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Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century Paperback – August 2, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with Sergei Kostin

Question: You spent two years researching the backstory of this book. What about Vetrov first caught your attention?

Sergei Kostin: It was pure luck that I happened upon this case. I was writing a book with a former KGB colonel who was responsible for counterintelligence operations in the Soviet Union investigating French citizens. While we were working together, he mentioned the Farewell case. He had asked for the Farewell dossier in order to learn about the techniques used by French intelligence for handling Farewell in Moscow, so he studied a number of the files and took many notes. The notes he gave me from his research were the start of my investigation, because I realized how relevant this case was for the present day--and Farewell's complex personality was intriguing to me.

Q: There are many sides to this story: Russian, French, American. How did you begin unearthing all the pieces and evaluating how to share them?

SK: For the first year, I only had the Russian side. I had the notes from the Farewell KGB dossier, as well as notes from interviews with his widow, his son, his colleagues, and his friends. Then I went to France and had the chance to add the recollections of Farewell's first handler, Xavier Ameil, and his wife, Claude. I did try to get additional information from the DST (the French counterintelligence agency) and the DGSE (French foreign intelligence). As I expected, they didn't cooperate. The DST head during Farewell's time, Marcel Chalet, then retired, refused to meet me; his deputy, Raymond Nart, was still in active service. Patrick Ferrant, Farewell's main handler, also refused.

Luckily, I was contacted by Eric Raynaud, who wanted to make a movie of my book Bonjour, Farewell and was working on the script. We met two years later and I offered him the opportunity to collaborate on a new edition, giving him some leads in France. Thus it was Eric who conducted the main investigation from the French side for the second edition. There were several reasons for this: It was six years after my first try at uncovering more information, so Raymond Nart and Patrick Ferrant had retired and were able to reveal more. And on top of that, a Russian journalist researching a book about espionage looks suspicious. Because Eric was French and had plenty of time and flexibility, he was able to convince Marcel Chalet and Jacques Prévost to speak about the case. Also he obtained comments about the Farewell cast from Richard Allen, President Reagan's first national security adviser. As a result of Eric's work, our book on Farewell's case became much more consistent from an international perspective.

Q: Because Vetrov is viewed as a traitor in Russia, you initially published your book in France rather than your home country. The Russian government forbade filming of the screenplay in Moscow, and two Russian actors bowed out of the lead role because of social and political pressure. Did you ever consider not publishing the book because of the social taboos?

SK: No. I wrote the first version of my book in 1995 to 1996, when many more doors, including those inside the KGB, were, if not open, at least not shut in your face. My first edition was an accurate reporting of facts, without any political allegations. What could they have objected to? For the second version, I contacted some people I couldn't get to before or of whose existence I had been unaware. I had a long interview with Vladimir Kryuchkov, the former head of the Soviet Union's Foreign Intelligence and later on of the whole KGB; Igor Prelin, former operative of internal counterintelligence dealing with Soviet intelligence officers; Valery Rechenski, who was Farewell's inmate in prison; and so on. All these people were much more at ease talking about the case the second time around because many of the officials involved had died, and because it looked more like pure history. My reason for not publishing my book in Russia was ultimately out of consideration for Farewell's family. His widow and son helped me a great deal in reconstructing his life, and I didn't want their acquaintances pointing and whispering about them after having read this book. In Russia, Farewell is not considered a hero, even if his work objectively helped bring about the end of the Communist regime.

Q: While conducting background research for his screenplay, Eric Raynaud uncovered new information that was used to expand the book. Is there one new detail he came across that you found particularly enlightening?

SK: Eric's information helped give the book a more consistent French point of view; forced me to modify some of my initial conclusions, which were probably too critical; and helped me to better see the international dimensions of the case. However, the information that was the most exciting to me was the relationship and conversations between Farewell and Patrick Ferrant. That was a huge contribution from Eric's side.

Q: In your opinion, what makes this account of Agent Farewell "the greatest spy story of the 20th century"? What will stick with readers?

SK: I'm convinced that Farewell's aims to destroy the KGB had a much greater impact than even he anticipated. The information he handed over to the West completely changed Western countries' view of the Soviet Union. They thought they could maintain a balance of power with the USSR through peaceful competition. But upon learning of the KGB's proficiency in stealing global technological secrets, they realized this wouldn't work. Whereas Carter and Nixon were partisans of détente, President Reagan didn't see things the same way. He wanted to defeat Communism, and Farewell gave him one of the most important arguments for this stance. But more simply, on a human level, Farewell is a fascinating story of an ordinary man who found himself in the right place at the right time and became an actor in making history.

Click on thumbnails for larger images

The only childhood photograph of Vetrov (left). Although a little shy in front of the camera, the boy has an inquiring look compared to his companion.
Teenage Vetrov (right) with a teammate. A talented sprinter, he was considered an Olympic hopeful.
Gifted intellectually, Vetrov was admitted to the prestigious Bauman Institute, Russia's leading engineering school.

The typical portrait of a secret agent. This picture was taken when Vetrov was a student at KGB School #101.
Vetrov in Canada, having a friendly chat with a Soviet colleague over bourbon. But not a word about work: The men knew they were being watched closely by Canadian counterintelligence.
The last known photo of Vladimir Ippolitovich Vetrov, taken in Lefortovo Prison, Moscow.


"The reader of this wonderful book from Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud is in for a treat: an introduction into what President Reagan described as the most significant spy story of the last century...[an] exciting voyage into the murky world of espionage and counterespionage." – Richard V. Allen, United States National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan

“Vetrov is 007’s opposite: a shambolic bear of a man, albeit with the requisite indestructible liver (and penchant for a basement quickie with the secretary).” – The Sunday Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 446 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611090261
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611090260
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on July 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Vladimir Vetrov was asked by his French contact, Patrick Ferrant what would happen to them if they were caught, Vladimir also known as Volodia replied, "For me it will be a bullet in the back of the head; for you, a stupid accident, with your wife; a truck perhaps, or an unfortunate fall on the subway track in front of an oncoming train" (quoted from page 167). This book is about the life story of Vladimir Vetrov, a KGB intelligence officer who voluntarily became a double agent working for the French, through their agency called DST, which in some respects resembled the American FBI. The DST did not normally engage in foreign activity of this kind but recognizing the significance of the offer, they proceeded with caution. To their surprise and amazement, the quality of the information passed on by Volodia was priceless. It contained some of the most highly damaging information that the Soviets had obtained via espionage about Western defense systems and technology related to the military/industrial complex. Volodia's reasons for becoming a double agent are examined in this book and his life story is told from his family origins to his successful placement into the most presitigious engineering University in Moscow and how he managed to become a KGB intelligence officer in the PGU (also called the First Chief Directorate). The authors interviewed significant people in Volodia's life, his wife Svetlana, his son, Vladik, his good friends, many French witnesses to these events and many coworkers, along with examining KGB secret archival information from that time which has since become available to the public.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Farewell is an interesting book loaded with detail and informed speculation about the activities of a disgruntled KGB officer who was determined to do damage to the organization and officials who, in his view, shunted him aside and prevented him from attaining a positiion of prominence and deserved affluence. During the first two years of the 1980's, Lt.Col. Vladimir Vetrov copied, photographed, and passed on to the West truly massive amounts of evidence that Farewell's authors, Kostin and Raynaud, present as demonstrating the near-total reliance of the Soviet Union on espionage rather than its own research and development to maintain parity in the arms race that characterized the long Cold War from the end of WW II until the collapse of Eastern Europe's multi-state edifice of communism in 1989.

Contrary to what a casual observer unfamiliar with the case might imagine, Vetrov did not work through the American CIA, the British MI6, or any other well developed western intelligence organization. Instead, Vetrov cleverly contacted the French, who at the time had no intelligence operatives in the Soviet Uniion. With an added touch of irony, while working as a KGB officer in France, Vetrov made his initial overtures to the French DST (Directorate of Territorial Surveillance), an internal counter-intelligence organization roughly comparable to the FBI. The DST had neither the experience nor the legally mandated authority to handle foreign agents in intelligence gathering. However, when the first documents provided by Vetrov were brought to the attention of the newly elected French President, Francois Mitterand, he supported the DST in its efforts to continue with Operation Farewell.
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P. 83 "The communist regime was in a visible state of slow decomposition. ....In addition to the external erosion, the inside was rotting away since, as already mentioned, the PGU officers recruited in the seventies were vastly inferior to the generation of the sixties." A WWII hero asks, "Is this what I went to war for?"

P. 145 The Defense Minister in Mitterand's French government was a Soviet spy. Even though communists were ministers in the government, Reagan changed his mind about Mitterand when Mitterand provided the US with lists of spies and collaborators sending NATO and technological plans to the KGB.

P168 "What Vetrov meant was that, through corruption and nepotism, totally inept and incompetent individuals were holding very highly responsible positions with the regime, and in a world where nuclear weapons kept multiplying, the situation could become dangerous."

P. 169 Beginning in 1981 Andropov and Ustinov (the next two leaders of the USSR) believed the US would start WWIII.
"When Ferrant brought it up, Vetrov simple explained that at the KGB the shooting of the pope was a subject of joking at the expense of the Bulgarians, the main suspects in this affair. On a more serious note, he told Ferrant that there had been a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs way before the assassinate attempt. Gromyko himself had confided to the Warsaw Pact member representatives that the problem with the pope would be soon taken care of."
"Vetrov felt, in the long run, stealing scientific and technical secrets could only come back to haunt the instigator. When we need a fastener for one of our rockets, our research organizations don't even ask themselves what would be the best type but wonder which workshop in Cape Canaveral would have it.
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