Tuesday 17 February 2004

Power of Truth in an Age of Spin

by Trowbridge H. Ford

In our most disbelieving, cynical age, it is heartening, if also disturbing, to see an event which recalls the power of truth - what is often now denied the very existence of, if not the importance of. For most of us, most of the time, one spin is about as good as another, as nothing much matters anyway.

The event I have in mind is the unexplained death of KGB defector and archivist Vasili Mitrokhin on or before January 23, 2004. Mitrokhin, it seems, sneaked vital bits of information about Soviet spying and covert operations from its files for years - until 1985 - filling out the picture that Western counterintelligence had constructed about the USSR's espionage. By doing so, Miktrokhin provided Cambridge's Professor Christopher Andrew with such a treasure-trove of information that he not only wrote, it seems, the KGB's official history, The Sword and The Shield, but also became the historian of British Security Service, MI5, commissioned to write the official history of its operations.

Mitrokhin's archive allegedly cleared up all kinds uncertainties about KGB operations. For example, Stalin died a natural death, neither the Doctors' Plot nor the KGB having anything to do with his demise. Real defectors like GRU cipher clerk in Ottawa Igor Gouzenko (p. 137ff.), NKGB officer in Turkey Konstantin Volkov (pp. 138-9), and Polish intelligence officer Michal Goleniewski (p. 400ff.), though handled crudely while defecting to the West, had nothing more to add about Soviet operations and spying in the West than was already known.

The only big mistake the Agency made in handling them was with Major Anatoli Golitsyn (p. 177ff.), thanks to CI chief James Angleton's and Soviet Division CI chief Pete Bagley's believing his tale that Moscow was engaged in a gigantic deception to take over the world. Still, Golitsyn provided a gold-mine of useful information, explaining why the KGB was most interested in eliminating him. "It did not occur to the Centre that Golitsyn's defection, by infecting a small but troublesome minority of CIA officers with his paranoid tendencies," Andrew added reassuringly, "would ultimately do the Agency more harm than good." (p. 185)

As for who the other Agency's officers were, and the possibility that "his paranoid tendencies" had infected those in other services, except for the then totally discredited Peter Wright of MI5 (p. 405), Mitrokhin's Archive made no mention, and Andrew, of course, was not so impolitic to raise the possibility. He was satisfied to record how the Agency, thanks to Angleton's paranoid tendencies, tortured poor Yuri Nosenko for claiming that Moscow had had nothing to do with the JFK assassination, and for denying that he had defected to discredit Golitsyn. (p. 368)

Andrew still claimed that the Centre tried to implicate CIA in the Dallas assassination by forging a letter from Oswald to E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate Plumber, asking for clarification of his position, and instructions about what he should be doing right before the assassination.(pp. 228-9) The forgery was incredibly authenticated by three American conspiracy buffs, and the Bureau and Agency diverted attention away from Oswald's alleged CIA connections by claiming that the letter was directed to Dallas oilman H. L. Hunt.

"By their initial cover-ups," Andrew concluded. "the CIA and the FBI had unwittingly probably done more than the KGB to encourage the sometimes obsessional conspiracy theorists who swarmed around the complex and confusing evidence on the assassination." Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin even alluded to assassin Oswald's alleged connections with the Texas oilmen in his memoirs, but obviously is not willing to provide the evidence to American investigators to back up the claim.

According to the Mitrokhin Archive, Soviet illegals like Edith Tudor Hart (p.58), Colonel Rudoph Abel aka Vilyam Firsher (p. 148ff.), and Gordon Lonsdale aka Konon Trofimovich Molody (p. 407ff.) - unlike Arnold Deutsch (p. 43ff.) and Teodore Maly (p.48ff.) before them - were hardly what they were cracked up to be when it came to recruiting agents, and stealing intelligence. It was apparently all those subversive communists in Britain whose identities remain yet to be determined, apparently by more Venona decrypts, and who willingly supplied Moscow with so much information that it was swamped with ideas about what to do.

The really important Soviet spies, as we already suspected all too well, were "The Magnificent Five" (p. 56ff.) - Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross - who supplied with Soviets with all the information they needed to make the atomic bomb, to infiltrate the "bourgeois apparatus," to frustrate Ultra efforts to decipher its messages, and the like. Thanks to Mitrokhin, though, the West learned that Melita Norwood aka HOLA (p. 116ff.) greatly assisted their atomic spying from Britain, proving so important, in fact, that she was given a more reliable handler than the womanizing Lonsdale.

Of course, in all this spying, the Soviets never got the West to pull any of its chestnuts out of the fire - assassinating troublesome leaders like Fidel Castro, President Kennedy, RFK, MLK, John Lennon, Sweden's Olof Palme and the like - though Moscow said some nasty things about specific individuals, especially Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover (pp. 234-6) and Martin Luther "Uncle Tom" King, and the Agency in general, thanks to disinformation supplied by various mentioned and unmentioned people - like Anthony Summers, Mark Lane, and Philip Agee. Summers, author of The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, was the author Andrew had in mind when he said the KGB was out to prove, apparently falsely, that the Director was a transvestite who wanted to convert the Bureau into "a den of faggots."

The Soviets were responsible for the appearance of Mark Lane's conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination, and Agee, author, with KGB and Cuban help (pp. 230-1), of Inside the Company: CIA Diary, actually defected to the USSR, and started outing the names of individual agents with the help of fellow left wingers, especially former Labour Minister of Overseas Development, Judith Hart.

As for the performance of KGB Chiefs Yuri Andropov, Viktor Chebrikov, and Vladimir Kryuchkov when the USSR entered its death throes, the Mitrokhin Archive poured out nothing but scorn, confirming what Andrew had claimed in two volumes of documents: Instructions from the Centre, and More 'Instructions from the Centre'. It was Andropov's obsession in destroying all dissent which forced Mitrokhin to become a spy (p.6ff.); Chebrikov's sycophantical reporting of KGB reports from home and abroad about NATO's routine operations, especially Able Archer 83, which convinced Mitrokhin and others that a reading of either the New York Times or the Washington Post made much more sense(pp. 214-5); and Kryuchkov's paranoia about a first strike from the West became so acute that he even suspected domestic reformers, especially Gorbachev, of undermining the USSR - what everyone but the thick-headed KGB chief in the end realized was the end. (p. 394)

To draw a line under the whole Soviet experience, and its KGB efforts, Andrew connected the spying by the Agency's Aldrich "Rick" Ames with that of previous mercenary walk-ins Robert Lipka and Chief Warrant Officer John Walker's family spy ring. (p.205ff.) All Andrew could talk about was the agents Ames had apparently betrayed, and all the money, nearly five million dollars, it had paid and promised him for it.

No sooner had the Andrew and Mitrokhin tome appeared than the CIA's Paul J. Redmond, chief of its CI Group when Rodney Carlson resigned in September 1985, jumped at the chance to review it for the Counterintelligence Centre. Redmond had nothing but the highest praise for it, indicating that it was being provided free to students in a upper level course.

Of course, Redmond, who had been leading Operation Courtship when defector Vitaly Yurchenko was being debriefed, could not pass up the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in Mitrokhin's story after he retired from the KGB - i. e., Courtship's double agent Sergey Bokhan worked for the GRU rather than his agency, and its plans to blow up restaurants in West Germany to disrupt Bonn's relation with Washington were not shelved in 1985, merely postponed. Redmond dismissed claims by Nightline's Ted Koppel, and the TLS's Amy Knight, author of well-received Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant, that Mitrokhin's Archive must be a Russian intelligence service plant as pure "ivory tower" irrelevance.

With the Archive used by Professor Andrew in this way, and Redmond reviewing the finished product in this manner, the articles I had published on this site, starting two weeks before Mitrokhin's demise, must have completely destroyed him, making him die of a broken heart, if not from something more deliberately induced.

The articles about why Ames and the Bureau's Robert Hanssen felt obliged to spy for the Soviets, how Prime Minister Thatcher's secret government had collapsed because its covert operations, especially the assassination of Sweden's statsminister Olof Palme, started leaking out, how MI5's Peter Wright functioned as the leading spy of the Cold War, if not for all time, how Lonsdale, thanks particularly to Wright, put Soviet spying in the West on such an efficient basis that it ran itself, and how Golitsyn contributed feedback which enlisted Western intelligence services into doing much of the KGB's dirty work for it must have been a shocked to Mitrokhin - far from what he bargained for when he made his files available to Britain's SIS.

Instead of the information being used to bolster Western claims about its achievements during the Cold War - what Mitrokhin and his wife thought would be worthwhile in defecting to the West - it was used, and added to by Andrew to cover up its worst covert operations, and intelligence failures. While the defector apparently thought that he knew everything important about spying and covert operations during the Cold War, the spying, disinformation, and reckless feedback supplied by Wright, Lonsdale, and Golitsyn caught him completely by surprise, and he was entirely unprepared for the wild recklessness of the effort to end the Bolshevik experience by a non-nuclear showdown with the Soviets at sea - what Palme's murder was intended to trigger.

The things which disturbed Mitrokhin the most, it seems, were the dismissal of Wright's spying for the Soviets as talent spotter SCOTT and Oxford scientist 'K' in one short paragraph (pp. 114-5), and without any mention of Mitrokhin contributing anything to our understanding about what was going on. Of course, Andrew had long attributed this spying to Cambridge's John Cairncross. In fact, Mitrokhin had no information about Wright's role - what Andrew reduced to just his effort to convince everyone, with Golitsyn's help, that politician Harold Wilson was so in Moscow's pocket that it killed Hugh Gaitskell to make him Labour's Leader, though there are still unnamed conspiracy theories he promoted. (p. 405) To be reminded of how Lonsdale most effective recruitment of spies by bedding officialdom's secretaries, and transmitting their information was reduced to pictures of him with one of them, and a cistern in the Classics Cinema Gentleman's lavatory in which he allegedly put condoms filled notes and radio parts must have also proved painful. Golitsyn's deceptions about who he was, and what he was up to - what allegedly made the KGB most desirous of assassinating him - could only have been most galling.

And KGB Chiefs were hardly unaware of what was in the offing during the Reagan administration - what could allegedly be remedied by reading government-controlled papers in the USA. There were most valid reasons for fearing a first-strike from the West - what Washington and London hoped to achieve with Task Force Eagle and NATO's Anchor Express Exercise in the wake of Palme's assassination. Kryuchkov's concern about countering NATO's threat with Operation RYAN was most justified, as KGB Chief Chebrikov noted on the morning of the Stockholm shooting by announcing that all the double agents that the West had positioned in the USSR to cause an international crisis had been rounded up - a view Gorbachev totally supported. (See Chistropher Walker's front-page story in The Times, March 1, 1986.)

As for Andrew's use of Oswald's letter to E. Howard Hunt, claiming that Mitrokhin's files proved it a KGB forgery, is just another example of his using the defector for Western intelligence purposes. Just because there was a copy of the letter in the KGB files - I had a copy of it in my files until my former employer destroyed them - proves nothing about its origin. (p. 616, note 34) And Redmond just added to the defector's pain by clearing up mistakes about the double agent operations which he knew nothing about.

In sum, the treatment of the Mitrokhin file by SIS and CIA is another cautionary tale for anyone thinking of defecting. For those who either misuse them, or enlighten them, it should be a most sobering experience.