What if British Prime Minister
Harold Wilson really was a spy?
muses Chris Oakley
says: please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not
necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
||The Year 1974
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 - Liquidation
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
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
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
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.
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-up
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
in Moscow. His dismissal is thought to have been a factor
in his death from cirrhosis in 1979 at the age of 65.
||The Year 1977
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
||The Year 1979
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
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.
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 Fate
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
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.
||The Year 1980
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.
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
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