Viktor Grayevsky

Journalist and double agent

Viktor Spielman (Viktor Abramovich Grayevsky), journalist and spy: born Krakow, Poland 29 July 1925; twice married; died 18 October 2007.

As soon as word leaked out that the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had denounced at least some of Stalin's crimes at a closed late-night session at the 20th Party Congress in Moscow in February 1956, the hunt was on among western intelligence agencies for the full text of the four-hour long speech. Numbered copies, marked "Top Secret", had been distributed among the party leadership, as well as the leaderships of friendly Communist parties. The CIA was desperate for the text, reputedly offering a vast sum for it.

The Polish Communist journalist Viktor Grayevsky was visiting his girlfriend in early April 1956 at the Central Committee headquarters in Warsaw where she worked when he noticed on her desk a red-bound copy of Khrushchev's speech. "Everyone wanted to know what he had said," Grayevsky recalled. She agreed to lend it for an hour or so and – despite the risk that he could be caught with a secret document – he took it home to read.

"When I had finished reading it, I realised I was holding something like an atomic bomb in my hands," he told the BBC Russian Service 50 years later. "It was something terrible! I was a party member, I believed in socialism, in Communism, and everyone believed at that time. And suddenly all this evil-doing. Stalin such a gangster, such a murderer!"

Grayevsky hastened to return it, but on the way decided to show it to Yaakov Barmor, a friend at the Israeli embassy who worked for the Israeli Shin Bet intelligence service. "He went pale, he went red, he went black, because he knew better than I what it was," he said. "That everyone throughout the world was looking for this speech." Barmor went off with the copy for an hour and a half, then returned it with thanks and Grayevsky took it back to his girlfriend.

Unbeknown to Grayevsky, Barmor immediately flew to Vienna to hand on the text to Amos Manor, the head of Shin Bet. Manor showed it to David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli prime minister, who approved its despatch to Allen Dulles at the CIA. After checking it, the CIA deemed it authentic and it was handed to The New York Times for publication in early June.

Viktor Spielman was born in 1925 into a Polish-Jewish family in Krakow, later changing his name to the non-Jewish-sounding Grayevsky. He and his immediate family fled to the Soviet Union when the Nazis occupied western Poland in 1939. There he saw out the war before returning to his newly Communist homeland in 1946. By now a convinced Communist, he studied journalism at the Academy of Political Science and joined the Communist Party. He began working for the government news agency PAP.

In the early 1950s, Grayevsky visited his parents and sister who had emigrated to Israel. There he became a Zionist, but returned to Poland. In January 1957 – after he had already passed on the text of Khrushchev's speech – he emigrated to Israel himself, settling in West Jerusalem.

After learning Hebrew, Grayevsky found a rather ill-paid job in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where he remained until 1961, also working at Kol Israel radio. It was not long before the KGB – hardly believing that a recent immigrant and a Communist at that could get a sensitive government job so quickly – tried to recruit him. Thus began 14 years as a double agent.

With the approval of Shin Bet, Grayevsky began meeting his KGB "recruiter" regularly, passing on material prepared for him. After many hundreds of such apparently unfocused encounters, well lubricated with vodka, Grayevsky remained surprised that the KGB was interested in what to his untrained eye seemed the largely trivial information he was asked to pass on.

But two such meetings were crucial: Shin Bet had decided in the mid-1960s to alert the Soviet Union that it was aware that the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had met Soviet top brass. Grayevsky passed on the transcript.

The second meeting was in May 1967, just weeks before Israel's attack on Egyptian forces sparked the Six Day War. Nasser had already moved his forces into Sinai, poised to attack Israel, and had blocked access to the Israeli port of Eilat. At Shin Bet's request, Grayevsky called an urgent meeting with his KGB handler and told him that Israel would go to war if the blockade was not lifted. Asked where he had gathered the information, Grayevsky pretended it was from a closed briefing at the prime minister's office. The Israelis believed that the Soviets would step in to prevent war, but were disappointed that they failed to rein Nasser in.

Many of the meetings with the KGB took place on property in Israel of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was full of spies masquerading as priests. Once Grayevsky and his family had to leave Jerusalem in a hurry as, using his information, the Israelis swooped on several KGB spies in the Church.

In 1971 Grayevsky ended all contacts with the KGB and Shin Bet, devoting himself full time to radio work. On retirement as head of Overseas Broadcasting in 1990, he spent the next decade as Ombudsman for the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Grayevsky was never trained as a spy and became involved in the shadowy world almost on an impulse. An intelligent man, he nevertheless made no pretence of understanding the machinations of which he was just a small part. As word of Grayevsky's involvement with espionage became public from the 1990s, he remained modest about his achievements. He shrugged off suggestions that he had acted heroically over the Khrushchev speech. "It was of course Khrushchev who made history," he recalled. "I just had a brief encounter with history for several hours."

Felix Corley

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
footballHe started just four months ago
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect