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Deadly Illusions: The KGB Orlov Dossier Reveals Stalin's Master Spy Hardcover – June 8, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Soviet master spy Alexander Orlov (1895-1973), who defected to the U.S. in 1952 to denounce Stalin's crimes, was eulogized in the U.S. Senate for helping America fight the Cold War. But this astonishing report--an unprecedented collaboration between British historian Costello and former KGB officer Tsarev, press consultant to the Russian Intelligence Service--persuasively argues that Orlov played a game of wits with the CIA and FBI, feeding them half-truths and trivialities while concealing the identities of former colleagues and Soviet agents he had recruited. Using a trove of declassified Russian intelligence files and FBI and CIA documents, the authors establish that Orlov masterminded the notorious Cambridge spy ring and the recruitment of British moles Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. They also reveal that KGB agents held secret meetings with Orlov in 1969 and 1971, inviting him to return to Moscow as a hero. This newsworthy book reads like a spy thriller. Photos.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing and persuasive argument that a celebrated Soviet turncoat duped the US when it gave him shelter from his stormy past. Drawing on still-secret KGB archives, Costello (Ten Days to Destiny, 1991, etc.) and Tsarev (a former Soviet state-security officer) relate the tale of Alexander Orlov, one of the highest- ranking operatives ever to defect from the USSR. A Byelorussian Jew, Orlov caught the attention of Feliks Dzerzhinsky (founder of the Soviet secret police) for his guerrilla activities during and after WW I. Orlov proved a natural spy and, according to his 17- volume Kremlin file, played a leading role in the creation of the UK's Cambridge network (Kim Philby et al.) as well as the Berlin section of the ``Red Orchestra,'' a band of underground agents whose feats helped determine the course of WW II and, early on, its cold war aftermath. Having run afoul of Stalin, however, Orlov fled Spain (where he had been posted as Rezidentura) in 1938 to escape assassination. Finding a safe haven in the US, he made a splash during the early 1950's with a sensational book on Stalin's crimes. Though he subsequently slipped out of the limelight, Orlov was reckoned a splendid catch by the intelligence officials and lawmakers who constantly debriefed him. But as Costello and Tsarev make clear, the former spy was more refugee than apostate, never betraying, for example, any of the 60-odd moles of whom he had personal knowledge--knowledge that kept KGB hit men at bay. On the evidence of his dossier, moreover, Orlov was considered a hero of the Soviet Union well before his death in 1973. Nor was he held in less esteem by America's establishment, which eulogized him in the Congressional Record. The stranger-than-fiction account of a master spy who lived to a ripe old age by playing both ends against the middle. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
At the same time, Orlov willingly carried out Stalin's ruinous, homicidal policies, especially during the civil war in Spain. The files provide plenty of proof that there he behaved like a colonial overlord, deciding matters of life and death without bothering with legal niceties. Not only was he instrumental in spiriting the country's gold reserves to the USSR in the midst of the fighting, he was directly involved in the murder of POUM leader Andrés Nin. Then in 1938, distrusted by Stalin, Orlov was ordered home. Knowing what likely awaited him, he and his family instead boarded a steamer and fled to Canada.
When they eventually arrived in America, they had taken enough money with them to survive for years without needing to find work. Back in Moscow, the Russians were left wondering about where he was, while the Americans were unclear about exactly who he was. When reserves started to run low after the war, Orlov decided to cash in by writing his memoirs, laboring over them for hours in Cleveland's White Memorial Library. While he refused to sell out his agents, including Philby and Maclean, to the Americans, or to claim that Stalin had once been an undercover agent for the tsarist secret police, there were other secrets he could make money on. He was quite prepared, for example, to reveal how Stalin had "murdered his way to power." (pg. 332)
Once the manuscript was finished, he started negotiations to have the work published. It must have been tempting to accept the deal offered by Max Eastman, who would do the translation from Russian into English and make all the other arrangements in exchange for a one-third share of the royalties. Orlov, who never lacked self-confidence, decided that the price was too steep, so he and his wife translated the manuscript themselves, with Orlov taking a secretarial course so he could learn to type. At one point they were reduced to a daily diet of corn flakes. In the end, his plan worked: "Life" magazine came through with an offer, and "The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes" was published to great success, such that they never had to worry about money again.
That book, as it turns out, took some liberties with the truth. Orlov's memoir is a "delicate balancing of truth and fiction" which mainly served to conceal his own complicity in the crimes described. (pg. 334) In essence, the accomplice presented himself as a victim.
Still, by the end of "Deadly Illusions," one comes to have a certain grudging respect for this man who outwitted both Stalin and J. Edgar Hoover, and who remained true to his own lights. Orlov made sure to keep his life insurance policy in effect by never revealing all he knew about Soviet agents still active in the West.
Even the partial revelations in Orlov's book were sufficient to make Hoover "look very foolish indeed," both crude and ineffective. (pg. 342) After all, Orlov had succeeded in evading the Bureau's attention for fourteen years before choosing to come forward on his own terms. Embarrassed by this, the FBI treated him so rudely it became a point of personal honor for him to refuse cooperation with them. Appearing before the US Congress, the wily old general set forth on one final adventure, which he pulled off in bravura fashion, as he managed to win the acclaim of the senators he was deceiving, giving up just enough to convince them he was being cooperative without surrendering anything essential. His strategy proved such a success that he earned the voluble praise of Senator Eastland, and was given US citizenship even though he had technically overstayed his original visa by many years.
Orlov was a spy who went into the cold and never returned. By keeping his promise to withhold his most vital secrets, he avoided the fate of Münzenberg, Krivitsky (assuming they did not commit suicide) and Trotsky. Eventually, Orlov came to be accepted by the Soviets not as a defector, much less a traitor, but as an escapee. They knew him for what they had trained him to be: "a thoroughgoing, if ruthless, professional." (pg. 300)
As the several reviews above have noted, this is the biography of Alexander Orlov, the pre-WWII Soviet foreign intelligence general whose flight from the reaches of the NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB during the early years of Stalin's regime) was broadly and mistakenly believed by the Americans (and most Soviets) to be a genuine defection. Costello and Tsarev, through reference to genuine KGB archives, convincingly show that belief to be completely incorrect, as Orlov deceived the West for many years.
This book, as it states on the cover, was the first history of espionage by a Western author actually based upon KGB files. Discussions from an earlier document request to the KGB by Costello led to a surprising agreement for him to co-author this book with his KGB press office contact, Oleg Tsarev, shortly before the failed coup attempt and fall of the Soviet Union. Tsarev was given wide latitude in utilizing and disseminating information from the KGB files on Orlov and his various colleagues and agents. Furthermore, Costello takes academic-level care to document accurately all sources for all facts and assertions in this book, a welcome contrast with the cursory, sometimes conclusory books by other British so-called "historians" of espionage such as West, Knightly and Pincher.
The primary discovery made by the authors was that while Orlov did indeed flee to the U.S. with his family, he never genuinely defected. In 1938 during the height of the purges within the Soviet military and intelligence services, Orlov received cryptic instructions to rendezvous with another NKVD officer on a ship. He failed to keep that meeting, knowing it to be a trap to return him to Moscow for execution and fled to North America. Upon arrival in Canada, Orlov wrote to Stalin and NKVD chief Yehzov and set forth a simple blackmail to insure that he did not suffer the fate of Ignace Reiss, an NKVD deserter caught by his former service's assasination squads. Orlov listed the various operations he had planned or worked on, including political assasinations and kidnapping, the theft of the Spanish gold reserves to Moscow and the development of spy networks throughout Europe (along with a list of sixty Soviet agents) with the implied promise that this information would be released to Western intelligence services if he were assasinated or kidnapped. Both the Soviets and Orlov kept to their bargains.
Orlov was able to stay hidden in the U.S. for fourteen years before immigration problems and his release of a book condemning Stalin brought Orlov to the attention of the FBI and CIA in the early 1950's. Although interrogated extensively by American intelligence, he substantially downplayed his seniority, participation and knowledge of NKVD activities and never disclosed the names of dozens of Soviet agents who had infiltrated into Western governments, keeping loyal to communism to the end. The authors state that the CIA had substantial doubts about the true extent of knowledge that Orlov was disclosing, but somehow were never able to bring enough pressure upon him to divulge that information.
The major disappointment of this book (through no fault of the authors) is that aside from the revelation that Orlov deceived the U.S. for so many years, that there are no other major revelations. The authors do reveal many significant previously unknown details from KGB files concerning Orlov's involvement in the founding of the Cambridge spy ring (including the fact that Philby was the "first man' of the ring), the founding of the Rote Kapelle and his involvement in the Spanish Civil War as the NKVD resident and senior Soviet officer in the country. However, the Russian Intelligence Service refused to disclose any facts regarding agent names or missions that were never discovered by Western intelligence services, leaving readers impatient to know the identities of those sixty agents whose names were redacted from copies made from KGB files, particularly the completely undiscovered KGB Oxford spy ring. Hopefully, in not too many further years, the need to protect the individuals involved and operational strategies will no longer exist and the RIS will open up all of the KGB files.
Deadly Illusions is a very interesting history of Orlov and soviet foreign intelligence operations, but readers expecting it to read like a Forsyth spy novel will be disappointed; it is not a difficult read, but not at all a quick one. The faults of this book are minor: Costello has a sometimes annoying habit of diverting the reader on tangents that, while not uninteresting, are not logically and relevantly tied to the preceding text. I also felt that the authors downplayed Orlov's role in political terrorism too much; aside from a somewhat limited description of Orlov's involvement in the NKVD assasination of Andres Nin, the leader of the anti-Soviet Spanish Republican faction POUM, the authors failed to emphasize Orlov's real role in establishing Soviet dominance of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, via terrorism. Finally, I found Costello's admission of error with regard the main theory of his previous book Mask of Treachery (in which he claimed that Anthony Blunt was the "first man" of the Cambridge ring - see my Amazon.com review of Mask of Treachery) to be rather sparse and barely adequate.
Overall, this is an extremely significant book that should be part of any espionage historian's library.