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The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB Paperback – September 5, 1999
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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 --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
"Anybody who was a Soviet agent from '85 or earlier can never sleep comforable again." -- David Major, fomer FBI Counterintelligence Agent, ABC News
"It's now obvious that all these accusations thrown at the KGB over the period of time have now found confirmation in real archive documents, and this is important. They are not rumors. They are not gossip, not feeble recollections of the past. They are based on classified top secrets of the KGB." -- Oleg Kalugin, former KGB General, ABC News
"Stranger than fiction...Aficionados of espionage will be rummaging through this enormously detailed book for years." -- The New Republic
"The Mitrohkin files, which the British considered reliable enough to share with the C.I.A. and F.B.I. have offered Western intelligence and law enforcement officials a treasure trove of historical information about K.G.B. operations around the world." -- The New York Times
"The book is astounding...Every page brims with the plots for a dozen movies and Robert Ludlum thrillers. Thanks to what they have done, no history of the last half of the Cold War can be written the same again." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The material contains incredible detail on some major spy cases." -- Paul Redmond, former CIA Counter-intelligence Chief, ABC News
"[D]eliciously erudite." -- William Safire, New York Times Sunday Magazine
"[Mitrokhin] is really making a massive contribution to our understanding of Soviet activities going back a very long time, not only about espionage and intelligence collection, but also covert action." -- John Martin, former Justice Department prosecutor, ABC News
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That being said, for anyone interested in studying intelligence or the Soviet Union, this book is a must read. The author successfully promotes the claim that the KGB and the Soviet Security Apparatus was much more crucial to the survival and promotion of the Soviet State than recent experts on the Soviet Union have claimed. He does this by tracing the history of the Soviet Intelligence from the Bolshevik revolution until the dissolution of the Soviet State in 1991. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the early history of the KGB which is mostly unknown to students of the Cold War. The KGB from the 1920s until the mid 1950s and early 1960s was perhaps the most successful intelligence agency agency of its time. Achieving high level penetrations of government institutions in almost every western country, while at the same time assassinating and terrorizing opponents of the Soviet State both domestic and abroad. The earlier successes of the KGB did much to enhance the reputation of the KGB as the brutal and and brilliant intelligence service that it is often portrayed as in today's popular culture. The TV show The Americans as well as recent movies such as Salt are current examples of the KGB's mythical status in popular culture. Despite the KGB's early successes the author portrays the KGB as much less efficient than the official histories of the KGB and its successor agency, The SVR, would suggest. For all the KGB's success western intelligence agencies, particular the agencies of the United States and Great Britain, had largely leveled the playing field by the 1960s. The KGB collected immense amounts of intelligence, yet often failed to produce objective analysis of the intelligence it collected due to fears of subverting the widely held beliefs and biases of senior party officials. The KGB also spend enormous amount of time and effort countering ideological subversion from dissidents in the Soviet Union, including Jehovah's witnesses, members of the protest movement Solidarity, and prominent intellectuals critical of the Soviet State. The author suggests that the pursuit of individuals who did not prove a serious threat to the Soviet State was a waste of time and resources. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the book was the ingenious methods soviet intelligence used to convince individuals in positions of power to spy or work for the Soviet Union. Threats of violence, sexual blackmail, harassment, "false flag" operations, and even love from spouses who were KGB officers were used to compromise and convince intelligence targets. In some ways the book could even be considered a manual of how the KGB compromised and recruited intelligence targets. The ruthlessness of KGB blackmail operations reached the point where targets sometimes committed suicide to escape the clutches of the KGB.For anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union and the methods of the KGB this book is essential to understanding the role and function of the KGB in the Soviet Union.
Andrew wends his way through the history of Soviet spycraft in chronological order, from the days of the revolutionary Cheka to the (almost) modern day. Every step of the way is fascinating and eye-opening from a historical perspective, especially if you -- like me -- wrongly assumed that actual Soviet cloak-and-dagger espionage in the U.S. was limited and rare.
But if The Sword and the Shield reveals that Soviet espionage on U.S. soil was much more common that most people believe, it also reveals that the reality is a lot less romantic and more prosaic than you might have imagined. Interesting characters and motivations are few and far between -- most of the spies we encounter work for money, youthful beliefs, or simply as a career. And while there are dead drops, seductions, secret meetings, and assassinations, most of the secret operations (even the really big ones) amount to patiently cultivating friendships and maybe asking for the occasional innocent-sounding favor.
And therein lies both the strength and the weakness of Andrew's book. The constant conspiracies of the espionage trade eventually become repetitive, as repetitive as they must have to the hapless Soviet operatives tasked with chasing down imaginary American conspiracies for the hundredth time.
If you want to know what Soviet espionage was really like, warts and all, this book is an eye-opening, fascinating, invaluable read. If you're looking for salacious details and thrilling developments, you might find yourself bailing out after a couple chapters.