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Vol 3, No 18
21 May 2001
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The Sword and the Shield The Sword and the Shield:
The Mitrokhin Archive and
the Secret History of the KGB

Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin
Basic Books, 2000
ISBN 0465003109

Rob Stout

In early 1992, a low-level clerk from the KGB's foreign intelligence directorate walked into the British Embassy in Riga, Latvia, and asked to speak with someone in authority. Over tea, he passed several small folders containing typed notes that revealed the existence of a vast personal archive of KGB material he began collecting in 1972.

Eight months later, the clerk, Vasili Mitrokhin, and his family were "exfiltrated" to Great Britain with the archive, considered to be "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from one source" in the history of espionage.

Individuals such as the desk-bound Mitrokhin should come as no real surprise. For anyone who has merely thumbed through a John Le Carré novel knows, it is always the anonymous bureaucrat or the fileroom clerk passed over for promotion that is most capable of turning an intelligence agency on its axis.

No ordinary spy story

And that is exactly what Mitrokhin did, but in a manner sensational for even the pulpiest of spy novels. Every day for 12 years, he scribbled information from KGB files onto little scraps of paper, hiding them in his shoe until they could later be transcribed and typed at his Moscow flat. In doing so, he amassed tens of thousands of pages that, due to their enormous volume, finally had to be stashed in several locations.

Although Mitrokhin did not have access to Soviet military intelligence, thus leaving many of the Cold War's questions unanswered, the documents do reveal the activities of Soviet foreign and domestic intelligence from the October Revolution to the eve of the Gorbachev era, as well as the names of thousands of agents who carried out these operations. In terms of damage to the KGB, one could accurately equate Mitrokhin's information with similar blows to Western intelligence by the Rosenbergs, the Cambridge Five, Aldrich Ames and, of late, FBI agent Robert Hanssen.

Nine years after their acquisition, the documents still remain under review. In March, Australia's Security Intelligence Organization used the files for leads in piecing together a network of deep-cover KGB agents who operated there for several decades. (These operations, outside the United States and Europe, will be covered in a second volume to be released next year).

Anecdote and revelation

A portion of what is detailed in The Sword and the Shield, such as various harassment efforts against Soviet dissidents, suppression of East European democracy movements, or even the infiltration of Scotland Yard, are now mere historical anecdote. Other revelations, however, show the all-encompassing nature of Soviet penetration efforts and the position they attempted to gain from which to completely undermine the West—politically, socially and culturally.

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While co-author Christopher Andrew covers, at some length, Soviet exploits on British soil (the most publicized of these being the case of the now 87-year-old great-grandmother Melita Norwood who passed atomic secrets to the Soviets for 40 years), columns of review space could be taken up rehashing the "active measures" carried out against the "Main Adversary," the United States.

These include the discrediting of individuals ranging from Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan, a protracted disinformation campaign implicating the Central Intelligence Agency in the assassination of John F Kennedy, the "outing" of FBI director J Edgar Hoover, mail bombings aimed at creating racial unrest in the American South and caches of arms and communications equipment hidden throughout the US and Europe. The list is fascinating, terrifying, and endless.

Andrew, a Cambridge authority on intelligence history who co-authored KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev in 1990 with another Soviet defector, Oleg Gordievsky, supplements much of his encyclopedic knowledge of Communist subversion with the vastness of Mitrokhin's evidence to create a history that manages to flow, despite its complexities and redundancy in some subject areas.

With most of the archive remains classified and impossible to reproduce, Andrew too often falls back upon secondary information—studies on other defector cases, the Cold War VERONA files declassified in 1995, and the author's previous body of work—to fill this obvious gap. This restriction will, no doubt, cause readers to frequently move between the text and its 135 pages of endnotes to find the actual source of his disclosures.

While cumbersome, The Sword and the Shield is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the craft of espionage, intelligence gathering and its overall role in 20th-century international relations. From a more contemporary context, it offers a window on the Soviet worldview and, as the ongoing Hanssen case in the United States clearly indicates, how little Russia has relented from the terror-driven spy society it was during seven inglorious decades of Communism.

Rob Stout, 21 May 2001

Moving on:



Shane Jacobs
Tobacco Fields

Sam Vaknin
Bulgaria's Economy

The Roma

Nidhi Trehan
Solidarity in Macedonia

Kristína Magdolenová
Slovak Justice

Eva Sobotka
Czech Roma

Savelina Danova
Empty Promises

Dragan Ristić
Fighting Tradition

Peter Hames
Finále in Plzeň

Rob Stout
The Sword and
the Shield

Štěpán Kotrba
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Czech Republic

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