Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 169

The British government is reportedly reeling this week under an avalanche of revelations contained in a new book about Soviet-era KGB activities in Britain and throughout the world. The book, entitled “The Mitrokhin Archive” (though some sources have identified it instead as “The Sword and the Shield”), was written by Christopher Andrew and is based on KGB archival materials smuggled out of Russia by Vasili Mitrokhin in 1992. Andrew is a Cambridge University historian, Mitrokhin a former chief archivist of the KGB’s foreign intelligence section.

“The Mitrokhin Archive” is scheduled to be released later this month. The Times of London began serializing it three days ago (September 11). The reports–together with a BBC documentary also based on Mitrokhin’s materials–have caused the commotion in London and will reportedly lead to the unmasking of a number of Britons who worked for Soviet intelligence. Two such individuals were revealed over the weekend. Melita Norwood, an 87-year-old grandmother living in a London suburb, passed secrets relating to Britain’s nuclear weapons program to Moscow over a period of more than forty years. John Symonds, 64, a former Scotland Yard officer, worked for Moscow from 1972-1980, having been trained in Morocco as a “Romeo agent”–lessons which he described this past weekend as “very pleasant.” His modus operandi, reportedly, was to seduce women working at Western embassies into revealing secret information.

The Mitrokhin archive also contains sensational revelations concerning KGB activities in the United States. Those include a massive bugging operation in the 1970s and 1980s which reportedly provided Moscow with massive amounts of intelligence on everything from telephone conversations of top U.S. officials to key U.S. weapons designs and planning. The KGB also reportedly surveyed potential sabotage targets throughout the world–including in the United States–and planted booby-trapped arms caches near the sites. Among the planned U.S. targets was the Flathead Dam in Montana, the port of New York and the power supplies of New York state (AP, September 11; Washington Post, September 14).

As has long been surmised, the KGB was also responsible for a series of disinformation campaigns aimed at creating political tensions in the United States or undermining the United States internationally. One of those efforts was aimed at linking the CIA to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It included a forged letter from Lee Harvey Oswald to CIA officer E. Howard Hunt. Another effort was intended to portray former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as a homosexual.

As revealed by Mitrokhin, however, some of the Soviet disinformation campaigns were of dubious value, and appeared to demonstrate a remarkable misunderstanding of American realities. One, for example, attempted to portray the Reverend Martin Luther King as an “Uncle Tom” secretly being paid by the U.S. government to ensure that the civil rights movement would not threaten President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another aimed at discrediting former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Catholic of Polish descent, by depicting him as Jewish and hinting of an affair with actress Candice Bergen (New York Times, September 12; Washington Post, September 14).

In Britain, the revelations contained in “The Mitrokhin Archives” seem likely to generate action in two areas. The first will be the unmasking and possible prosecution of what some sources have suggested could be dozens of British spies. The second involves an investigation into what appears to have been a failure by MI5 to inform successive British governments of the revelations contained in the materials smuggled out of Russia by Mitrokhin.

In the United States there will undoubtedly be outrage expressed over the scope of the KGB activities perpetrated on American soil, with possibly adverse consequences for current Russian-U.S. relations. There may also be some questions asked as to why the U.S. government turned down Mitrokhin’s initial efforts to defect to the United States with his vast amount of archival material–a decision meaning that what the FBI has reportedly has called the “most important and comprehensive intelligence source every obtained by any individual” did not come first to U.S. shores (Reuters, September 11-13; AP, September 11, 13; New York Times, September 12-13; Washington Post, September 12, 14).