#2. Igor Gouzenko
A Russian spy stationed in Canada.
Changed Everything By:
Starting the freaking Cold War.
Not the jolliest-looking chap, is he?
Igor Gouzenko was a Soviet secret message decoder stationed in Canada, of all places. And he was stationed there immediately following WWII, before anyone actually figured out that the wartime friendship between the West and the Soviets wasn't exactly rock solid.
Through Igor's hands passed thousands of secret messages that showed the Soviets were spying on Western governments to steal nuclear secrets -- poor form for a best friend who tag-teamed Hitler out of Europe. And when the Soviets got ready to bring their comrade back home, presumably so his mind wouldn't be clouded by the evils of hockey and maple syrup, Gouzenko freaked out. He turned himself in to Canadian authorities, hoping for a chance to give his family a good life sans communism.
Unfortunately for him, nobody believed his story.
But he looks so trustworthy and sane.
The government and the press all figured he was nuts. Nobody dreamed that the friendly Soviet "Nazi-Whooping" Union would dog a bro like that. This understandably scared Gouzenko, because by now the USSR knew what he was up to, and his life quickly turned into the plot of a Jason Bourne movie.
Luckily, he managed to convince the authorities before he could become the victim of an unfortunate "accident." The Canadian Mounties took him into protection while they tried to figure out how to best break it to the government that quiet, polite Canada was about to become embroiled in a major, possibly nuclear international incident. When the news finally made its way to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, the PM had a really bad morning.
King's first reaction was to sweep the whole thing under the carpet, slap Stalin on the back and say no harm done. But the media got hold of the story and ran with it, exposing to the world that the Soviets had an elaborate espionage program in Canada, America and Britain. Even amid the growing media pressure and the outrage coming out of the United States, King was in a hurry to pussy out, and wrote to Uncle Joe begging the USSR to forgive him for busting the spy ring, saying, "The measures taken against spies in Canada were not and are not directed against the Soviet Union and Generalissimo Stalin."
"Are we still cool, bro?"
The whole debacle became known to history as the "Gouzenko Affair" and is generally seen as the start of the Cold War. Gouzenko himself had to wear a disguise for the rest of his life to protect himself, not only from Soviet agents, but from regular people who were quite happy not having the threat of nuclear apocalypse hanging over their heads for the most part of a century.
Interestingly, the beginning of the end of the Cold War would come decades later, thanks to yet another defector ...
#1. Oleg Gordievsky
A Soviet spy tasked with collecting intel from the British and sending it back to Mother Russia.
Changed Everything By:
Preventing a goddamned nuclear war.
Via Wikimedia Commons
He did it by winning a good old-fashioned arm wrestling match with Reagan.
Oleg Gordievsky was a KGB agent who lost faith in the Soviet experiment sometime in the '60s, and he contacted British intelligence agency MI6 to find out if they might be interested in making friends. So while Oleg was stationed at the British Soviet embassy with the task of smuggling secrets back to the motherland, he was spending his free time filtering secrets in the other direction. It seems only fair.
Then in 1983, NATO started a routine war game called Able Archer 83. War games, if you remember your '80s movies, were that thing where nuclear powers test out what they would do if the other nuclear powers got frisky. The only problem was that relations between the powers were so icy that the U.S. couldn't exactly give the USSR a quick text letting them know it was all a game. And it didn't help matters that by 1983, the Soviets were as paranoid as shit, specifically believing that a nuclear attack from the West would come under the guise of one of these war exercises.
Dude, Monopoly is not a war game.
The only person who knew both that Able Archer was a harmless drill and that the Soviets were about to kill everyone because of it was Oleg Gordievsky. His role as a double agent put him in a unique position to know what was going on with both sides. He thus managed to let the West know that the Soviets had their hands on the big red button. Until then, NATO didn't have a clue that the exercises were even making Russia nervous, let alone bringing the world as close to nuclear war as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It's almost entirely because of Gordievsky's arbitration that the U.S. finally understood that the USSR was genuinely afraid of a nuclear strike, and their trash-talking wasn't just a case of one-dimensional supervillainy. That revelation is what pushed the Americans toward peace talks -- as former President Ronald Reagan said in his autobiography, "...I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us." Yep, sometimes the only thing standing between the world and utter destruction is one guy willing to sell out his comrades.
Via Daily Mail
Not a hat. Those are his eyebrows.