Latest Reading: “The Spy and the Traitor” by Ben Macintyre

Former KGB Central Office – Tashkent, Uzbekistan – January 2, 2023

Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.

The Guardian Book of the Week Review – September 19, 2018

Historian and author Ben Macintyre tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB (Комитет государственной безопасности – State Security Committee) agent who was giving MI6 Soviet secrets in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the Russian counterpart to the famous British double agent, Kim Philby. I love books about spies, partly because they are set in foreign countries and spies are usually expatriates. I also like the action and political intrigue. This is a non-fiction book about a real-life double agent and it was fascinating to learn the spycraft techniques of the MI6 and KGB during this time. The book describes details of how the agency communicates with spies, including meetings at safehouses, signals such as arriving at a busy bus stop with a Safeway bag on a Tuesday at 1:00 PM, etc. It was tense reading if Oleg was going to get caught as a “mole”.

I wonder how facial technology, the internet, drones, almost ubiquitous cameras, and other technology have changed spying. It was comforting to know that the CIA accurately predicted or knew when and what the Russians were going to do in the lead-up to their invasion of Ukraine.

The part of the book with the most insight for me was the description of the Soviet Union and the KGB. I am fascinated by the experiment of the USSR, probably growing up during the Cold War had something to do with it. I always remember the Olympics were a battle of East vs. West, Communism vs. Democracy. I also remember my middle school social studies teacher, Dave Carli, explaining the importance of the Salt II nuclear arms limitation treaty and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All this made quite an impression on me growing up. Some items I learned about the USSR and the KGB are below.

  • I never heard of the 1932 Sovietization of Kazakhstan. The Soviets expropriated food from farmers to feed Soviet armies and cities. Over 1.5 million people died in the resulting famine.
  • The KGB used the acronym “MICE” to guide them on what people to target to turn them into spies for the USSR. 1) Money 2) Ideology 3) Coercion 4) Ego. There also was the romance of it, the opportunity to live a second, hidden life.
  • “The Soviet Union was in effect an enormous prison, incarcerating more than 280 million people behind heavily guarded borders, with over a million KGB officers and informants acting as their jailers. The population was under constant surveillance, and no segment of the society was more closely watched than the KGB itself: the Seventh Directorate was responsible for internal surveillance, with some 1,500 men deployed in Moscow alone.”
  • “Gordievsky had secretly detested all that his father stood for – the blind obedience to a cruel ideology and the cowardice of the Homo Sovieticus.”

The book also had some great quotes and descriptions of espionage and intelligence gathering.

  • “Espionage attracts more than its share of the damaged, the lonely, and the plain weird. But all spies crave undetected influence, that secret compensation: the ruthless exercise of private power. A degree of intellectual snobbery is common to most, the secret sense of knowing important things unknown to the person standing next to you at the bus stop. In part, spying is an act of the imagination.”
  • “We are politicians. We are soldiers. And, above all, we are actors on a wonderful stage. I cannot think of a better business than the intelligence business.”

And as always, I would like to add these to my writing and speaking vocabulary.

  • avuncular – regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.
  • philistinism – a materialistic attitude accompanied by ignorance of artistic or cultural matters
  • unctuous – excessively ingratiating or insincerely earnest.

I took the photo above yesterday of the former KGB office here in Tashkent. It is now up for sale and developers are eying to turn it into residential apartments or a shopping mall. I toured the former KGB office in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2011.

SPOILER ALERT

Gordievsky did escape but decided to do without his family. He felt his wife was a committed Soviet citizen and would report him to officials and it would have been difficult to escape in a trunk of a car with is two young girls. They were separated for six years and it eventually led to a divorce. In my opinion, I would choose my family over ideology and although his information did help the UK/US and may have sped up the end of the Cold War a bit, the USSR was not sustainable and ended 4 years after Oleg defected. The government lost the revolutionary fervor of the Bolsheviks over the century, which I also am seeing in Cuba and in some part, China today. The leaders of revolutions get old and retire and new people come into power.

I asked ChatGPT to write a book review and this is what is came up with.

Spy and a Traitor by Ben Mcintyre is a thrilling and well-researched book that tells the true story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who became a double agent for the British during the height of the Cold War.

The book is a page-turner from start to finish, as Mcintyre weaves together the complex and dangerous world of espionage with the personal story of Gordievsky’s motivations and actions. It’s hard to believe that this story is true, but Mcintyre’s extensive research and access to primary sources makes it all the more compelling.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the portrayal of the inner workings of the KGB and the intense loyalty that was expected from its agents. It’s a testament to Gordievsky’s character that he was able to overcome this loyalty and risk his life to work against the KGB and the Soviet Union.

Overall, Spy and a Traitor is a must-read for fans of espionage and Cold War history. It’s a gripping and informative look at a little-known piece of history that has had significant consequences for the world we live in today.

Family Journal: January 2, 2023

Intercontinental Hotel

I was looking forward to the Winter Break to exercise more but on the first day of the holidays, my right calf tightened after a run in the park. Yesterday, I ran 7 kilometers in the morning and it did tighten again, but not to the extent two weeks ago. I think I’ll be able to run again. I am not sure what is causing this, although I suspect it is my inflexibility as I age. To combat this, I started Travis Eliot’s 30 for 30 Yoga. A friend recommended I try his workout and it has been so helpful for me. It is one of my top health priorities to increase my flexibility. Eliot puts us through a variety of poses and every workout has a different focus. I feel better, younger, and more flexible. Not only does it help with my body, but it also is a great stress reducer. I highly recommend yoga practices to anyone in their 50s.

Ankhor Canal Running Path

My calves tightened even more in the afternoon when I took Obi for a walk. It was a beautiful day and I took some photos of architecture in Tashkent. Since getting a dog, I walk daily and often visit different parts of the city. It is Obi’s highlight of the day and I enjoy it too.

As you can see in the photo above, the Intercontinental Hotel is opening on April 1, 2023. It joins the Hyatt and Hilton as large “luxury” hotel chains in Tashkent. The building is under construction and is located very close to the Hyatt, Wyndham and City Palace hotels a block away from Amir Temur Square.

Apartment Complex on Mustakillik Avenue (Mirzo Ulugbek District)

Merry Christmas

Kralovec Family Photo – Christmas 2022 – Tashkent, Uzbekistan

It was wonderful to have a house full of family and friends on Christmas Day. My brother and my sister-in-law are visiting from Chicago. My brother Andy came through with some nice gifts for the kids on Christmas morning. Nadia ordered us matching pajamas for the annual photo in front of the tree. I cherish the moments when our three children are together. My son Owen is visiting during his break from his university studies. They really have grown up and it is fascinating to see how they interact with each other. I hope they stay close their entire lives. 

Brothers with the Golden One

We invited friends over to celebrate Christmas Dinner with us last night. Nadia made chicken paprikash, her Bolivian Christmas corn and cheese salad, and delicious egg nog. I like listening to Christmas music because it reminds me of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Caspian with my parents and brothers. We always had plenty of snow and it was a vibrant, small town with St. Cecilia’s Church and the Caspian Community Center as community gathering points. I also remember the Christmas parties the Heikkila family used to host at my grandparents’ house in Caspian. I miss my parents and would love to go back in time and experience Christmas again as a child.

Hanukkah Party

I felt we were creating our own memories for our family. It will be interesting to hear from the kids what they remember about the holidays.  We moved around the world and spent Christmas in other places as well during the Winter Breaks from school.

Bill and Nadia – TIS Christmas Party

In the afternoon I took Obi for a long walk in and around Milly Bog (Navoi National Park). It was a beautiful, sunny day although in the shade it was still bitter cold. Christmas is not celebrated here in Uzbekistan and it was a normal Sunday for Uzbeks. They do celebrate New Year’s and official holidays are December 31 through January 3. 

Family Journal: December 30, 2022

Ocean, Uncle Andy, Oliver, Owen, Aunt Chantal, Nadia & Obi – Charvak Reservoir

We spent the day in the mountains of the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. The views are always breathtaking and the fresh air and mountain peaks always recharge my soul. As you can see above, it was cold and the overlook of the Charvak Reservoir was chilly. We had lunch at one of the restaurants at Amirsoy Resort. Owen, Oliver and I did some skiing and snowboarding in the afternoon. It has not snowed in awhile so it was quite icy and tough to turn, especially on the upper courses. I took Oliver’s pass and skis and practiced my turning on the lower courses of Oscar. It was great to get out into the fresh air.

Chantal, Andy, Nadia and Ocean enjoy lunch

We had a lot of fun in the evening. I made “Rock and Roll” grilled cheese sandwiches and we hung out with the kids. Teenagers are up to date with music so they helped me with my playlist. I added the Arctic Monkeys and Beabadoobee to my Winter 2022-2023 Spotify Playlist. Andy takes after my dad and can fix anything so he caulked one of the showers to stop it from leaking. The other interesting occurance was the sandwich maker and toaster both burned out yesterday. We replaced them at Texnomart today.

Oliver

Today, New Years Eve, I escorted my brother and my sister-in-law to the airport. I was sad to see them go and I appreciated them coming to visit us. It was delightful to have them here for Christmas and I wish they could have stayed longer. We live close to the airport and it was not very crowded in the check-in line.

Family Journal: December 28, 2022

The best aspect of breaks is time! I have time to connect with my family and think about things other than school. I can exercise more, take care of family finances, spend more time with the kids and my wife, etc. As a school leader, I do need to check in with work-related issues daily, but I have more time for relaxation and family and less time devoted to leading the school. Next week I’ll shift a bit more to school, but for this week I’ve been focusing on recharging my soul.

On our way back from Samarkand, my brother Andy described the landscape perfectly, “post-apocalypse Wisconsin”. We are from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which is mostly woods and when we drove south to Green Bay or Madison the forests gave way to farmland. The condition of the roads here are rougher than in Wisconsin and the farmhouses are much humbler, hence, the post-apocalypse Wisconsin. Most of the drive goes through agricultural fields but there is a hilly section about 3 hours outside of Tashkent. Andy and I stopped and went for a hike on a section of this journey that was hilly. We could see the white-capped peaks of the Zaamin range in the distance and the foothills reached the main highway between Samarkand and Tashkent. The endless barren rolling hills and gray skies were beautiful and it made for a nice respite from the road. I really wanted to continue walking. It looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and I was waiting for an army to ride up over the next ridge. The hills went on for a long time. I will return with my gravel bike in the spring, but it is a 3-hour drive from Tashkent.

Bill and Andy

We have been showing Andy and Chantal the best of Tashkent. This included an obligatory trip to Black Star Burger, the Russian fast-food chain owned by rapper “Timati”. He is a Tartar not African and adopted many of the hip-hop music, dress, and video styles for success in the Russian music market. As you can see in the video below, “Road to the Airport” from 2017, he promotes luxury, flashes spending, treats women badly, and copies US hip-hop/pop music.

The burgers are actually pretty good and the novelty is patrons receive black latex gloves to eat their burgers. The burgers have an excess of oil so they are needed.

Andy at Black Star Burger

We also introduced them to Kanishka, the Uzbek leather and clothing store. We discovered another store in the basement of an old Soviet era apartment block. The designers do such a good job of making combining the Soviet esthetic with Western pop culture. They also do this with their stores as you can see in the photo below.

Kanishka Retail Store

Tashkent Metro System

It is nice to have visitors because it turns us into local tourists. We wanted to show my brother Andy and his wife Chantal the famous Tashkent Metro subway system. I am embarrassed that I have not seen any of the stations.

Mosaic leading to Pahtakor Station

The subway system and stations were very important to the Soviet government. Stalin wanted beautiful underground train stations to celebrate Soviet values and transport workers cheaply and efficiently. The Moscow system was the first and is an architectural and artistic gem. He decided that any city over 1 million people would have a similar system and Tashkent, fortunately, was one of the cities. It was completed in 1977 and every station has a theme that combined Soviet values and Uzbek culture.

We visited 3 stations today and I will certainly visit more to photograph them. The first station was Kosmonavtlar (above), a celebration of the Soviet space program. The attention to detail in the design and materials, the lighting, and the lack of graffiti and advertising made it visually stunning. The trains were full today, Thursday, around 12:00 noon. The Pakhtakor (Grower) station near the soccer stadium has a cotton industry theme as you can see below in the mosaic.

Nadia at the Pahtakor Station

The final station we visited was “Alisher Navoi”, the 15th-century poet, thinker, and statesman. The stations look more like cathedrals than train stations.

Our Visit to Samarkand

Me Standing in front of the Bibi Hanum Mosque

Samarkand is one of those exotic names like Babylon, Rome, Carthage, Athens, etc. that ring throughout history. It is one of the three famous Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan and the closest to Tashkent. I am always amazed at visiting places that have such an ancient history. It was captured by Persian King, Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, and Alexander the Great conquered the city in 329 BC. It reached its zenith over 600 years under the reign of Tamerlane, or Timur as he is known here in Uzbekistan from 1360 – 1405. Tamerlane should be more well known in the West as he was the last of the Tartar/Mongolian warriors that basically conquered a land territory ranging from Europe to China. I liked how the Syrian historian Ahmed ibn Arabshah described Timur after he destroyed Damascus, “This Bastard to Lay Waste Azerbaijan and Irak” and he referred to him as “satan” “demon”, “viper”, “despot” and “wicked fool”. Arabshah was right in many ways, Timur and his armies probably killed and enslaved more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. But this happened such a long time ago that today, he is revered as a great leader here in Uzbekistan. The Western name, Tamerlane, comes from “Timur The Lame” which alludes to his arm and leg being crippled during battle.

Inside a Madrassa on the Registan

Samarkand was the capital of his empire and he turned it into the greatest Islamic city of its time. He enslaved artisans, architects, artists, gardeners, etc. to make the city full of huge mosques, madrassas, palaces, lavish gardens, etc. Visiting the city in 2022, 617 years after his death, some of this grandeur still exists, but it would have been awesome to travel back in time and see it then.

We toured the final project he completed before his death, the Bibi Hanum Mosque. The mosque was restored at various times in the past 600 years as it fell into disrepair shortly after Timur died. Besides the size, it is the artistic touch, the Timurid architectural style, that used turquoise (the color of the Turks) shapes and patterns that make it unique and breathtaking. I learned about Kufic script, an ancient Arabic font that you can see in the many buildings in Samarkand. We stayed at the Bibi Hanum Hotel and the first photo below of the dome is taken from our room.

We had a relaxing visit showing my brother and sister-in-law around this beautiful, desert city. Of course we needed to see the famous Registan (sandy place in Persian). This is a central plaza with madrassas (Islamic schools) on three sides that were built after Timur’s death by succeeding Khans. Andy is a coin collector and bought some cool coins from the 1800s and 1700s Russian empire at one of the shops in the Registan. We ate at our favorite restaurant in the city, Platan and had an early night due to their jet lag. We bought some of the famous Samarkand bread at the market.

Andy and Chantal on the Registan

I highly recommend reading historian Justin Marozzi’s chapter on the city in his book, “Islamic Empires: 15 Cities That Define a Civilization” is an excellent read to understand Timur and his place in history. The chapter on Doha and Dubai really helped me get a better understanding of those cities and I hope to visit other cities featured in his book someday.

A Hockey Christmas Eve

I wanted to do something special for Christmas Eve and to celebrate the visit of my brother. He is a hockey fan and so we rented a Sky Suite at Humo Arena for yesterday’s game. The Humo Tashkent Hockey Club hosted Yetis Pavlador in a Pro Hokei Ligasi (Kazakhstan’s top professional league) game. Humo won easily 6-2 and improved their record to 22-9 for the season. They are currently in third place but have played 2 and 4 fewer games that the teams ahead of them in the standings. They should pass Nomad Astana, the second-place team. Karaganda leads the league with 61 points compared to Humo’s 45 points.

Pavlador is an industrial city located in the northeast of Kazakhstan, near the Russian border on the banks of the Irtysh River. The club won the Pro Hokei Ligasi for three consecutive years from 2013-2015. Pavlador looked outmatched and they changed goalies on the fourth goal by Humo. Things settled down for them with the substitute and they eventually scored 2 goals, making it a 5-2 game late in the third period. Humo scored a sixth goal on an open net to finish the scoring.

It was fun to have the box but I wouldn’t do it again. It is much cheaper to just attend the game and nothing comes with the suite. They should have a meal and drinks included and lower the price a bit. There were only four boxes with people in them. They really need a Western marketing person to come in and turn these into a money-making proposition for the club. They could rent them out to businesses that would use them as perks for their employees like they do in the USA. It was a memorable way to spend Christmas Eve. After the game, we went out to for dinner at Sushi Time restaurant.

Family Journal: December 23, 2022

It is nice to be on our Winter Break because it gives me time to do things I usually don’t have much time for. Thursday we were caught in traffic due to the departure of the Kazakh president. Police cleared the route from his accommodations to the airport which effectively cut off half of the downtown. We are grocery shopping and we were unfortunately on the wrong side of Nukus Street. We decided to wait out the delay in Bon cafe instead of sitting in the car. They make great coffee, hot chocolate, desserts, and sandwiches. The decor makes you feel like you are in a sophisticated city. I enjoy taking time out to connect with Nadia in a cafe and we are doing this more now that our children are older teenagers. I developed a taste for jasmine tea and there is nothing better to warm me up on a cold day.

We stopped at the Chorsu Bazaar, the largest market in the city. It is always a photographer’s delight to see all of the interesting characters and products for sale. I wanted to buy a rooster but decided not to. A dog is enough to care for…

It was also nice to hold a couple of open gymnasiums for the basketball team. It gives me a chance to develop individual players and my oldest son Owen helped out. It was great to “coach” him again!

Family Journal: December 21, 2022

I always wonder why the Winter Solstice is not more acknowledged and celebrated in our society. I think it is a big deal because starting today, December 22, the daylight hours get a little longer. There still are 2-3 months of cold weather ahead, but just knowing that the sunrise will a be a little bit earlier and the sunrise a little later, gives me hope that eventually, the long, warm days of summer and outdoor living will come. I see why ancient people celebrated this day and I wonder how long it took them to figure this out.

I always try to spend the day outdoors and at least watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was overcast. I went jogging in the Navoi National Park and about 2 kilometers into my run, my right calf felt very tight. I had to limp back to my car. I did go for a long bike ride in the late afternoon, but I took Advil, and applied Deep Blue ointment and heat to the calf. It loosened up and this morning it still feels tight but I am not limping as much as I was yesterday. I think 1-2 more days and I’ll be able to run again. I am not sure what is causing it. I read that it may be my running form or just tightness from being old. I did an extensive yoga workout on Tuesday and will again today. Let’s see how it goes and just note that getting older is not pleasant…

My ride was disrupted by the arrival of the Kazakhstan president’s official visit with the Uzbek president. The main roads from the airport to the parliament were closed and I needed to find alternative routes. Uzbekistan is experiencing a natural gas shortage and I assume there will be some agreements to purchase more gas from Kazakhstan. Kazakh flags were posted around the city and welcome messages were on digital billboards all throughout Tashkent.

As you can see in the gallery above, development continues in the city at breakneck speed. Large apartment, office and retail developments are being constructed all over Tashkent.

President of Kazakhstan Welcome Sign (in front of another housing development)