In 1972 Mitrokhin was given the job of packing up First Chief Directorate files in the KGB’s Moscow headquarters, a massive turn-of-the-century building called the Lubyanka, and shipping them to the KGB’s new quarters in Yasenevo. Over a ten-year period he personally checked some 300,000 files, each devoted to a separate case and some running to many volumes. But missing, Mitrokhin discovered, were nine volumes on the fate of Communist Party leaders, KGB officers, and foreign Communists living in Russia during the Stalin years. They had been destroyed in the early 1960s on the orders of Nikita Khrushchev.
Distressed by what he had learned of the nature of the Soviet regime, and perhaps fearing further efforts to rewrite history by purging the files, Mitrokhin began to take notes on the documents which passed through his hands—strictly forbidden, of course, and highly dangerous. These he took home and hid under the mattress in his Moscow apartment; then he transferred them to a dacha in the countryside, and finally, in 1992, he carried them with him by train to one of the Baltic countries where he, his family, and his six cases of materials were picked up by the British SIS.
“Case” is an elastic word. It can re-fer to anything from an ordinary case of wine to a crate as big as an old-fashioned steamer trunk. But on the evidence of The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, written by the well-known historian of British intelligence Christopher Andrew with the help of Mitrokhin’s materials, the Russian was lugging some very big boxes. This is not Andrew’s first exploration of Soviet intelligence history: in 1990, with the assistance of an earlier Soviet defector to the British, Oleg Gordievsky, Andrew published a 775-page tome which seeded a comprehensive account of the KGB and its predecessors with nuggets of new material provided by Gordievsky. The new book does the same thing again but with substantially more nuggets, returning to the early days of the Cheka in the 1920s and marching forward, case by case and country by country, to Mitrokhin’s retirement from the KGB in 1984.
One strength of The Sword and the Shield lies in the fact that the narrative is based almost entirely on new material from the Soviet archives, enriching stories long familiar to cold war scholars. With few exceptions, what Mitrokhin brought was the bare skeletons of cases and operations—names, dates, places, and code names—invaluable raw material for counterintelligence analysts, but impenetrable by ordinary mortals. Andrew incorporates the new Mitrokhin material into a brisk, useful, and comprehensive history of Soviet intelligence activity which, as a book, has only one serious flaw: it is printed in minuscule type more usually found in the listing of ingredients on bottles of patent medicines, which is made even more laborious to read by the narrow gutter and margins of the page. The 135 pages of notes and bibliography in the back of the book are in type smaller still and will require the assistance of a magnifying device by all but the very young. Presumably this economy saved the publisher a few bucks, but it was a signal disservice to an important book which will be consulted by scholars for many years to come.
By the universal but coarse measure of the significance of a book on espionage—the number of spies exposed—The Sword and the Shield sets something of a record. Chief among those exposed was Melitta Norwood, codenamed “Hola” by the KGB when she was recruited in Britain in 1937. Now eighty-seven years old and living quietly in the London suburb of Bexleyheath, the unrepentant Norwood worked for the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in London in the 1940s, where she had access to important technical information on the construction of atomic bombs. Reference to Norwood is also made by Weinstein and Vassiliev in The Haunted Wood under the code name “Tina,” which appears as well in a VENONA cable of September 1945. Neither “Tina” nor another British spy reporting on atomic matters, “Eric,” is identified by Weinstein and Vassiliev. Beginning in 1942 “Eric” was handled by the Soviet intelligence officer Vladimir Barkovsky, and much of the ten thousand pages of material “Eric” provided actually consisted of photostatic copies of American atomic research reports which the British had obtained just as Barkovsky and the Soviets did—by stealing them from an ally (the United States).
At a dinner in Moscow in 1997 Barkovsky, at eighty-four frail, diminutive, and short of breath, told a table of eight (which included me and my friend Joe Finder) that he was a mechanical engineer by training and was completely at sea during his first meeting with “Eric,” who plunged directly into a discussion of atomic cross-sections. Barkovsky tried to beg off, promising another meeting with an intelligence officer who knew physics. But “Eric” refused, insisted Barkovsky was the man for him, and told him to obtain a copy of Applied Nuclear Physics by Pollard and Davidson and study it. (“I still have it,” said Barkovsky.) Gently pressed for additional details about “Eric,” whom he did not name, Barkovsky demurred. “I am forbidden by Article Nineteen,” he explained, referring to the Official Secrets Act. So far as I know, “Eric” remains unidentified.
The identification of Melitta Norwood made the biggest noise in the press when Andrew’s book was published last fall, but she was not alone. Other spies brought to light, partially or fully, were “Hunt,” a spy recruited by Norwood but still unidentified by British authorities; “William,” a trade union official who worked for the Russians in the 1970s; the British policeman John Symonds, who served as a roving agent for the KGB; and the American Robert Lipka, a clerk for the National Security Agency now serving an eighteen-year prison term for spying for the Soviets in the 1960s. Numerous others, revealed in Mitrokhin’s notes and known to authorities, are identified by Andrew only with code names—long lists of code names. Sometimes Andrew notes that they cannot be identified “for legal reasons,” like “Grum,” a “leading Irish Communist” approached by the KGB in 1977, and the French journalists called “Nant,” “Veronique,” “Jacqueline,” and “Nancy” by their Soviet case officers. “A majority of both agents and trusted contacts” on another list of thirty Soviet agents active in the United States in the 1970s, Andrew says in a footnote, “are identified by name.” Are the authorities preparing to pounce? Andrew does not say, leaving the guilty parties to fret and worry, if they are still alive.
The real importance of Andrew’s book is not to be found in the three-day wonder of uncovered spies, however, but in the sheer weight of accumulated detail which reveals a madly compulsive Soviet overreliance on clandestine means for conducting its foreign policy, maintaining social and ideological control at home, and acquiring the technological infrastructure of a modern state. For decades it all seemed to work, until Mikhail Gorbachev began to tinker with the system, hoping to breathe the pink back into the wheezing body of communism. He might have addressed his efforts to the waxen cadaver of Lenin with greater success. The anti-Soviet hostility of client states in Eastern Europe, the alienation of ordinary Russians from the Communist regime, a position in the world based entirely on military might, and the reality of a barely functioning economy helpless to compete in world trade were the reverse of the coin—an illusion of monolithic control and legitimacy on one side, police and mirrors on the other.
The Sword and the Shield relates the dark history of the Soviet obsession with inner resistance and foreign enemies. Few nations have ever been subjected to such ferocious and generally effective methods of domestic control, and none has gone further to suppress what was true. But of some charges, Andrew says, the Soviets must be presumed innocent. “There is no evidence in any of the files examined by Mitrokhin,” he writes, that Yuri Andropov, the KGB chairman who stopped at almost nothing to destroy Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, played any role in the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Rome in May 1981. Nor, Andrew says, do Mitrokhin’s six cases of notes suggest that major Soviet spies in the United States and Britain remain undiscovered.
We may, therefore, reasonably conclude that now, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have before us roughly the whole story. Detail remains to be filled in but, Andrew suggests, what has long appeared to be the case really is the case—the romantic allure of the great social experiment in Communist Russia ran aground soon after the end of the Second World War, and the role of the Soviet Union in the world for the remaining decades of the cold war depended on a vast military and intelligence effort aimed abroad, at the price of stagnation and impoverishment at home.
The evidence for the scale of that effort is amply documented in The Sword and the Shield, but the explanation for its initial success and ultimate failure are more easily seen in the other books here under review. When Alexander Feklisov returned to Moscow after the war, he attributed his success with the atomic spies Ruth and David Greenglass to the fact that “they are young, intelligent, capable, and politically developed people, strongly believing in the cause of communism and wishing to do their best to help our country as much as possible.” Also “politically developed” was Theodore Alvin Hall, a young physicist who volunteered to spy for the Soviets in November 1944 (exposed in the VENONA traffic but never prosecuted); Morris Cohen, recruited by the KGB in Spain in 1938 and described by one of his case officers as “exceptionally honest, developed, politically literate”; and members of the spy nets in Washington who “are reliable compatriots, highly developed politically.”
But “politically developed” did not mean innocent. The brilliant “illegal” (that is, an agent without official diplomatic cover) Arnold Deutsch, who helped to recruit and run the notorious British spies known as the “Cambridge Five,” expressed a kind of contempt for the rich young American Michael Straight, who was recruited by Anthony Blunt in the late 1930s. Straight, Deutsch reported, “sometimes behaves like a child in his romanticism. He thinks he is working for the Comintern [the semipublic worldwide organization of Communist Parties dominated by the Soviet Union], and he must be left in this delusion for awhile.” What “politically developed” really meant was the capacity to believe that Moscow was always right. The State Department official Lawrence Duggan, a romantic in the manner of Straight, proved in 1937 that politically he was still developing when he told his case officer, Norman Borodin, that he
cannot understand events in the USSR…the disclosure of Trotskyite-fascist spies in almost all branches of industry and in the state institutions embarrass him enormously. People he has learned to respect turn out to be traitors to their motherland and to the socialist cause…all this seems to him a “remote, incomprehensible nightmare.”