Title: The Sword And The Shield
Author: Christopher Andrew
Andrew, Christopher (1999) and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword And The Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive And The Secret History of The KGB. New York:Basic Books
Date Posted: January 24, 2013
When I read about the spies who gave away so many of our nuclear weapon secrets, and the Cambridge Four spies I wonder how we were able to keep anything secret from the Soviet Union. And then I wondered if we had anything going for us? We had almost no agents in the USSR and the British avowedly had none. Then how could we get any information?
In early 1992, a Russian man walked into the British embassy in a newly independent Baltic republic and asked to “speak to someone in authority.” As he sipped his first cup of proper English tea, he handed over a small file of notes. Eight months later, the man, his family, and his enormous archive had been safely delivered to Britain. When news that a KGB officer had defected with the names of hundreds of undercover agents leaked out in 1996, a spokesperson for the SVR (Russia’s foreign intelligence service, heir of the KGB) said, “Hundreds of people! That just doesn’t happen! Any defector could get the name of one, two, perhaps three agents – but not hundreds!”
Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin worked as chief archivist for the FCD, the foreign-intelligence arm of the KGB. Mitrokhin was responsible for checking and sealing approximately 300,000 files, allowing him unrestricted access to one of the world’s most closely guarded archives. He had lost faith in the Soviet system over the years, and was especially disturbed by the KGB’s systematic silencing of dissidents at home and abroad. Faced with tough choices–stay silent, resign, or undermine the system from within–Mitrokhin decided to compile a record of the foreign operations of the KGB.
Every day for 12 years, he smuggled notes out of the archive. He started by hiding scraps of paper covered with miniscule handwriting in his shoes, but later wrote notes on ordinary office paper, which he took home in his pockets. He hid the notes under his mattress, and on weekends took them to his dacha, where he typed them and hid them in containers buried under the floor. When he escaped to Britain, his archive contained tens of thousands of pages of notes.
In 1995, Mitrokhin, by then a British citizen, contacted Christopher Andrew, head of the faculty of history at Cambridge University and one of the world’s foremost historians of international intelligence. Andrew was allowed to examine the archive Mitrokhin created “to ensure that the truth was not forgotten, that posterity might some day come to know of it.” The Sword and the Shield is the earthshaking result.
The book details the KGB’s foreign-intelligence operations, most notably those aimed at Great Britain and the “Main Adversary,” – the United States. In this 700-page book, Andrew reveals operations aimed at discrediting high-profile Americans, from Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan; secret arms caches still hidden – and booby trapped – throughout the West; disinformation efforts, including forging a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to implicate the CIA in the assassination of JFK; attempts to stir up racial tensions in the U.S. by sending hate mail and even bombs; and the existence of deep-cover agents in North America and Europe – some of whom were effectively “outed” when the book was published.
Mitrokhin’s detailed notes are well served by Andrew, who writes forcefully and clearly. The Sword and the Shield represents a remarkable intelligence coup, one that will have serious repercussions for years to come. As Andrew notes, “No one who spied for the Soviet Union at any period between the October Revolution and the eve of the Gorbachev era can now be confident that his or her secrets are still secure.”
There are many editions of this book. Vol. 1, by the abbreviated name, The Sword And The Shield, was published by Allen Lane, Penguin in London, 1999. Vol. 2, The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World, was published by Penguin, London, 2005, and as The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, in the U.S., New York: Basic Books, 2005. (Also available as a Kindle eBook, 2008) These two important volumes are the result of a partnership of Cambridge University professor Andrew, known as the official historian of MI5 (The Defence of the Realm), and former KGB officer, Col. Mitrokhin, who defected to Britain in 1992, bringing with him the largest cache of transcripts and notes from the secret KGB archives ever received from a single source. Together they represent a significant exposure of the KGB’s world-wide operations. They were presumably published with the tacit approval of the British services (MI5 and MI6). For over a decade Mitrokhin, the KGB First Chief Directorate (foreign intelligence) archivist, copied details from many of the FCD’s most interesting operational files. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, and having been turned away by the U.S., Mitrokhin volunteered to the British. Subsequently his archive was secretly smuggled out of Russia into the hands of the British services. Some of the information brought out by Mitrokhin was withheld from publication at the request of various governments, because of on-going investigations and the possibility of prosecutions. For a variety of reasons, primarily the development of evidence that would be acceptable as the basis for a criminal prosecution, few prosecutions actually resulted. Some critics complained that at least some information was withheld to avoid embarrassment for a number of agencies and governments. Nevertheless these volumes contain the largest amount of reliable information on KGB foreign intelligence operations over the longest time span and widest geographic area ever published. Andrew has brilliantly meshed and supplemented Mitrokhin information with illuminating supplementary information and insights. This is one of several “intelligence textbooks” recommended by Dan Mulvenna, in his “The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf: An annotated bibliography,” compiled by Dan Mulvenna (updated December, 2011).