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The Sword And The Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive And The Secret History Of The KGB Hardcover – September 23, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

In early 1992, a Russian man walked into the British embassy in a newly independent Baltic republic and asked to "speak to someone in authority." As he sipped his first cup of proper English tea, he handed over a small file of notes. Eight months later, the man, his family, and his enormous archive had been safely exfiltrated to Britain. When news that a KGB officer had defected with the names of hundreds of undercover agents leaked out in 1996, a spokesperson for the SVR (Russia's foreign intelligence service, heir of the KGB) said, "Hundreds of people! That just doesn't happen! Any defector could get the name of one, two, perhaps three agents--but not hundreds!"

Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin worked as chief archivist for the FCD, the foreign-intelligence arm of the KGB. Mitrokhin was responsible for checking and sealing approximately 300,000 files, allowing him unrestricted access to one of the world's most closely guarded archives. He had lost faith in the Soviet system over the years, and was especially disturbed by the KGB's systematic silencing of dissidents at home and abroad. Faced with tough choices--stay silent, resign, or undermine the system from within--Mitrokhin decided to compile a record of the foreign operations of the KGB. Every day for 12 years, he smuggled notes out of the archive. He started by hiding scraps of paper covered with miniscule handwriting in his shoes, but later wrote notes on ordinary office paper, which he took home in his pockets. He hid the notes under his mattress, and on weekends took them to his dacha, where he typed them and hid them in containers buried under the floor. When he escaped to Britain, his archive contained tens of thousands of pages of notes.

In 1995, Mitrokhin, by then a British citizen, contacted Christopher Andrew (For the President's Eyes Only), head of the faculty of history at Cambridge University and one of the world's foremost historians of international intelligence. Andrew was allowed to examine the archive Mitrokhin created "to ensure that the truth was not forgotten, that posterity might some day come to know of it." The Sword and the Shield is the earthshaking result. The book details the KGB's foreign-intelligence operations, most notably those aimed at Great Britain and the "Main Adversary"--the United States. In the 700-page book, Andrew reveals operations aimed at discrediting high-profile Americans, from Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan; secret arms caches still hidden--and boobytrapped--throughout the West; disinformation efforts, including forging a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to implicate the CIA in the assassination of JFK; attempts to stir up racial tensions in the U.S. by sending hate mail and even bombs; and the existence of deep-cover agents in North America and Europe--some of whom were effectively "outed" when the book was published.

Mitrokhin's detailed notes are well served by Andrew, who writes forcefully and clearly. The Sword and the Shield represents a remarkable intelligence coup--one that will have serious repercussions for years to come. As Andrew notes, "No one who spied for the Soviet Union at any period between the October Revolution and the eve of the Gorbachev era can now be confident that his or her secrets are still secure." --Sunny Delaney


...a sweeping, densely documented history of the K.G.B. and its predecessor incarnations.... The overall impact of this volume is convincing, though none of the material will send historians scurrying to rewrite their books. -- The New York Times Book Review, Joseph E. Persico

The book is astounding.... Beyond being essential reading for students of international affairs, Andrew and Mitrokhin's book belongs on the shelves of anyone who wishes to plumb the depths of intrigue and indeed evil in the modern world. -- The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Timothy Naftali

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (September 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003105
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Andrew is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and Chair of the Faculty of History at Cambridge University.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 99 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a large body of work containing an enormous amount of information. The reason for the 4 stars is that I just don't feel that all the information from the KGB files can be taken without any skepticism at all. This is not really harsh criticism just an acknowledgement that with the flood of documents coming from the former Soviet Union and it's Republics, some prudent skepticism is called for. It also is not a comment on Mr. Mitrokhin, truth versus deception, disinformation, and lies, was part of the daily life in the Soviet Union. It is possible all his information is uncorrupted, but a bit of a jaundiced view is reasonably called for.
The book is interesting and loaded with information. I don't suggest this as a first book about the KGB because it reads more like a textbook; it is very meticulous to the point tedious in detail at times. If the subject is one you have some familiarity with, this volume could serve as an excellent reference work. If this were the first book you were to read on the topic, reaching the end would be challenging.
Vasily Nikitich Mitrokhin oversaw 300,000 files on an exhaustive list of prominent names in American History. If there was a person who had access to a library of information, Mr. Mitrokhin certainly qualifies. His willingness to remove information on a daily basis for years on end is both a testament to his courage, and an amazing period of luck.
The work is excellent in depth and breadth of material covered. It is not light reading as the subjects that are covered, or sometimes mentioned briefly, have been the topic of entire books.
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
From this book we learn of one of the most incredible stories to yet emerge from the history of the Cold War; the tale of this Russian defector who had laboriously hand-scribed an astonishing archive detailing the history of hundreds of thousands of secret KGB files. One is breathlessly swept along by two elements in this true story; first, by the tale of the defector himself, who calmly, deliberately and systematically copied the records of so many cases of surveillance, mistreatment, harassment, torture, and murder by KGB agents over the decades at great personal risk to himself and his family, and second, by the tales of horror these files contain.
The defector himself worked for decades as the chief archivist for the foreign intelligence division of the KGB. Part of his duties was to extensively check and then seal each of the hundreds of thousands of cases on file, which gave him unhindered access to all of the secrets of the decades of KGB activity. Of course, one has to ask oneself the most important question; why? Apparently the defector had long ago become badly disillusioned by the nature of the Soviet government and its ritualistic suppression of human rights, especially by its record of systematic silencing of both domestic and international dissidents. Faced with a series of decisions about what to do, he eventually drifted into copying the records as a quiet act of protest, soon the records, smuggled out in his clothing, pockets, inside his socks,shoes, or his underwear, soon grew to fantastic proportions.
The tales of KGB abuse and excess are horrifying to read about, staggering the imagination both in terms of the extent they reached, and also in terms of the absolute lunacy of much of it.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While not everything in the book is news, the fact that virtually ALL the names (minor and major), dates and actions since 1917 are present makes this book a very valuable treasure indeed. Yes, folks, it's all true - the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty of espionage, Alger Hiss was in fact a Communist agent, the vicious innuendos that have been launched against J. Edgar Hoover since his death did in fact have their origin in Moscow - and the Soviet archives made public since 1991 back it all up. Andrew does sometimes go into tedious detail, but this may be necessary for those without a rudimentary understanding of the history of Soviet espionage. (The section on the Cambridge Five is especially illuminating - I would also recommend "Degenerate Moderns" by E. Michael Jones to anyone who wishes to further study that subject.)
I especially agreed with Andrew's conclusion in that the collapse of the Soviet empire has revealed the traditional faultline between East and West that has existed since the division of the Roman Empire in the fourth century A.D., which culminated in 1054 with the Eastern Schism that shattered the unity of the Christian Church. The cultural and political differences between East and West have been almost 1700 years in the making and sadly will not disappear overnight.
My only complaint about the book is the surprisingly large number of typographical errors, particlularly in regard to foreign names; however, this is of minor importance and does not diminish the book's effectiveness. Hopefully that minor problem will be corrected in subsequent printings.
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