This article, submitted for the TUS anniversary article contest, gives some background on a notable spy during the Cold War era, while touching on a few elements of the type of espionage that took place in Metal Gear Solid 3.
Espionage is the cornerstone of the Metal Gear franchise. Whether playing as Solid Snake, Raiden or Big Boss, the player must remain unseen at all times. More often than not, the silence of one's footsteps is far more valuable an asset than the muzzle velocity of their sidearm. In addition to the immediacy of the mission, the player must also negotiate a wider world in which the "truth" is so often obscured behind indistinct references to Metal Gear history. History is vital to the Metal Gear series, as Solid Snake understood; "building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing." The history of Metal Gear was shaped within the reality of the Cold War, and the cases of real-life spies and double agents bear fascinating resemblance and importance to the fictional enterprise of Metal Gear.
Many protagonists played out the dangerous games of the Cold War, and whilst such hotspots as Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan may have made it to the TV screens of both East and West, the wider game was shaped in the shadows by such actors as the KGB, GRU, CIA and SIS, often faceless organisations, but whose impact on the international scene must not be underestimated. As in Metal Gear, the manipulation, twisting and concealment of the truth was the most dangerous weapon in their arsenal.
The danger of the spy game is emphasised deeply by the case of Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (1919-1963), a one-time agent of Soviet military intelligence (GRU) who defected to the West in 1960 and is credited as "the spy who saved the world" for his revelations concerning numbers of Soviet ICBMs and subsequent deployments in Cuba. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s there existed the belief within both the CIA and the US government of a "missile gap" with the Soviet Union, and one that was not in Washington's favour. Debriefings with Lt. Col. Penkovsky established that this conviction was nothing but a white lie, peddled by Khrushchev perhaps in order to provide psychological security in the face of a declining economy in relation to the United States and Western Europe. As Penkovsky revealed; "the Soviet Union is definitely not prepared at this time for war. Khrushchev is not going to fire any rockets." Such revelations shifted perceptions, and subsequently policy, within the Kennedy government. Despite the apparently offensive nature of Soviet behaviour in Cuba, the United States knew it was now negotiating from a position of strength.
Despite his best efforts, Penkovsky could not escape the dangerous game. His role and character was different in many ways from those of Solid Snake, Raiden and Big Boss, but he grappled with the same theme that befell all of Metal Gear's protagonists: the frightening lack of control over one's own destiny. The CIA (in the form of counter-intelligence chief James J. Angleton) for some time refused to believe that Penkovsky's defection was genuine, and failed to provide adequate provisions for his safety. Following close surveillance by the KGB, Penkovsky was arrested on October 22nd 1962, and charged with spying for the West. On May 11th 1963, the Supreme Court of the USSR passed the death sentence on him, and he was executed six days later. Although "the spy who saved the world" is an exaggeration, Penkovsky was arguably the most valuable source of human intelligence the CIA ever possessed.
In much the same way as the Philosopher's Legacy and the scientist Nikolai Sokolov set agencies, agents and governments against one another in Metal Gear Solid 3, so Penkovsky and his highly sensitive information became coveted by both the CIA and the KGB. In much the same way as Sokolov became afraid of his own creations and their destructive potential, Penkovsky became afraid of where Khrushchev's bullish and belligerent manner would lead the Soviet Union, and possibly the world. The two men bear little similarity to each other in terms of their jobs, but their reasons for action overlap somewhat, emphasising how much Metal Gear draws from history. The Penkovsky case also illustrates how reality can be as complex and unpredictable (if not more so) than the fiction which it gives birth to.
In the Metal Gear series, the protagonist would appear to have to wade through a pool of half-truths and lies to finally discover the truth on the other side. This theme is constant throughout Metal Gear, and was a significant part of the dangerous game of Cold War espionage. The Penkovsky case (despite the fact that it occurred at the high point of Cold War tension as did Metal Gear Solid 3) was little more than a drop in the bucket when set against a spy game which encompassed almost one half of the twentieth century. Every agent became caught in the game in one way or another, and personal principles were often subordinate to the goal of victory as it is in Metal Gear.
-- Article by Matt Malone, 16.10.2005