper echelons behind closed doors in the five years since the Soviet intel network in Great Britain collapsed were reaching heights not seen in Russia since the Trotsky-Stalin struggle for the right to succeed Vladimir Lenin as CPSU leader following Lenin's death in 1924. And outside the Kremlin walls, a political reform movement whose ranks included nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and agriculture official Mikhail Gorbachev was gaining traction among the increasingly discontented Soviet masses.

The repercussions of the CPSU's internal crisis weren't confined to the Soviet Union's borders; in Cuba, Fidel Castro grumbed about deep cuts in Soviet aid to Havana, while in Afghanistan a largely Islamic insurgency was threatening the survival of the Soviet-backed Marxist regime in Kabul. Two of the USSR's foremost Warsaw Pact allies, East Germany and Hungary, were sufficiently concerned about what was going on in the Kremlin that they were contemplating an action which under other circumstances would have been unthinkable: pulling out of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Moscow. Last but not least, a nervous Chinese government had placed its Siberian border defenses on full alert, understandably worried the turmoil racking its Soviet neighbor might sooner or later spill over onto China's own soil.

December 1st,

on this day Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, chief of the Soviet general staff, abruptly resigned his post just after returning from an inspection tour of Red Army military bases in East Germany. His official reason for stepping down was declining health; unofficially, however, there were rumors he was afraid of being arrested, exiled, or even killed as so many other Soviet political and military officials had been in the half-decade since Yuri Andropov was dismissed as head of the KGB.

Part 6 - Ogarkov's FateAnd indeed there had been at least one assassination attempt on Ogarkov's life during his East German visit; that attempt had prompted two of the marshal's senior aides to turn in their own resignations a week before Ogarkov himself quit.

A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyIronically, Marshal Ogarkov might have been better off not resigning; less than two weeks after he retired as defense minister he was fatally injured in a hit-and-run accident near his Moscow flat. Post-Cold War conspiracy theorists would speculate Ogarkov had been targeted for murder by one of his political adversaries, but the official Moscow police determination in the matter of the marshal's death was that he had been hit by a drunk driver. In any case, his demise would further heighten the already intense paranoia many Soviet citizens felt about their government -- by New Year's Day 1980 anti-government rallies would become an almost weekly event in the USSR's larger cities and foreign embassies in Moscow would go on full security alert as riots began to tear further at the country's badly frayed social fabric.

The tension would finally erupt into outright civil war less than twelve months after Ogarkov's resignation.

Necessary Evil The Year 1980

January 16th,

on this day Leonid Brezhnev, CPSU general secretary since 1964, died of heart failure at the age of 73; he was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who'd been chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet at the time of Brezhnev's death.

Part 7 - Death of Leonid BrezhnevIn Chernenko's first official act as Soviet premier the new CPSU First Secretary declared martial law in Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad in an effort to quell the civil unrest which had been racking those cities -- and much of the rest of the Soviet Union as well --for months. But in hindsight the martial law declaration would prove to be a case of closing and locking the barn door after the horses had already run away. Demonstrations demanding political liberalization and reform would only become more frequent during Chernenko's first months as Soviet leader, and some of the more radical anti-government factions incited riots just to spite him.

And things would only get worse for Chernenko; on the same day he officially assumed the post of CPSU general secretary East Germany and Hungary confirmed they would not be participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Two weeks after that announcement, the Czech ambassador in Moscow told Chernenko that Czechoslovakia was also withdrawing from the 1980 Summer Games. On the heels of this stunning decision then-U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent a memo to President Jimmy Carter asserting that both the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were in the first stages of their ultimate collapse; the memo concluded with the prediction the Soviet Union would break up within the next 3-5 years.

While not entirely convinced of the validity of Vance's argument, Carter nonetheless gave the State Department the green light to begin updating its European policies to prepare for life in a post-Cold War world. He also instructed his Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, to step up CIA surveillance activities inside the Soviet Union to look for signs of how far and how rapidly that country's internal disintegration was progressing.

Author says this thread is inspired by an article in the New Statesman Magazine. To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Chris Oakley, Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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