Empire of Fear

Title:                  Empire of Fear

Author:                Vladimir Petrov

Petrov, Vladimir (1956) and Evdokia Petrov. Empire of Fear. New York: Praeger

LCCN:    56013225

UB271.R92 P4 1956a


Date Updated:  October 4, 2016

I had the good fortune to be in classes taught by Nigel West while travelling on the Queen Mary II in 2010. One of Nigel’s handouts provided a list of books by large-scale subject material. It also includes a bibliography of West’s books as of 2010. This book is one item in the section, DEFECTORS.

While the escape of the Petrovs from the grip of the “empire of fear” that was Soviet Russia lacked some of the mystery of the Burgess-Maclean drama, it too was a signal achievement, the end of which may not yet be told. This is a joint autobiography, and stems back to two childhoods, two periods of youth under Soviet tutelage, and a linking of careers in NKVD.

Oddly enough, at no point does the reader feel either their complete acceptance of the Soviet philosophy, or—with escape to the asylum of Australia— of a philosophy in opposition. The first was a matter of knowing nothing else, growing up in it, following the pattern laid down, and doing a competent job. The second was escape from fear, from conviction that the future held nothing, from disillusion rather than to conviction.

For the greater part of their service to their state, the Petrovs were lucky. They were neither early Bolshevists and therefore suspect, nor did they wield enough power to be objects of envy. Mr. Petrov filled a post in what was then OGPU; was transferred to Sweden in a Security assignment, the object in part to act as a listening post within the Embassy; then he came back to Moscow—and— as the plot reached its climax, became third secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Canberra and head of the Soviet espionage organization. Only then did he come under the criticism of the chief— the Ambassador; only then did he feel—for himself—the touch of the fear he had often used as a weapon. His wife filled key secretarial posts in each place of his assignment. They both were on the periphery during successive purges—in Moscow, in Singkiang Province; both knew too much to have survived once the ax fell. This is an authentic inside story of what makes Communists act as they do. These memoirs were ghost-written for the Petrovs by the then ASIO officer Michael Thwaits) [Australia. Royal Commission on Espionage (1955). Report of the Royal Commission on Espionage[1].

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[2]

In April 1954, the Petrovs, both members of the Soviet MVD, defected to the Australians. Vladimir had been with that organization and its predecessors since 1933, had attained the rank of colonel of Soviet State Security, and was the resident in Australia (the chief of the MVD station). Evdokia, his wife, was a code clerk. The story they tell lies outside the scope of the Royal Commission’s inquiries into their revelations, which should be read in conjunction with any further study of their lives and their work in intelligence (see the Australian Report of the Royal Commission on Espionage, 1955[3]). The important facts of Soviet intelligence activities in Australia that Vladimir Petrov revealed will be found in the commission’s report but are not covered in this book. The Petrovs relate the story of their lives and their careers, as Soviet state security officers and as code clerks. We learn of the workings of Soviet diplomatic and intelligence installations abroad and of security, foreign intelligence, and code work performed. There is a chapter on Burgess and Maclean; it was Petrov’s revelations about these two Soviet agents that precipitated a British white paper on their cases, for Petrov made public what he knew of these spies and of their escape to Moscow. Petrov could have been more forthcoming on the internal organization and functions of a Soviet legal residentura (a Soviet intelligence station abroad) than he was. Evdokia’s knowledge of Soviet cryptographic systems, though it is not elaborated upon here, would presumably have been of considerable interest to opposition services due to these systems’ intrinsic importance. In the appendix, Petrov points out inaccuracies in Bialoguski’s The Case of Colonel Petrov[4]. The Royal Commission’s report will give a better feel for the political controversy created by Petrov’s disclosures, which cast reflections on certain members of the Australian Labor party. So too will Thwaites’ Truth Will Out[5], which gives Australian security’s view of the Petrovs’ defection as well as revealing that Empire of Fear was ghost written by Thwaites.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[6]

The personal account by a husband and wife who were long-time Soviet intelligence employees prior to their dramatic defection in Australia in the early 1950s. Petrov was a senior MVD official; his wife was a code clerk. Recommended for an insight into the Soviet state and its intelligence apparatus.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[7]

An excellent memoir of a husband and wife team who worked in Australia and defected from the Soviet intelligence system. Has a Cold War purpose.

[1] Royal Commission (Australia) on Espionage (1956). Report of the Australian Royal Commission on Espionage. W Sydney, Australia: A. H. Pettifer. See the Royal Commission Website http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/pjcasio/ppgrole.htm

[2] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 366-367

[3] Royal Commission (Australia) on Espionage (1956). Report of the Australian Royal Commission on Espionage. W Sydney, Australia: A. H. Pettifer

[4] Bialoguski, Michael (1955). The Case of Colonel Petrov: How I Weaned A High MVD Official From Communism. New York: McGraw-Hill

[5] Thwaites, Michael (1980). Truth Will Out: ASIO And The Petrovs. Sydney, Australia: Collins

[6] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 50

[7] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 154


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5 Responses to Empire of Fear

  1. Pingback: Red Star over Prague | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: The Case of Colonel Petrov | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Truth Will Out | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  4. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  5. Pingback: Stalin’s Englishman | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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