New Evidence on Soviet Foreign Intelligence

Jan 15, 2005

A.I. Kolpakidi, D.P. Prokhorov, Vneshnaya razvedka Rossii. (‘The Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia') Saint Petersburg, Moscow, 2001. 511pp. ISBN 5-7654-1408-7; ISBN 5-224-02406-4

A.I. Kokurin, N.V. Petrov (eds.), Lubyanka: VChK-OGPU-NKVD-NKGB-MGB-MVD-KGB 1917-1991. Spravochnik. (‘Lubyanka: VChK-OGPU-NKVD-NKGB-MGB-MVD-KGB. Reference Book.'), Moscow, 2003. 766pp. ISBN 5-85646-109-6

The authors of Vneshnaya razvedka Rossii have published extensively, as far as I am aware only in Russian, on the history of the Russian and Soviet intelligence and security services. Their books tend to be popular histories which are not always well-sourced and they suffer sometimes from strange omissions on which more later. The present book by Kolpakidi and Prokhorov, however, contains much useful information on the history of Soviet and Russian intelligence in the years 1918-2000, mainly in the form of biographical entries. Surveys of the different names of the intelligence service of the USSR and Russia after 1991 and of the leaders of the service, all in chronological order, are very welcome sections of the book. The largest section, covering several hundred pages, consists of biographical entries of chiefs, leading personnel and officers of the intelligence service, i.e. the well-known First Chief Directorate (FCD) of the KGB and its predecessors which were a part of the other ‘organs of state security' of the Soviet state, such as the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and MGB. A fairly large section of about a hundred pages is also dedicated to ‘agents of foreign intelligence', where well-known agents like Philby, Maclean and the others of the ‘Cambridge Five' are treated in articles of up to three pages approximately, but also many lesser known agents are covered though usually not in that many pages. Among the latter category is the Gestapo officer Willy Lehmann, who during his career had the codenames ‘A-201' and ‘Breitenbach' (Kolpakidi & Prokhorov, pp. 353-354). According to the authors, Lehmann, who worked at the counterintelligence department of the Berlin police since the beginning of the 1920s, offered his services to Soviet intelligence in September 1929 for financial reasons. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Lehmann was transferred to the Gestapo on the recommendation of the then prime minister of Prussia Hermann Goering and he joined the SS in May 1934. He played a part in the notorious ‘Night of the Long Knives' in June of that year, when SA leader Ernst Röhm and several other high German officials were killed on orders of Hitler. When Soviet intelligence personnel had to leave Germany after the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, according to Kolpakidi and Prokhorov, the NKVD lost contact with Willy Lehmann. Apparently, he was arrested by the Gestapo at some point during the war and subsequently executed. Among the Soviet intelligence officers who were in contact with Lehmann during the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s were such well-known figures as Vasily Zarubin (1894-1972), who was to become the NKVD rezident in the US during the Second World War, and Alexander Korotkov (1909-1961), who, apart from dealing with Lehmann, was in 1940-1941 in Berlin in personal contact with several members of the important Soviet intelligence network the Rote Kapelle (‘Red Orchestra'). In the 1950s, before his premature death at age 51 on a tennis court in Moscow in 1961, Korotkov was stationed in East Germany and apparently played an important part in supervising KGB relations with the Ministry of State Security of the GDR. At the time of his death, according to Kolpakidi and Prokhorov, Korotkov was playing a game of tennis with the then chief of the military intelligence service GRU, Ivan Serov, who had been chairman of the KGB in 1954-1958.

The Kolpakidi & Prokhorov volume is most valuable when it offers information on agents and officers of Soviet intelligence whose careers are less known in the West. An example is Yelena Modrzhinskaya (1910-1982), intelligence officer in the then NKGB during the Second World War. It was Modrzhinskaya who as an officer with the analytical department convinced her superiors for a while that the intelligence delivered by Philby and his companions of the Cambridge Five was too good to be true and that, therefore, they ‘logically' had to be agents of the British services. This intriguing feat of hers, incidentally, is not mentioned by Kolpakidi and Prokhorov in the entry under her name. Readers can learn from the book, however, that Modrzhinskaya left the intelligence service in 1953 and worked in the academic field until her death. She became a ‘candidate of science' in 1954 after writing a dissertation entitled ‘Cosmopolitism: a Weapon of the Modern Imperialist Bourgeoisie'. In 1964 she wrote her dissertation for ‘doctor of science' entitled ‘The decline of the colonial system and the ideology of imperialism'. Another interesting entry is on Grigory Boyarinov (1922-1979), a KGB colonel at the time of his death and commander of the Soviet special forces that stormed the palace of the Afghan ruler Hafizullah Amin in Kabul in December 1979. Boyarinov was a veteran of the Second World War, had served previously with the KGB border troops and was a candidate of military sciences. He received posthumously the high award of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union' in early 1980 for his part in the action in Kabul where he was fatally wounded. Well-known Soviet intelligence officers such as Vasily Zarubin, mentioned earlier, and his wife Elisabeth (1901-1987), who were both active on many fronts during the intelligence wars of the twentieth century, each get several pages in this book, that contain many details about intelligence departments they served in and countries where they operated. Cases like those of Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt are already fairly well covered in recent western publications, often with the help of newly released materials from Russian archives. Their entries contain therefore not much new material. In other well-known cases, such as that of the U.S. naval officer John Walker, whose arrest and that of two family members and a friend in 1986 resulted in probably the most damaging espionage case for the U.S. navy during the Cold War, the authors also don't offer more details than are already known from western publications.

In a very short foreword Kolpakidi and Prokhorov mention the fact that for their work they made use of open sources but also of ‘material from the archives'. It is clear that they made extensive use of material from earlier Russian publications on KGB history, but they don't go into detail about which archives they had access to, which is a serious shortcoming of their book. There are also no indications as to which part of their material was derived from Russian archives and which part from other publications in the Russian language. One has to assume they received part of their material from the old KGB archives because in an important introduction of nearly a hundred pages on the ‘History and Structure of the Organs of Foreign Intelligence 1918-2000' they quote extensively from documents which could only come from such archives, and many biographical details contained in the entries, as far as I am aware, also have not been published previously, certainly not in a western language. Some of this material is indeed quite interesting. According to Kolpakidi and Prokhorov in their introduction, Vasily Zarubin came to the United States as legal NKVD rezident in New York in December 1941 and before he left the USSR he had a personal meeting with Stalin on October 12. Stalin gave him the following five tasks in the field of intelligence:

- To acquire information possibly known to US state authorities on the plans of Germany in the war against the USSR.
- To discover the secret plans and aims of the allies in the war and if possible to find out when they plan to open the second front in Europe.
- To watch closely if the US leadership doesn't conclude a separate peace with Germany and plans to go to war against the USSR.
- To figure out the plans of the allies concerning the postwar world order.
- To acquire information on up-to-date military technology. (Kolpakidi & Prokhorov, p. 47)

Zarubin's residency was well up to these tasks, no doubt in part because it numbered among its personnel very capable intelligence officers such as Leonid Kvasnikov, Alexander Feklisov and Anatoly Yatskov whose careers are all described in their respective entries in this book. They were at the beginning of their careers in the 1940s, would all serve the Soviet Union and its intelligence service with distinction and had each of them collected many awards by the time their careers ended several decades later. During the Second World War, all three played an important part in the extremely successful Soviet penetration of the Manhattan Project. Yatskov ran such well-known Soviet agents as Harry Gold and Klaus Fuchs, Feklisov at some point was the controller of Julius Rosenberg and also of Klaus Fuchs, Kvasnikov was one of the most important Soviet intelligence officers in the field of scientific-technological espionage. All three were given the high award ‘Hero of Russia' by president Boris Yeltsin in 1996, Yatskov and Kvasnikov posthumously. The well-known KGB illegals of American origin Morris and Lona Cohen, both aka Kroger, received the same award around that time, both also posthumously. All of these intelligence officers, by a decree of president Yeltsin, became ‘Heroes of Russia' as a reward for their services to the Soviet state in the field of atomic espionage.
In their introduction the authors quote remarks Stalin made in November 1952, shortly before his death, during a session of a commission that discussed the reorganization of the intelligence and counterintelligence department of the then MGB (Ministry of State Security). In a way the remarks of the aging dictator, which resemble his characteristic style, read like an intelligence doctrine for the Soviet state:

In intelligence, one should never work by launching an attack up front. Intelligence should be active in a roundabout way. Otherwise there will be failures and serious failures. A frontal attack is a shortsighted tactic.

A foreigner should never be recruited in such a way that his patriotic feelings will be hurt. There is no need to recruit a foreigner against his own fatherland. If an agent is recruited by hurting his patriotic feelings, he will be an unreliable agent. One has to eliminate conventional patterns [of work] completely from the intelligence service, one has to change tactics and methods all the time. One has to adjust oneself all the time to the world situation and to use the world situation. We should carry out an attack by maneuver and in a sensible way and use [means] which god gives us. The most important thing in the intelligence service is to learn to recognize one's mistakes. A human being will first recognize his failures and mistakes and later correct himself. Strike there, where there is weakness, where things are looking bad [for the enemy]. One has to improve the intelligence service first of all by eliminating the frontal attack.

Our main enemy is America, but our main emphasis should not be on America proper. Illegal rezidentura's should be set up first and foremost in neighboring states. The first base where it is necessary to have our people is West Germany. One shouldn't be naïve in politics, but especially not naïve in intelligence work. One should not give an agent tasks for which he is not ready and which bring him in moral disarray. In intelligence work one should have agents with the broad cultural horizon of professors. Intelligence is a holy, ideal business for us. It is necessary to acquire authority. In intelligence one has to have several hundred people, friends (which is more than agents) who are prepared to carry out any task set by us. (Kolpakidi & Prokhorov, pp. 56-57.)

According to the authors, ‘the complex international situation' in the beginning of the 1970s – probably a reference to the détente with the United States – necessitated the formal adoption of an ‘intelligence doctrine' by the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. Chairman Yuri Andropov ordered the formulation of a doctrine on which work started when the FCD was still led by Fedor Mortin. It was completed after Mortin was succeeded at the end of 1974 by Vladimir Kryuchkov, a protégé of Andropov. Kolpakidi and Prokhorov quote almost four pages in full from this new doctrine, again, without giving the exact source. The doctrine contained the following passages, among others:

In circumstances of the division of the world in two hostile camps, the possession by the adversary of weapons of mass destruction and the much strengthened factor of suddenness in nuclear war, the main task of the intelligence service consists of the disclosure of the military and strategic plans of the states which oppose the USSR, of a timely warning of the government for growing crisis situations and of warning for a sudden attack on the Soviet Union or on countries linked to the USSR by alliance treaties.

Following from this task, KGB intelligence directs its efforts at the solution of key problems which have the potential to lead to international conflicts and which can in unwelcome circumstances pose a direct danger, in the short term and in the long term, for the Soviet state and the socialist community as a whole. In the first place [the intelligence service] takes into account factors on which the present correlation of forces in the world arena and possible principal changes in the existing balance of power depend. These especially include:
- The development of a new political situation in the USA in which representatives of extremely aggressive circles prevail who are inclined to carry out a preventive missile attack on the USSR.
- The development of a similar situation in the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] or Japan, supported by revanchist and great power aspirations.
- The development of extremely adventurist, ultra-leftist views, as a result of which separate states or a group of states could provoke a world war with the aim of changing the existing correlation of forces.
- Attempts by imperialist forces in several ways to split the socialist commonwealth, to isolate and separate individual countries from it.
- The development of crisis situations of a military-political nature in separate strategically important regions and countries, which could threaten the existing balance of power or draw the great powers into a direct confrontation which could turn into a world war. (…)
- A qualitatively new advance in the field of science and technology which guarantees the adversary a clear superiority in military potential and the means to conduct a war. (Kolpakidi & Prokhorov, pp. 77-78)

The FCD also had several responsibilities ‘in the field of special operations whereby especially sharp means of struggle are used', according to this doctrine:

- [The intelligence service] stages diversionist actions with the aim of disorganizing the activities of the special services of the enemy and of separate goverenmental, political and military objects as well, in the case of the occurrence of special circumstances or the development of crisis situations.
- It carries out special measures relating to traitors of the Fatherland and to operations to counter the anti-Soviet activity of the most active enemies of the Soviet state.
- It carries out the seizure and secret delivery to the USSR of individuals who are carriers of important state and other secrets of the enemy, [the seizure and secret delivery] of prototypes of arms, technology and secret documentation.
- It creates the conditions for the use, in the interests of the USSR, of separate centres of the anti-imperialist movement and the partisan struggle on the territory of foreign countries.
- By special tasks, it maintains communication with and delivers help by arms, instructors etc. to the leadership of fraternal communist parties, progressive groups and organizations that wage an armed struggle in circumstances of isolation from the outside world. (Kolpakidi & Prokhorov, p. 80)

It would be interesting to know to what extent these tasks were put into practice, especially the third one about abducting individuals from abroad, but the authors do not go into this. As far as is known, during the Cold War abductions from the West by the KGB were largely limited to Soviet defectors and anticommunist Russian exiles, the case of the former Soviet naval officer Nikolay Artamonov (Shadrin) being a good example. Artamonov had defected to the US in 1959 and died in the course of an abduction attempt by the KGB along the Austrian-Czech border in 1975. It is therefore unclear what the practical meaning was of this aspect of this particular Soviet intelligence doctrine, if the version of Kolpakidi and Prokhorov is correct.
This book sometimes shows strange and inexplicable omissions. For instance, the entries on Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt are fairly extensive and both cover more than one page, but don't mention the fact that both men were homosexuals, which especially in the case of Burgess is an inexcusable omission as this relates to a prominent aspect of his personality. The same omission is present in the entry of the well-known KGB agent in the British Admiralty John Vassall who was recruited in Moscow in 1955 in a KGB operation that made use of his homosexual inclinations. The explanation for such omissions which comes to mind is that they are a remnant of old fashioned Soviet prudishness, which was of course very pervasive at the time of the former USSR, when publications very rarely even mentioned such matters as homosexuality. A serious shortcoming as well, which is unfortunately to be found in many works on intelligence history in Russia these days, is the absence of an index of names, which limits the usefulness of the book in many ways, for obvious reasons.

The book by Kokurin and Petrov comes in a rather different category in several respects. More than half of it is taken up by documents relating to the history of Soviet state security in the whole 1917-1991 period. Many of the documents, which are from several Russian archives among them those of the former KGB, are published here for the first time. They mostly relate to the history of the internal security organizations of the USSR and only occasionally refer to the intelligence branch which after 1954 was called the ‘First Chief Directorate'. Among several important documents is the statute (polozheniye) of the notorious counterintelligence service Smersh (Russian acronym for Smert shpionam, ‘Death to Spies') which existed in 1943-1946. Smersh, a shadowy but very important organization, was a directorate of the People's Commissariat of Defense and played a very important part during the latter part of the war in rooting out foreign agents, ‘diversionists' and ‘anti-Soviet elements' within the advancing Red Army and in the rear area. (Kokurin & Petrov, pp. 623-626.) The tasks of Smersh, according to its statute, were the following:

1. The struggle against spying, sabotage, terrorist and other subversive activity by foreign intelligence services in the units and establishments of the Red Army.
2. The struggle against anti-Soviet elements that have penetrated a unit or establishment of the Red Army.
3. Taking necessary measures in the field of agent work and other fields (through the command) to create circumstances at the front that exclude the possibility of unpunished passage by agents of the enemy through the front line in order to make the front line impenetrable for spying and anti-Soviet elements.
4. The struggle against treason and betrayal of the fatherland in units and establishments of the Red Army (going over to the side of the enemy, the harboring of spies and, generally, cooperation with the work of the latter).
5. The struggle against deserters and self-mutilation at the front.
6. The screening of servicemen and other individuals who have been captured or encircled by the enemy.
7. The carrying out of special tasks from the People's Commissar of Defense. (Kokurin & Petrov, p. 624)

The People's Commissar of Defense at this time, of course, was no other than Joseph Stalin. In the years of its existence, Smersh was led by Victor Abakumov, who was to fall victim to the post-Stalin purges in 1954. Interestingly, the Smersh statute contains a separate article that mentions explicitly the officials at the respective levels of the armed forces who have to give their consent to the arrest of specific individuals. For instance, senior leading personnel could only be arrested with the consent of the respective Military Council and the public prosecutor and leading personnel of the highest category could only be arrested with the consent of the People's Commissar of Defense.

Another important document contained in this volume is the statute of the KGB from January 1959 that was kept in force until May 1991, when a new ‘USSR Law on the Organs of State Security' was adopted. (Kokurin & Petrov, pp. 693-698) This document was, of course, top secret (sovershenno sekretno) and it speaks for the secretiveness of the Soviet state that practically nobody who reads it all these years after it was adopted can understand what was so secret about it. It certainly is an interesting document and in many ways very telling, but it is formulated in very general terms that do not give away much concrete information. The first article, characteristically, reads as follows:

The Committee of State Security [attached] to the Council of Ministers of the USSR and its local organs are political organs which carry out measures of the Central Committee of the party and of the Government in defense of the Socialist state against the encroachments from foreign and internal enemies, and [measures] for the defense of the state borders of the USSR as well. They are called upon to follow with vigilance the secret intrigues of the enemies of the Soviet land, unmask their designs and to put a stop to the criminal activity of imperialist intelligence services against the Soviet state. (…) The Committee of State Security functions under the direct leadership and control of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

The tasks of the KGB, as is well-known, were numerous and did not compare very well to those of western intelligence and security services, whose activities were, generally speaking, much more limited in scope. Intelligence work abroad was only one task among many for the KGB. The tasks of the Soviet state security service and ‘its local organs', according to this 1959 statute, were the following:

1. Intelligence work in capitalist countries.
2. The struggle against spying, diversionist, terrorist and other subversive activity by foreign intelligence organs, anti-Soviet centers abroad and their agent networks inside the country.
3. The struggle against the hostile activity of anti-Soviet and nationalist elements inside the USSR.
4. Counterintelligence work in the Soviet Army, the Navy, the Civil Aviation Fleet, the border troops, the troops of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs], with the aim of preventing the penetration in their ranks of agents of foreign intelligence services and other hostile elements.
5. Counterintelligence work in special objects and in especially important objects of industry and transport.
6. Guarding the state borders of the USSR.
7. Guarding of the leaders of Party and Government.
8. Organizing and maintenance of Government communications.
9. Organizing of radio counterintelligence work and the registration of necessary data pertaining to official radio stations that are in use on the territory of the country.
10. Working out mobilization plans for the deployment of the organs of state security and military formations of the Committee and the fulfillment of other missions [given by] the Central committee of the CPSU and the Government of the USSR.

According to the statute, leading personnel of the KGB was to be confirmed in its post by the Central Committee of the CPSU and, in some cases, leading personnel at local levels were to be confirmed by local party organs. This serves to illustrate the important hold the CPSU had on personnel policies at the KGB.
The book by Kokurin and Petrov is in fact an indispensable reference tool for whoever is interested in the history of Soviet intelligence and state security. It contains, for instance, a section that covers all the reorganizations of the ‘organs' of state security and those of internal affairs as well, over the whole 1917-1991 period. Of these reorganizations there have been many, as is still the case in present day Russia. All the different names for the separate branches of Soviet state security, like the intelligence service, are listed, including the periods to which they applied. Chiefs of the separate directorates and departments at the different moments in Soviet history are listed as well. Also given are the different names for the main functional departments throughout Soviet history, which means, for instance, that one page contains all the names for the intelligence service. In 1920-1934 it was called the ‘Foreign Department' of the Vecheka, later OGPU, for instance, whereas from March 1954 its name was ‘First Chief Directorate' of the KGB. Very useful also is the section that contains short biographies of all chairmen of state security, ministers of Internal Affairs and their deputies. Until a couple of years ago, for instance, the fate of the well-known ‘Chekist' Ivan Serov, whom I mentioned earlier, was not known in the West. He had been chairman of the KGB in 1954-1958, subsequently in 1958-1963 chief of the military intelligence service GRU, from which position he was dismissed in the aftermath of the Penkovsky affair. During his career, Serov played an important role in the mass killings and deportations of the Stalin years and he was conspicuously present in Hungary in 1956 at the time of the suppression of the revolution in that country. It had been assumed previously that Serov had committed suicide shortly after his dismissal from the GRU. Now we learn from Kokurin and Petrov that he only died in June 1990, so by the time of his death, with some foresight, Serov could possibly see the end of the Soviet Union coming, a state for which he had been such a ruthless servant.

Reviewed by Dr. Ben de Jong, Lecturer in Russian and East European Politics at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.