Vladimir Vetrov : biography
Vladimir Ippolitovich Vetrov () (10 October 1932 – 23 January 1985) was a high-ranking KGB spy during the Cold War, who decided to covertly release valuable information to France and NATO on the Soviet Union’s clandestine program aimed at stealing technology from the West.
Vetrov was assigned the code-name Farewell by the French intelligence service DST, which recruited him. He was known by that name throughout NATO’s intelligence services. His history inspired the book Bonjour Farewell: La Vérité sur la Taupe Française du KGB (1997) by Sergei Kostin. It was loosely adapted for the French film L’affaire Farewell (2009), starring Emir Kusturica, Guillaume Canet and Alexandra Maria Lara., IMDB website entry.
Authors Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud have published a more complete and updated account of the Farewell dossier under the title Adieu Farewell (Laffont, Paris, 2009). This title is now available in English for the first time, thirty years after the events (Farewell, AmazonCrossing, Aug. 2011). Another portrait of Vladimir Vetrov can be found in a powerful literary text by Michel Louyot, Le Violon de neige.
Vladimir Vetrov was born in 1932 and grew up within the Soviet system. After college, where he studied electronic engineering, he was enlisted in the KGB.
He lived in France for five years, beginning in 1965 when posted there as a Line X officer working for the KGB’s ‘Directorate T’, which specialized in obtaining advanced information about science and technology from western countries. While there, he befriended Jacques Prévost, an engineer working with Thomson-CSF. Vetrov returned to Moscow at the end of his posting.
There, he rose through the ranks of Directorate T, eventually supervising the evaluation of the intelligence collected by Line X agents around the world, and passing key information to the relevant users inside the Soviet Union. Having become increasingly disillusioned with the Communist system, he decided to defect for purely ideological reasons (he never accepted payment for his material). At the end of 1980, he contacted Prévost and offered his services to the West.
Between the spring of 1981 and early 1982, Vetrov gave the DST almost 4,000 secret documents, including the complete official list of 250 Line X officers stationed under legal cover in embassies around the world. Included was a breakdown of the Soviet espionage effort to collect scientific, industrial and technical information from the West to improve its own efforts. Members of the GRU, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and several other bodies all took part in such efforts. Vetrov also provided summaries on the goals, achievements, and unfilled objectives of the program. He identified nearly 100 leads to sources in 16 countries.
In February 1982, after heavy drinking caused by a cooling-off period imposed by the French, who were fearful of his discovery through too much contact, Vetrov stabbed his mistress during an argument in his car (she survived).
When a man knocked on the car window, Vetrov thought his spying had been discovered, so he stabbed and killed the man. He happened to be another KGB officer. Vetrov was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 12 years in jail in the fall of 1982.
While in jail, Vetrov carelessly revealed in letters that he had been involved in "something big" before going to jail. The KGB eventually discovered that he was a double agent. As part of his confession, Vetrov wrote a blistering denunciation of the Soviet system, "The Confession of a Traitor". News of his subsequent execution reached France in March 1985.
The information which Vetrov provided enabled the western countries to expel nearly 150 Soviet technology spies around the world; the French expelled 47 Soviet spies, most of whom were from Line X. This caused the collapse of the Soviet’s information program at a time when it was particularly crucial. The U.S. created a massive operation to provide the Soviets with faulty data and sabotaged parts for certain technologies, as a consequence to the Farewell Dossier. Vetrov was also responsible for exposing the spy Dieter Gerhardt, a senior officer in the South African Navy who had been spying for the Soviets for 20 years.