Umbrella Assassins On Waterloo Bridge - And Double Agents!

By Richard Moss
a photograph shwoing a river scene from a bridge with the House of Commons in the distance

The victim's last view of the Thames. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum

As he walked towards the bus stop on Waterloo Bridge on a September evening, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was blissfully unaware of the the bizarre fate that awaited him.

Obliviously waiting for the the bus that would take him to his car, safely stored in a lock-up in Vauxhall, he was stabbed in the leg by a mysterious stranger wielding an umbrella.

a photograph of a bus stop

Waiting for the bus at the spot where Markov was killed. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum

Stunned and bemused, the Bulgarian barely had time to wheel around and catch a glimpse of his assailant departing in a taxi. Four days later he was dead. An autopsy revealed he had been injected with a tiny alloy ball containing ricin, a lethal toxin.

The killing was almost certainly the result of collaboration by the Soviet and Bulgarian intelligence services. Their motive could have been to end Markov's BBC World Service radio broadcasts against the Bulgarian regime and to warn off other anti-Soviet bloc dissidents. It could also have been intended to show Moscow's displeasure over the use of the state-controlled BBC for such anti-Communist broadcasting.

Such undetected killings by foreign intelligence services are extremely unusual in Britain, and there have been no similar recorded assassinations since Markov's death.

a photograph of a large office buidling with traffic in the foreground

The lion's den - the Thames-side headquarters of MI5 today. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum

During the early 1980's, 42 Holland Park was the residence of Arkady Gouk, head of Soviet intelligence in Britain. It was also the scene of one of the most astonishing master strokes of counter-espionage during the whole Cold War.

At midnight on 12 June 1983, an MI5 officer called Michael Bettaney, posted an envelope of top secret material through the letter box. The envelope contained full details of MI5's counter espionage efforts in Britain at the time. Luckily, Gouk was both cautious and suspicious and spoke to his deputy Oleg Gordievsky about the matter.

Gordievsky was a double agent working for the British and he promptly tipped off British Intelligence. Bettaney was arrested, tried and sentenced to 23 years imprisonment. Gouk was summoned back to Moscow and oblivion, while Gordievsky replaced him as the head of Soviet Intelligence in London.

A lucky and fortuitous success for British counter-espionage efforts in the late days of the Cold War.

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