Spies do the darndest things

The recent mention of historian Kimmo Rentola reminded me of his 1997 book "Niin kylmää että polttaa - Kommunistit, Kekkonen ja Kreml 1947-1958" ("So Cold That It Burns - Communists, Kekkonen, and the Kreml 1947-1958"). Aside from giving a good overview of said triangle drama, the book contains numerous funny Cold War spy stories. A reader can't help but to get the impression that the main requirement for a Cold War era spy was a marked inability to keep one's mouth shut, whereas spy hunters were mainly chosen based on the fertility of their imaginations. (Admittedly, a part of it comes from the understandable fact that sources are best available in those cases were a spy got caught.)

Consider the story of Erkki Tynkkynen, a plumber and a spy. Tynkkynen was a Red orphan from Viipuri, who had spent his childhood in residential care, in jail, in a mental hospital, and in war. In the war he had seen "strange clay", a fact he reported to the Allied Control Commission on the advice of a comrade in the Finland-Soviet Union Society (SNS). One thing led to another and Tynkkynen found himself in Soviet Union receiving training in operating a radio. He was sent back to Finland to recruit civilian helpers, preferably doctors or clergymen. He found one possible contact, a carpenter. After operating for a year, things went wrong.

One time after he had sent a radio message, two men turned up at his house asking about problems with electricity. Tynkkynen got scared. He packed his radio equipment in two suitcases and buried them near the cemetery. Shortly afterwards he and the carpenter travelled to Helsinki to meet Tynkkynen's employers, who didn't show up. Tynkkynen got scared. He crossed the border to Sweden, where he was arrested. He confessed everything. The Swedes didn't tell the Finnish security police, however, as this happened during the time it was infested with Communists. When Tynkkynen was returned to Finland, no one asked him anything. He went to see his radio equipment, but it was gone. It had been found by a couple looking for a quiet place to do what couples do. The authorities had been informed, but the investigation went nowhere as the local police wasn't eager to cooperate with a Communist security police detective.

Later, when the security police was again in the hands of non-Communists, Tynkkynen popped in to its Tampere office to ask whether they knew about his activities. They eventually got around to asking their Swedish colleagues about him and now the Swedes were willing to share his confession. As the matter was sensitive, the police didn't arrest him - and in any case he was already in jail for theft. When Tynkkynen got out, he received a letter from his old employers inviting him back to Soviet Union. On his first try he was caught stealing near the border and sent back to jail. On his second try he succeeded in crossing over. The Soviets asked him some pointed questions. He confessed everything, for the second time. After four years in Siberia, he was returned to Finland. Upon his return the security police picked him up for questioning. He confessed everything, for the third time, and was rewarded with a four year prison stint.

Even when the Soviets picked someone better qualified to spy than Tynkkynen, loyalty was a problem. Tractor driver Leo Kellinsalmi, a Finnish-speaker from Murmansk, made a few successful postal runs into Finland and was picked for a bigger mission. He was given instructions on how to conduct himself in Finland: He should learn to eat with his left hand; luckily he already knew how to peel a potato. When in restaurants, he should either booze or eat, but not both. Finally he was sent to Vaasa to give a message to an operative whose radio had malfunctioned and to do some low-level surveillance himself. While carrying out his mission with less than perfect zeal - he never contacted the operative - he made friends, got a job, and even found a fiancee, a widow who didn't ask too many questions. In short, he quickly came to the conclusion that a worker in Finland lived much better than a farmer in the Kola Peninsula, so he decided to stay. Five years into his new life, he was arrested because his papers weren't in order and eventually confessed. He got two and a half years in prison, after which he stayed in Finland.

If the Soviet intelligence didn't always succeed, the Finnish security police sometimes also had trouble getting things right. For years they didn't know much about what the Communists were doing and what they knew could fit any number of theories. For example, a leading Communist in Ahlaiset travelled somewhere with a package and when he came back he no longer had the package. A detective deduced that the Communist was in fact running a secret post link to the Soviet Union. It was said that the Communist had written "a complete character study" of the municipal secretary. In Kemi a detective suspected that the fire department didn't arrive as quickly as it could and should in cases where the burning building belonged to a member of the bourgeoisie. The report elicited a laconic remark from the detective's supervisor: "Imagination may be involved."

Reports from low-level Communist informants could be hair-raising. In a Vuoksenniska railway construction site, a Communist had claimed that eight electric chairs had been sent from the United States to Greece "for executing workers". Apparently five of the damned machines had been ordered to Finland, too. In western Uusimaa it was rumoured that an old Red had raised volunteers for the North Korean military and that the son of a Communist family had found mysterious wealth - in other words, a peace address had been circulated and a young Communist had gotten a job in the Finland Soviet Union Society (SNS).

Regular police did valuable investigative work, too. In Kemi in 1959 a plan for conquering Northern Finland authored by none other than Hertta Kuusinen surfaced. On the other hand, a confidential police report carried the information that Kuusinen "is thought to be a member of the Communist Party party council". The report's confidentiality suggests that the information didn't come from the Communist newspaper in which such things were printed regularly. Poor Yrjö Leino, long after he had been ejected from the Communist inner circle, was reported to often visit Hyvinkää to booze with an old lady friend. One time the woman threw Leino out from her apartment, at which point he telephoned the Hyvinkää police department, announced that he was a former Minister of the Interior, and requested the police to go get his hat back, which they then did.

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