Defence IQ Library: "The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West", by C Andrew and V Mitrokhin
Periodically, books come along that rip open their subject field. The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West is one such book. Written by Christopher Andrew, the Mitrokhin Archive is based upon the notes that Vasili Mitrokhin, ex-KGB archivist, spent twelve years copying and smuggling out of the security organisation. These notes were then slipped out of the Soviet Union, along with Mitrokhin and his family, in 1992, and were described by the FBI as the ‘most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source.’
A KGB history
In the first volume of The Mitrokhin Archive, Mitrokhin’s notes have been tailored by Christopher Andrew into a history of the actions of the Soviet intelligence within Europe and America from the Checka of Lenin through to the KGB of the 1980s. Andrew has supplemented Mitrokhin’s notes with historical sources and other information to add clarity and context, thereby creating a history of Soviet subterfuge told from a very unique perspective.
The 1964 'Suslov memo' offers a peak into the psyche of the Soviet intelligence
establishment [image: Penguin Books]
The first volume of the Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, as the title suggests, focuses upon Europe and America, oft referred to as the ‘Main Adversary’ by the KGB, whilst the second volume, The KGB and the World, deals with KGB actions in Africa, China and the rest of the world. The KGB in Europe and the West is mind boggling in breadth and depth, ranging from the familiar, such as the ‘Cambridge Five’ spy ring (harking back to a golden era of Soviet intelligence operations) and Aldrich Ames - to the less well known penetration and persecution of Soviet churches.
Prague Spring and Special Tasks
The KGB in Europe and the West provides a delectable ‘deep cover’ perspective to specific historical events, such as the crushing of the Prague Spring (on which there is a chapter devoted) and the Second World War. This unique insisder angle adds a priceless dimension to the telling of these events and is one of the reasons that the Mitrokhin Archive is such a valuable contribution to the field of intelligence and history.
Amongst the history of Soviet actions is a section on the ‘Special Tasks’ undertaken or attempted by the KGB. These tasks, ranging from assassinations through to kidnapping and sabotage, impress the reader with what are nothing less than intense psychological profiles of the minds of the Soviet leadership; this, and what seems to be an intense paranoia (and obsession with conspiracy) about conducting covert operations and those conducting them from the inside.
This pervasive paranoia also emerges in vivid descriptions of Soviet preparations for actions across America and Europe, with Mitrokhin’s notes revealing the secret locations of several deadly arms caches which, at the time, led to their being destroyed by Western authorities (several of the caches were booby-trapped with explosive devices to target illusory US agents).
This fixation on conspiracy, both within and without the ‘network’, in many cases led the intelligence establishment to discard valuable intelligence and establish surveillance on their own agents and sources (the ‘Cambridge Five’, for example, were regarded as double agents, working for SIS or MI5).
Although, as you might expect, a great deal of the references are simply to Mitrokhin’s notes - the respective volume, chapter and paragraph are given. Mitrokhin’s notes have been supplemented with other historical sources such as information from another KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky (KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev by Christopher Andrew and Gordievsky). Amongst these references are a large number of notes and explanations from Christopher Andrew. These notes, whilst they serve to explain the intricate coding system of Mitrokhin’s , also provide captivating illustrations of agents and the inner workings of their departments, both of which reveal very human failings in the midst of a very serious espionage industry.
The KGB in Europe and the West has made some solid contributions on what is actually the ‘big world’ perspective on intelligence operations – an oft unsung and unpublicised element of Europe’s history over half a century. It shines a light on KGB activities and offers an unprecedented insight into what can only be described as grimy Soviet relations with the West (and from the inside, no less). Although a substantial read (weighing in at just shy of a thousand pages), this first volume of The Mitrokhin Archive is a treasure-trove of back room secrets – and is well worth the investment in time.