Interview: Historian Says Mitrokhin Archive Shows Value Of Human Intelligence

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 09, 2014

As a senior KGB archivist, Vasily Mitrokhin meticulously collected thousands of documents for more than a decade and organized them for another eight years before defecting to the United Kingdom in 1992. The Cambridge-based Churchill Archives Center is now releasing large portions of his trove to the public for the first time.

Svetlana Lokhova, a specialist in the history of the Soviet intelligence services, says the release provides historians a groundbreaking opportunity to detail the work of the famed intelligence agency. She spoke with RFE/RL’s Glenn Kates.

RFE/RL: You have worked with Cambridge professor Christopher Andrew, who for two decades was the only historian allowed to access the documents. Professor Andrew has already published two books on the archive. Should we expect to find anything new in this first public release?

Svetlana Lokhova: He of course had to condense into books from boxes and boxes of material, and of course it’s impossible to cover everything. So therefore even on the subjects that he’s already written about there will be a lot more content there.

One of the more amusing revelations we found when we were looking through the archives with him is that it’s confirmed by the KGB that [two of the British "Cambridge 5" double agents, Guy] Burgess and [Donald] Maclean were lovers, which is something that both of them always denied.

RFE/RL: How did this come up?

Lokhova: The way that the Mitrokhin archives work is it’s a combination of the material that he directly took notes on, plus his own opinions. But also his opinions would be reflected in the opinion of the KGB officers at the time. So what would that mean is he would either take direct notes from the files or he would just tell you something that sort of everyone [in Soviet intelligence circles] knew.

And so, it’s not in a particular chronological order. The way it works is he would — for example starting with the biography of Maclean — go through what I would call "karakteristika" [eds: evaluation], which is a sort of like a job description of an individual. He will [also] talk about [where and when he was] born, recruited and [who his ] father [was] etc., etc. And then he would start giving professional and personal characteristics and it would come up then.

RFE/RL: One fascinating element that comes out of this is the difficulty KGB handlers had in managing their high-level spies and dealing with their own very human characteristics. Can you talk a bit about this?

Lokhova: They had to obviously take the intelligence from where it came. So therefore people who had access, such as the Cambridge 5 — especially three of them — to such a high level of intelligence because of their upbringing and their position in society, of course the KGB officers would have to take it.

Donald Maclean "would blurt out that he was a Soviet spy to his lovers and to his relatives."

xHowever, for example, if you contrast it with Melita Norwood [eds: British civil servant who was a KGB intelligence asset from 1937-72], who was actually considered by the KGB as more important than [Kim] Philby. This is the famous grandma who came in from the cold. She was an extremely quiet secretary and for a number of years she would very quietly provide very important material on the industrial side of things, including atomic energy.

With the Cambridge Five, one of the problems was, you know, Maclean for example, would blurt out that he was a Soviet spy to his lovers and to his relatives, etc. The issue there is that, of course, it’s much better to have a quiet agent who just did their job. But on the other hand you have to take the intelligence from where it comes from and that included trying to manage people who were very often unmanageable.

RFE/RL: What do these archives tell us about how we should expect Russian intelligence services to operate today?

Lokhova: Well I think the most important aspect of both what the archives show [about Russian] intelligence today is [the importance of] human intelligence. So, in a world where an amazing amount of data is being collected — if we take the morality issue aside and the citizens-rights issues [and] if you just talk about how useful it necessarily is — where you collect a lot of data, but for example you couldn’t have predicted the Boston Marathon bombings. That was one of the examples where the Americans actually realized the shortcomings of their system.


Vasily Mitrokhin

And up to the crisis recently there was cooperation between the Russians and the Americans on Chechnya, because they realized that Russian knowledge of the situation in the region and their connections and their human agents within Chechnya will mean that if there was another such attack being planned anywhere in the world, they would get their intelligence faster.

RFE/RL Do you think with all the focus on data collection, that intelligence agencies still place enough value on the importance of human intelligence?

Lokhova: I think [the United States] got rather carried away with the data. I think the U.S. at some point just said, "data mining is enough," whereas for Russians the priority was always on human intelligence. It was always to have their agents on the ground in various places. It’s their knowledge of human psychology and their ability to recruit and run humans is something I think that was immensely important for Soviet and Russian successes.

RFE/RL: Mitrokhin himself had always said he wanted these documents to one day be made public. What do you think will be the larger benefits of this release?

Lokhova: The only place in the world now that you can get access to KGB archives is actually the University of Cambridge Churchill College, not Moscow. And so, of course, you know, for myself and for many other historians this is the only way we can really get to the KGB archives. But I also think that what’s very important is it will allow us a deeper study of something that is a missing dimension, which is intelligence studies. Because without understanding intelligence it would be very difficult to understand Soviet policy and Soviet thinking both in the Cold War period but way before that as well.

Mitrokhin’s Files Made Public

Thousands of Secret KGB Espionage Documents Are Now Available to the Public
The papers contain names of spies, descriptions of secret weapons and detailed plots against the West
Rachel Nuwer | July 7, 2014

Soviet propaganda, circa 1920 (Photo: Andrew J.Kurbiko)

A stash of 2,000 documents smuggled out of the former USSR is now available for viewing at Cambridge University. As intelligence historian Christian Andrew told Time, the documents represent "the most important single intelligence source ever," listing the names of around 1,000 spies who operated in the U.S., designs for various booby traps and weapons and plots that were later given names such as "the Mousetrap."

The documents have been held in secret since Vasili Mitrokhin, a former KGB official-turned-dissident, snuck them out of the collapsed Soviet Union in 1992. Mitrokhin first tried bringing them to a U.S. embassy in Latvia. (Time writes that the Americans turned him away; the Guardian states that it was actually the long lines at the embassy that deterred him.) He next tried the British embassy, which was more receptive. Mitrokhin was taken to Britain to continue life under a new name and identity, and since then the classified documents have been stashed in 19 boxes at an archive in Cambridge, Time writes.

Over the years, the papers have proven especially useful for identifying former spies and for offering insight into some of the USSR’s troubles with its embedded intelligence officers. One British spy who was recruited to work for the Soviets was “constantly under the influence of alcohol,” while another was “not very good at keeping secrets,” Time reports.

In 1999, Mitrokhin published a book revealing the names of various spies, including Melita Norwood, and 87-year-old grandmother who had given the Soviets information about the U.K.’s nuclear research, Time reports. In another case, an NSA employee named Robert Lipka was revealed as having sold the Soviets secrets back in the 1960s, leading to his belated arrest and sentencing of 18 years in prison.

In some cases, however, the claims contained in the secret files might themselves be propaganda. As the Guardian writes, "intelligence analysts and some Soviet defectors have warned that the KGB seriously exaggerated the significance and number of its contacts and operations to impress the Soviet leadership – and increase its budget."

Those interested in getting a first-hand look at Mitrokhin’s typed translations (the original handwritten notes he smuggled out while on the job are still classified) can inquire at Cambridge’s Churchill Archives Center.


Trove of KGB Secrets Smuggled Out of Russia by Defector in 1992, Made Public
Jill Lawless
AP | July 6, 2014

A treasure trove of original documents detailing Soviet spying and sabotage plots was released on Monday by the Churchill Archive after being held in secret for two decades. Intelligence historian Christopher Andrew calls the documents "the most important single intelligence source ever."

The Mitrokhin Archive stacked on a shelf at the Churchill Archive Centre in Cambridge England contains original documents from one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history – a who’s who of Soviet spying. The documents were released Monday July 7, 2014, after being held in secret for two decades.

(CAMBRIDGE, England) — The papers spent years hidden in a milk churn beneath a Russian dacha and read like an encyclopedia of Cold War espionage.

Original documents from one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history — a who’s who of Soviet spying — were released Monday after being held in secret for two decades.

The files smuggled out of Russia in 1992 by senior KGB official Vasili Mitrokhin describe sabotage plots, booby-trapped weapons caches and armies of agents under cover in the West — the real-life inspiration for the fictional Soviet moles in “The Americans” TV series.

In reality, top-quality spies could be hard to get. The papers reveal that some were given Communist honors and pensions by a grateful USSR, but others proved loose-lipped, drunk or unreliable.

Intelligence historian Christopher Andrew said the vast dossier, released by the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University, was considered “the most important single intelligence source ever” by British and American authorities.

Mitrokhin was a senior archivist at the KGB’s foreign intelligence headquarters — and a secret dissident. For more than a decade he secretly took files home, copied them in longhand and then typed and collated them into volumes. He hid the papers at his country cottage, or dacha, some stuffed into a milk churn and buried.

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Mitrokhin traveled to a Baltic state — which one has never been confirmed — and took a sample of his files to the U.S. Embassy, only to be turned away. So he tried the British embassy, where a junior diplomat sat him down and asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“That was the sentence that changed his life,” said Andrew.

Smuggled out of Russia, Mitrokhin spent the rest of his life in Britain under a false name and police protection, dying in 2004 at 81.

The world did not learn of Mitrokhin until Andrew published a book based on his files in 1999. It caused a sensation by exposing the identities of KGB agents including 87-year-old Melita Norwood, the “great-granny spy,” who had passed British atomic secrets to the Soviets for years.

Mitrokhin’s files describe Norwood as a “loyal, trustworthy, disciplined agent” who was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour for her service.

She was more reliable than the famous “Cambridge Spies,” the high-ranking British intelligence officials who worked secretly for the Soviets. The files describe Guy Burgess as “constantly under the influence of alcohol,” while Donald Maclean was “not very good at keeping secrets.”

The newly released papers include a list of KGB agents in America over several decades. It runs to 40 pages and about 1,000 names.

One of the most notorious was code-named “Dan.” He was Robert Lipka, a National Security Agency employee who was paid $27,000 for handing secrets to Russia in the 1960s. After Mitrokhin’s information was passed by Britain to U.S. intelligence services, Lipka was arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The volumes also reveal that Soviet agents stashed weapons and communications equipment in secret locations around NATO countries. Included is a map of Rome showing three caches, along with detailed instructions for finding them. It’s unclear how many such weapons dumps have been tracked down by Western authorities.

While some agents targeted the West, many more were deployed inside the Soviet bloc. The files list undercover agents sent to then-Czechoslovakia to infiltrate the dissidents behind the 1968 Prague Spring pro-democracy uprising. Others targeted the entourage of Polish cleric Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II. The KGB noted with disapproval the future pontiff’s “extremely anticommunist views.”

The Churchill Archive is giving researchers access to 19 boxes containing thousands of Russian-language files, typed by Mitrokhin from his original handwritten notes. The notes themselves remain classified.

There are glimpses of Mitrokhin’s mindset in the titles he gave the volumes, including “The Accursed Regime” and “The Mousetrap.”

Andrew said Mitrokhin took huge risks, knowing that “a single bullet in the back of the head” would be his fate if he was caught.

“The material mattered to him so desperately that he was prepared to put his life on the line for it,” Andrew said.


Soviet files: KGB defector’s cold war secrets revealed at last
Vasili Mitrokhin’s demand granted 20 years on as 2,000 pages of notes he made from KGB archives begin to be made public
Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian | Sunday 6 July 2014

When the scruffy-looking KGB officer walked into the British embassy in Riga, the Latvian capital, one of his first demands – after being offered a cup of tea – was that his unique cache of files on Moscow’s foreign intelligence operations he smuggled out of the Soviet Union must be published.

Twenty years later, Vasili Mitrokhin’s wish is beginning to come true. the first batch of 2,000 closely typed pages of notes he made from the KGB archives is being opened to the public.

The documents, including more than a hundred pages devoted to KGB claims about its "agents, controllers and cultivations" in Britain during the cold war, have been made available, after vetting by Whitehall weeders, at the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University.

They say that Melita Norwood, communist party member and secretary of a British research association working on nuclear reactor technology, was recruited in 1935 by a former correspondent for the Soviet news agency, TASS, named Rothstein.

Codenamed Hola, Norwood "passed on a lot of valuable materials for nuclear energy which he accessed by removing them from her boss’s safe, photographing them and then placing them back", according to her KGB file. She was awarded the order of the Red Banner and, "for many years of excellent work", a lifetime pension of £20 a month.

An editor of the left-wing weekly, Tribune, codenamed Dan, is claimed during the 1960s, to have published articles "based on KGB propaganda" and was paid £200 as a reward. The files describe how Guy Burgess, of the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring, was "constantly under the influence of alcohol", yet managed to provide the KGB with 389 documents in the first half of 1945, and a further 168 in 1949. Donald Maclean, another member of the Cambridge ring, is also described as being "constantly drunk" and "not very good at keeping secrets", telling his lover and brother about his "work".

In 1992 Vasili Mitrokhin travelled to Riga with a sample of his documents. He went to the UK embassy after being put off by a long queue at the US embassy. Photograph: Family handout/PA

An appendix in the archives copied by Mitrokhin suggest that the KGB claimed it had contacts with 200 people in Britain.

Mitrokhin’s files record in meticulous detail how the KGB in the 1970s spied on the sermons and meetings of the Polish cardinal Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II. They include maps identifying the location of KGB booby traps and hidden arms caches in western Europe.

They claim that Philip Agee, the former CIA officer who publicly named a list of US agents, had used material offered to him by the KGB, and that Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB in the 1960s and 1970s, infiltrated Ramparts, the radical US magazine which consistently opposed the Vietnam war and also published Che Guevara’s diaries. Andropov played a key role in crushing the Prague spring in 1968. Mitrokhin’s documents include a long list of targets, mainly editors and student leaders, which 15 "experienced intelligence agents" were ordered by Andropov to pursue in an operation the KGB named Progress.

Mitrokhin’s files were translated for journalists at the Churchill Archives Centre by Svetlana Lokhova, a colleague of Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian who pioneered the study of intelligence agencies and later appointed MI5’s official historian.

The FBI described the Mitrokhin files as "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source". However, intelligence analysts and some Soviet defectors have warned that the KGB seriously exaggerated the significance and number of its contacts and operations to impress the Soviet leadership – and increase its budget.

With the help, behind the scenes, of MI5 and MI6, Norwood was exposed in a blaze of publicity in 1999 when Mitrokhin and Andrew published a book based on the files. However, after MI5 was stung by criticism over its handling of her case, it played down her significance, saying her "value as an atom spy to the scientists who constructed the Soviet bomb must have been, at most marginal". She died in 2005.

The late Dick Clements, editor of Tribune in the 1960s described the story of Dan, first appearing in the Sunday Times, as "complete nonsense" and that the Soviet official responsible for the claim might have made it simply to fiddle his expenses.

Mitrokhin copied the files between 1972 and 1984 when he supervised the transfer of the KGB’s foreign intelligence archives from the Lubyanka to its new headquarters in Moscow. He smuggled out his notes, typed them up in his dacha, and hid them under the floorboards.

In 1992, he took the overnight train to Riga dressed as what was described a street pedlar, hiding a sample of his documents under old clothes and sausages. He went first to the US embassy but was put off by the long visa queue there.

He then went to the UK embassy where he was put in touch with a young member of the staff who asked him: "Would you like a cup of tea?", before getting in touch with MI6 who later exfiltrated him and his family. Mitrokhin died in Britain in 2004. Asked about what kind of man he was, Andrew described experiencing the former KGB’s officer’s feeling of relief – that of a someone who, in the Soviet Union, had not been able to confide in anybody but himself for as many as 30 years.

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