Gevork Vartanian, who was placed in charge of Soviet-led security at the Tehran Conference in autumn 1943 at the age of 19, has died. Under his code-name “Amir”, Vartanian previously had infiltrated a British-run language school in Tehran which was recruiting agents for Soviet Central Asia, and passed on all details of future spies to his handlers.
For the Conference, Roosevelt had been persuaded to reside within the Soviet compound rather make than a potentially risky commute between it and the US compound: thus presenting Soviets with an opportunity to eavesdrop on confidential US conversations.
A significant reason for Roosevelt having done so was being convinced by the Soviets that German intelligence had cracked US Navy codes, and learnt of the date and location for the Conference. A long-range commando mission was said to have been dispatched to assassinate him as well as Churchill and Stalin, only to be thwarted by the plucky teenage Vartanian.
In fact, Operation Long Jump, as the commando mission was code-named, had its inception less than two months before the Conference date. The haste in planning and style-over-substance is suggested by the decision to appoint the relatively junior Otto Skorzeny to lead the mission, a scant few weeks after his having enjoyed the limelight of the successful liberation of Mussolini from house arrest in Gran Sasso with Operation Eiche in July 1943.
Skorzeny’s team was deposited on the Caspian shore, and left to traverse Iran. Although Vartanian had been searching-out German agents and informants in Iran since he was 16 – having been recruited by his father, also in Soviet military intelligence – details of the plan first came to light when more experienced agent, Nikolai Kuznetsov achieved the relatively easy task of getting SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hans von Ortel drunk and talkative about commandos being trained in Copenhagen.
Once Skorzeny’s team realized they were under surveillance by Vartanian – long before Tehran – they radioed their operators that the mission was being aborted.
Just as he had been recruited by his father, he recruited his wife, Goar to act as an agent. In later years as they were placed with various KGB stations, they married and remarried as part of their cover.