Spies and Spy Agencies
Andrew, Christopher; Mitrokhin, Vasili, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB; 1999, Basic Books,
My first encounter with the KGB (Комитет государственной безопасности, or Committee for State Security) came a few days after we arrived in the Soviet Union. As a naval attaché, whose duty was to collect intelligence about the Soviet armed forces, the Red Fleet in particular, I was the target of surveillance whenever I left the embassy, particularly when we traveled around the USSR in the course of our duties.
I was accused several times by Soviet authorities of suspicious behavior, such as photographing “industrial sites”. Officers I was traveling with were apprehended with me in some instances. We were often photographed as we made our way around the USSR, and observed by agents following us on foot and in automobiles. In one case, in Evpatoriya on the Black Sea an agent hiding in a boat sitting on blocks high above us photographed us. In another, as I traveled on a Black Sea cruise with my boss, a U.S. Air Force Brigadier General, we were photographed by a group of Russians posing as a wedding party.
Visiting outside a Soviet heavy bomber factory in Irkutsk, Siberia with a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, KGB agents detained us briefly, then told us to leave the area.
Although they never did anything to us that was even close to what they were capable of doing, I always had the most sincere respect for this huge organization.
A car full of KGB “goons” often followed us wherever we went, in Moscow or in any city or town we visited in the Soviet Union. They attempted to prevent us visiting places where we might observe Soviet ships, or aircraft or military vehicles and organizations. They sometimes had attractive women approach our officers and try to involve them in “honey traps”. Sometimes our officers would be trapped somewhere and beaten. Often the beating would simply be a reprisal for a beating that a Soviet diplomat had suffered in the U.S.
I expect everyone has a picture of the KGB, but the book I have just read filled in the picture for me—tremendously.
Christopher Andrew wrote this book, based upon huge cases of KGB archives carefully gathered by Vasili Mitrokhin, from 1972 to his retirement in 1984.
Васи́лий Ники́тич Митро́хин; ( March 3, 1922 – January 23, 2004)
Mitrokhin was born in Yurasovo, (Ryazanskaya Oblast’) central Russia (140 miles SE of Moscow) in 1922. He began work as a foreign intelligence officer for the MGB (Ministry of State Security) in 1948. The MGB later became the KGB (Committee for State Security). He was actively involved in all the secret activity in an organization answering to the demands of the General Secretary, Josef Stalin. He was ordered to investigate “The Doctors’ Plot” in January, 1953. This “plot” was a manufactured anti-semitic scheme against Zionists. Then, Stalin died in March of 1953, and that began a fight to see who would replace him. Nikita Khrushchev was one of the contenders, and so was Lavrenty Beria, long-term head of the KGB.
Mitrokhin was on hand to watch all the manipulation behind the scenes as Beria fell from grace and became “an enemy of the people”, executed in December of 1953.
As the years rolled on Mitrokhin traveled outside the USSR enough to learn about the outside world, and to hear what that world was saying about his country. He was also a reader of Russian literature, and admired the Kirov ballet in Leningrad. When he heard about how the KGB sent agents to maim a ballet star who had defected to the west, he was starting to get disillusioned with all that was happening around him.
About that time, in 1956, Khrushchev made his famous speech discrediting Stalin and blaming him for the country’s failings. The KGB transferred Mitrokhin from his intelligence collection duties to those of handling the KGB Archives.
Mitrokhin then was in position to see every secret, every message that was sent to be filed in the archives. He was able to read the messages and reports all the way back to the days of the Cheka, after the Revolution in 1918. And he was able to read the top secret files of Lenin and all that he did when thousands of Russians were being exterminated. His documents revealed torture like in Kharkov when prisoners’ skin was slowly peeled from their hands to make “gloves”, in Veronezh prisoners were rolled around in barrels studded with nails, in Poltava, priests were impaled, and in Odessa White officers were strapped to boards and fed into a furnace. In Kiev, prisoners had cages with rats in them strapped to their bodies; the cages were heated and the rats ate into the prisoners’ intestines.
Mitrokhin’s archives clarify the fact that the terrors attributed to “Stalinism” began with Lenin: The infallible leader, the one-party state, the ubiquitous security service, and the ring of concentration camps and prisons to terrorize opponents.
In the years of Lenin and Stalin western countries had little or no intelligence collection organizations, and certainly no “active measures”, but the Soviets always thought they were doing the same things they were.
There were always campaigns to discredit and disown various long-term supporters and helpers. The long-running campaign to track down Trotsky and all his supporters, ended with his assassination in Mexico in 1940.
Mitrokhin’s picture of Yuri Andropov began when he was Soviet Ambassador to Hungary. Andropov brutally suppressed the 1956 uprising, with hangings and shootings. The Hungarians today remember him as “The Butcher of Budapest”. Andropov went on to become head of the KGB until 1982, when, upon the death of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, he took his place.
I was in Moscow when Brezhnev died, and it was startling for us Americans to see how the government ordered soldiers to station themselves all over Moscow, in case someone should try to organize a demonstration or perhaps a coup. In spite of the tight control the government kept over the people, they were obviously always on the alert for trouble.
President Vladimir Putin in 2004, on the 90th anniversary of Andropov’s birth, dedicated a new intelligence school to his old boss, Andropov. He also began several scholarships for students wanting to train in the intelligence field in the name of Andropov.
Mitrokhin was stationed in East Germany during the “Prague Spring” of 1968, when the Soviets forcefully suppressed an anti-communist uprising in Czechoslovakia, and he saw how brutally the USSR reacted to that, and he read all the plans for further actions, if needed. Bit by bit, he was growing more disillusioned with his country.
In 1972, part of the KGB was transferred from the Lubyanka Prison in Dzerzhinsky Square to Yasenovo, southeast of the Kremlin, out beyond the Ring Road. By this time Mitrokhin found himself “a loner”, seeing the plight of dissidents, hearing more foreign news broadcasts, and exposed to the whole secret history of this communist state. Operating from offices in both Lubyanka and Yasenovo, he was able to handle hundreds of thousands of documents, and he began to memorize some and then go home and transcribe them. Then, when he saw that was too slow, he would make notes and crumple them up and throw them in the basket to be destroyed at the end of the day—but he would conceal them in his shoes and take them home.
Mitrokhin had a dacha outside of Moscow and he took the documents there and kept them in an old butter churn, which he concealed beneath the floorboards. As time went on, and no one seemed to pay attention, he began to bring out more and more documents. He concealed them all under the floorboards of his dacha. Finally, in 1984, he retired, but he still didn’t know what he was going to do with all these documents.
Finally, in 1991, Mitrokhin traveled to Riga, Latvia and went to the American Embassy there, showing some of his documents to CIA officers. They did not believe he was credible and turned him away. He then went to the British Embassy in Riga, and there a young diplomat listened and looked, and began the process of welcoming him to the West. A month later MI6 agents in Moscow retrieved the 25,000 documents Mitrokhin had stashed under the dacha, and shortly later he and his family arrived in Riga, Latvia, en route the United Kingdom and their new home.
Over the decades since the Russian Revolution, various writers have detailed the grisly details of the running of the new Soviet Union. Our various intelligence collection services have added to this picture. The documents Mitrokhin provided confirmed suppositions and suspicions in thousands of different cases, they filled many gaps, and as our FBI later said, this was “the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source".
The files confirmed what we had known about the leaders of the Soviet Union. Stalin was a brutal, heartless villain who was so suspicious that he would not believe his own intelligence reports. The Soviets went to great efforts to gather spies in the West; bright, well-educated men and women from the best families and best colleges could not wait to be a part of the dream of a Communist state. These men, like the “Cambridge Five” of Kim Philby,
Donald Duart Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, are all identified with their secret KGB work-names.
These men earned positions in His Majesty’s government during World War II, and passed loads of intelligence to their KGB handlers. Much of what they provided was not used, as was crucial intelligence provided the Soviets from other sources, because Stalin would not believe that it was valid. His psychotically suspicious nature insulated him from some of the most valuable intelligence, including the warnings that Hitler was planning to turn on his so-called “ally” in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and attack the USSR.
Kim Philby’s story was particularly poignant. After a life as a Soviet spy, stealing secrets from the British and Americans, while posted in various countries for the U.K., he finally defected to the USSR, and turned into a hopeless drunk in Moscow. He recovered from that somewhat to conduct seminars to prepare young Russians for learning to adapt to English society, and finally died in Moscow in 1988, a sad, lonely life.
According to these KGB records, an agent could be honest, hard-working and loyal, and if his super paranoid superiors woke up on the wrong side of the bed, he could be stripped of his assignment, sent to prison, or to a camp in Siberia, or simply shot.
When people up and down the chain of command were denouncing each other, you might feel the need to denounce someone yourself, pre-emptively. It might save you, or you could get killed anyway.
One of the most remarkable pieces in Sword and Shield was the unveiling of Melita Norwood, who at time of publication of this book in 1999, was 87 years old. She had fallen in love with the idea of Communism and the Workers’ Paradise in the 1930s, and became a Soviet spy in 1937. She got a job in a defense plant, and passed secret information to her handlers all during the war and into the Cold War. When she wasn’t spying, she carried signs to “Ban the Bomb”, opposing Trident submarines in the Royal and U.S. Navies, and handed out the Communist “Morning Star” in her neighborhood of Bexleyheath.
According to the Mitrokhin archives, half the USSR’s weapons are based upon U.S. designs; the KGB tapped Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s phone, and they had spies in place in almost all U.S. defense contractor facilities. Salvador Allende of Chile provided political intelligence to the USSR, and reorganized his own intelligence organization along lines suggested by the KGB. KGB financial support probably played a decisive role in Allende’s victory in 1970, according to author Christopher Andrew.
As the Cold War began, revelations in the United States showed America that the Soviet Union was on the march to conquer the world. It was a fearsome image as the Soviets threatened to put all of Europe under the communist yoke. Communists were everywhere in France, and the United Kingdom, under Conservative rule all during World War II, suddenly swerved left with a Labour government, and plans to nationalize major industries. America’s firm grasp of military supremacy with the atom bomb was slipping, as spies who had stolen American atomic bomb secrets started to emerge. There was Klaus Fuchs, and Alger Hiss, and then Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, 1953
Just at this time, 1950, a little-known Republican Senator from Wisconsin began to make headlines with his call for investigations. Joseph R. McCarthy claimed there were hundreds of communists in the State Department. Americans began to see communists everywhere. In 1951 President Truman said that Sen. McCarthy was the Kremlin’s No. 1 asset in the United States, and according to the authors, that turned out to be true. It took a while for Moscow Center to understand what was happening with the McCarthy Red Scare, but as they did, they began to strengthen their efforts to build up their illegal presence in the U.S.
In 1957 Rudolf Abel was caught and convicted of spying for the KGB in America and sentenced to 30 years. However, in 1962 he was freed in a prisoner exchange with the captured U-2 Pilot, Francis Gary Powers, in a dramatic exchange in West Berlin at the Glienecker Bridge.
The KGB and their Cuban counterparts supported the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, blackmailed various western politicians, spread false information regarding the Kennedy assassination, attempted to incriminate E. Howard Hunt with Lee Harvey Oswald, spread rumors that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a homosexual, and attempted to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr. by placing publications portraying him as an “Uncle Tom”, receiving government subsidies. They stirred up racial tension in the U.S. by mailing bogus letters from the Ku Klux Klan, placing an explosive package in “the Negro section of New York (Operation Pandora)” and by spreading conspiracy theories that M.L. King Jr.’s assassination had been planned by the U.S. government.
The KGB and their Rumanian counterpart established close ties with PLO leader Yassir Arafat, providing money and secret training for PLO guerrillas. Most arms supplied to the Palestinians were handled through Wadie Haddad of the PFLP, who stayed in a KGB dacha during his visits to Moscow. Haddad and Carlos the Jackal organized the 1975 attack on the OPEC Conference in Vienna, and Haddad organized the highjacking in Entebbe in 1976, as well as several other PLO highjackings.
This book illustrated over and over how people in the west have been taken in by the allure of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, “the Workers’ Paradise”, or the glorious idea of Communism. Some gave up everything to join the cause, even spying for the USSR, and dying for it. The KGB was absolutely essential to the totalitarian nation that was the Soviet Union, to protect it, and to terrorize its citizens and anyone who came too near.
Could modern Russia return to the ways of the Soviet Union? Time will tell.
Wed. Feb. 25, 2015: Spies and spy agencies [Proposed by Janos Posfai] Intriguing topic, plenty of connections to recent developments (Putin's rise,
WikiLeaks, Snowden). Read a book and tell us about any part of the intriguing world of spies, spy agencies or espionage. Think MI-5, KGB, Stasi, Mossad, Mata Hari, Kim Philby, National Security Agency, CIA….
Intriguing topic, plenty of connections to recent developments (Putin's rise,WikiLeaks, Snowden). Read a book and tell us about any part of the intriguing world of spies, spy agencies or espionage. Think MI-5, KGB, Stasi, Mossad, Mata Hari, Kim Philby, National Security
Wed. Mar. 25, 2015: Immigration to America [Proposed by Richard Verrengia] They came in waves. First English Puritans, then English and French Catholics, followed by Germans, and French from Canada, Africans as slaves to work on farms and cultivate cotton, then French, Irish, Italians, and Jews to work in the mills and start their own businesses, and Scandinavians and Italians to work in the quarries, and Italians and Portuguese to build strong fishing fleets. Then the Mexicans, to harvest the crops. Then there were the Chinese, to build railroads, and Japanese to work on farms. They fled their home countries to escape religious persecution, or to earn a living wage, or to escape famine or war. Now there are all kinds of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Arabs, Africans, Iranians, Indians, Pakistani and Vietnamese. Read a book about any part of this amazing history, or home in on a single group.
Wed., Apr. 29, 2015 History of American Music [Proposed by Sam] The richness of America's musical life. American music is an intricate tapestry of many cultures, with wide array of influences from Native, European, African, Asian, and other sources. Growth and influence of popular music, including film and stage music, jazz, rock, and immigrant, folk, and regional music.
Wed. May 27, 2015: The History of Inequality. Wealth and Poverty, Property Ownership [Proposed by Rick Heuser] Look at the 18th century in Europe-- the Czars and the Serfs; the King of France and the sans-culottes; The Soviets preached of a land of equality-- how did that work for them? How have societies dealt with inequality through the centuries?
Wed. June 24, 2015: The Future of Europe [Proposed by Rick Heuser] Based upon what you know, and what you learn, where is Europe going? Will it soon be wrapped up in one tight ball, with no borders, everyone using the same Euro (€)? What about all the guest workers, unassimilated laborers from other continents? What about the growing numbers of Muslims?
Wed. July 29, 2015: History of the American Family. [Proposed by Richard Verrengia] How has the American family changed since Pilgrim days?
Wed. Aug. 26, 2015: The History of Food in America. [Proposed by Janos Posfai] Let’s explore what Americans have considered a square meal, starting with Native Americans (Indians), and including Pilgrims, then people arriving from other parts and classes of England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy, Russia, African slaves, China; look at regional foods from the South, New England, the West, Midwest.
Wed. Sep. 30, 2015: Charismatic leaders in History. [Proposed by Janos Posfai] What were the keys to Hitler’s, Churchill's, Mussolini's, FDR's successes? Keen perception of public moods? Oratory abilities? Character, firm ideology? Connecting to the people? How did they deploy their charisma? How could Napoleon manipulate the masses without TV ads? Why were people so perceptive to a madman in Germany? Intriguing and recurring questions.
Wed. Oct. 28, 2015: Show Trials in History. .[Proposed by Janos Posfai] Read how nations and leaders have used a well-publicized court trial to serve another need, like demonstrating power, making peace, deflecting responsibility, etc.
Examples: Trial of Socrates; Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms; Sacco Vanzetti; Nuremburg War Crimes Trials; Julius and Ethel Rosenburg; Trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu; Saddam Hussein in Iraq; Stalin’s NKVD show trials; Trials in Stalinist Hungary like Cardinal József Mindszenty, oil executives, L. Rajk.
Wed. Dec. 2, 2015: No meeting
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