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Hurrah for Mitrokhin!

By October 23, 1999 No Comments

For those who have been asleep for the last few months, the first volume of The Mitrokhin Archive was released in September 1999. The book (co-authored by British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew) represents the first public crack at a motherlode of information provided by Vasili Mitrokhin, the former archivist to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Over many years, he had quietly made copies of many papers and smuggled them out of his office. When he defected to the British in 1992, he brought copies of25,000 documents with him.

The first volume is a history of the KGB from 1917 to 1991 and is liberally studded with notes referring to dozens of other books. This time, the KGB Archives contribute much more to our understanding of old events. For example, there have been various attempts over the years to exonerate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Alger Hiss. Only a diehard Marxist would attempt this again – they were all guilty as charged. Oh, yes, and the Soviets did have agents of influence in Hollywood. The Cambridge Five are also explored in detail, and did far more damage than is commonly supposed.

Other material opens up light on much more recent events – such as the acute frustration Andropov had with the Polish government over its failure to squash Solidarnosc. Pope John Paul II’s role in the collapse of Communism has yet to be truly recognized, but the. Soviets certainly were afraid of his influence. (The Archives, however, contain no trace of documents related to any Soviet involvement behind the 1991 attempt on the Pope’s life -but then, this would not have been an action committed by the First Chief Directorate of the KGB). For those who remember the Peace Movement and the flagrant bias exhibited by groups like the World Council of Churches, the Archives have much to say about Soviet penetration and control of many such movements and organizations.

Much of the material has opened some new slants on history. For example, the Soviets, for all their massive dependence on intelligence gathering activities, faced some fearful handicaps. For a start, Soviet leadership was half-paranoid – a regular feature of survival in Soviet politics even after the Stalin era. This meant that the KGB was constantly handicapped in its political assessments by the search for “plots” and strategies that never existed. Moreover, KGB analysts often felt it necessary to tailor their reports to meet Politburo expectations. On the other hand, the KGB (and GRU) operated superbly in their attempts to garner scientific and technical knowledge.

One also gets the impression (as does Mitrokhin’s co-author) that at the end, the West won the intelligence war. The Soviets had a clear lead in the 1940s due to the large number of ideologically committed agents and the open vulnerability of Western Society. However, the Soviets lost their advantages while the British and Americans came surging out from behind to capitalize on the many KGB defections and the West’s awesome technological superiority. A case in point for the victory argument – the public offering of thousands of confidential KGB documents. No Western intelligence agency has had its laundry aired as thoroughly as this. Although Philip Agee – a KGB-handled ex-CIA administrative officer – who published the names of many CIA officers in the 1970s. The book makes frequent mention of Canada.

Leontina and Morris Cohen – two of the KGB’s greatest agents, had a slight Canadian connection. Leontina acted as a courier between unnamed sources in Chalk River, Ontario, and the Soviet’s New York Residency in the campaign to siphon nuclear secrets out of the Manhattan Project.

Igor Gouzenko’s paranoia was justified – the Soviets were keenly interested in getting their mitts on him again. In 1975, they believed that the long-time Conservative MP Tom Cossit knew where Gouzenko was. When a KGB agent was firmly rebuffed by Cossit while attempting to enlist his cooperation, the Soviets decided to attack his reputation. Cossit died in 1982, before the smear campaign got underway.

The Soviets used Canada as a place to establish “illegals” (often with the support of Canadian Communists) and then to move them — once their new identities were sorted out – to the US. In 1951 Yevgeni Vladimirovitch Brik landed in Halifax using the identity of a Canadian “live double” –presumably a Communist Party member – who had volunteered to disappear to Europe while Brik was active. Later, Brik assumed the identity of another man who had been born in Canada, but whose parents had taken him to the USSR before the Second World War. No great success as a spy, Brik ended up working for the RCMP and identified five agents to them. At least two of these were Canadian Communists themselves, and one had handed the Soviets part of the plans for the Avro Arrow.

Brik’s career as a double agent came to a halt in 1955 because of James Morrison. This rogue RCMP officer was selling the Soviets information from the Mounties’ counter-intelligence office to finance his own vices.

While the case of the Canadian spy Hugh Hambleton is well known, the Mitrokhin Archives points out that this Soviet agent was a committed Communist after the Second World War. He was ‘talent spotted’ by Communist Party of Canada member Harry Baker, and another member (code named Syvaschennik) did a background check on him for the Soviets.

In the 1960s, the Soviets tried to plant a series of illegals in Canada before attempting to run them into the US. They included “Jean Leopold Delbrouck” and his wife “Yanina” (his real name was Nikolai Nikolayevich Bitnov). Their backgrounds were prepared for the KGB with the aid of Romanian intelligence. The Bitnovs did not work out, having failed to establish a business in the Toronto area that could support them. They were recalled in 1969.

Dalibar Valoushek and his wife Inga assumed a German background and were quite active. As Rudi and Inga Herrmann, they established themselves nicely, and Rudi eventually worked for the CBC as a soundman. He also helped on a film for the Liberal Party and, as a CBC employee, attended the 1967 Liberal convention. For a time, Valoushek was a handler for Hugh Hambleton.

In 1968, Valoushek moved to the US to work as an independent photographer and to attempt the penetration of the Hudson Institute (Soviet think tanks were all government agencies, and they wrongly presumed the same was true in the west). Valoushek’s son was the subject ofa Soviet attempt to run him as a teenage spy in McGill University. In 1979 the FBI used Valoushek (who they turned in 1977) to expose Hambleton when the Liberal government seemed uninterested in prosecuting him.

Gennadi Petrovich Blyabin was another illegal who stayed in Canada from 1961 before moving to the US in 1965. Like the other two, he came over with an agent-wife and posed as “Peter Carl Fisher”, a refugee from Eastern Europe.

Canadian Communists also helped the KGB in providing documentation for illegals in Great Britain and the United States; among these were Konon Trifimovitch Molody and “Willie” Fisher (a.k.a. Rudolf Abel). Most of this activity was undertaken in the 1950s. Molody’s Canadian cover was as Gordon Arthur Lonsdale. The CPC member codenamed “Syvaschennik” was among those who facilitated Molody’s new identity. Note: The Mitrokhin Archives often refer to people who have yet to be prosecuted only by their KGB code-names. The only other clue to this Canadian’s identity is that he was a member of the Canada-Soviet Friendship Society.

In 1971, the Soviets – who were running low on illegals in the West – approached the local Communist Parties to facilitate new recruitment. William Kashtan, then the general secretary of the Party, was among those who agreed to help. However, he needed to be reassured that all that was expected of them was to identify possible new agents, get references, and point out the best way of approaching them (i.e. select their vulnerabilities).

Although the Communist Party of Canada was the first to sneer at the story of “Moscow Gold” (as they called it), they were largely funded by the Soviet Union. Indeed, even as the USSR spiraled into collapse in the late 1980s, they spent tens of millions in precious foreign currency to subsidize foreign communists. Kashtan used to go directly to the Soviet embassy for one set of payments whenever he was told that “the American wheat had arrived.” The KGB estimated that the CPC only got some 35% of its funds (at most) inside Canada. The rest was passed through the Soviets directly, or via the Soviet owned Ukrainian Book Store in Toronto. During the 1950s, when the Communist Party of the USA was operating under the scrutiny of the authorities, the CPC also passed Soviet subsidies on to them.

Although the battered remnants of the CPC will sneers at these revelations, the proof is QED. They went bust and lost most of their assets within a year of the collapse of the USSR. A rump CPC still exists, but is a shadow of its former self. Interestingly, the October 1 – 15th edition of People’s Voice (the CPC’s newspaper) took time out to condemn The Mitrokhin Archives. Their remarks were a refreshing blast of vintage invective. They described the book as “sensational propaganda intended to whip up old “cold war” – type hysteria, and to distort and slander our Party’s proud history of struggle for working class and social advance [sic], for peace, for Canadian sovereignty and independence and international working class solidarity.” Later in the same piece, the writer alleged that the book was part of a plot to impede the “resurgence” of Communist Parties around the world. Indeed.

The KGB, like the Soviet’s military intelligence organization, the GRU, would have been responsible for perpetrating acts of sabotage in wartime. Sabotage planning (including reconnaissance) was undertaken inside Canada. Operation Kedr was undertaken by Soviet Residents (those agents in Canada with a legal cover – diplomats usually), between 1959 and 1971. It identified dozens of sites and did the initial planning for attacks. The Mitrokhin Archives describes Soviet caches of equipment for sabotage in other countries — some of which have been dug up. It is reasonable to assume that stores of equipment are still hidden in Canada.

A Soviet illegal code-named Paul (Igor Vitalyevich Voytetsky) seemed to have connected with the FLQ in 1969. Voytetsky had ranged through a dozen nations under a carefully constructed Belgian identity – that of Emil Evraert – from 1962 until 1975. Besides Canada, he had also been active in planning sabotage activities and meeting with local malcontents (and Communists) in Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the UK (Ulster and Scotland), and the US.

Soviet involvement with the FLQ also involved the production of a forged CIA memo that suggests the US had contact with the Quebec terrorists. One should remember that the Soviets produced hundreds of forged documents, but this one still has some credibility with many Canadians — particularly those who are automatically prepared to dislike the Americans. One might assume, after the FLQ had flamed out with the end of the October Crisis of 1970, that the Soviets produced their memo as a parting salvo before the group ceased to be of use to them altogether.

To the Soviets, everything had to be subordinated to the greater cause. Religion was no exception. Victor Petluchenko and Ivan Borcha were two missionary priests of the Russian Orthodox Church who served in Western Canadian parishes in the 1970s. They were real priests in a Church whose existence in Russia depended upon Soviet sufferance. Their roles in Canada were slight, but they were expected to look for material that could help prepare future illegals for the USSR. The subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church is also one of the reasons why the World Council of Churches tended to adopt such a “progressive” line in the 1970s and ‘80s.

In many respects, the Mitrokhin Archives is not all that shocking, but it does verify so many suspicions about what was really going on during the Cold War. While more volumes (and as many more scandals) await release, the two questions that the book provokes are these: If we were so blasé about the threat then, what are we ignoring now? Secondly, if we know that a group of our own citizens were telling bald-faced lies then, why should we ever believe them now (or anyone like them) on anything?

There are some people with some explaining to do, and it had better be good.