The New KGB

Title:                      The New KGB

Author:                  William R. Corson

Corson, William R. (1985), and Robert T. Crowley. The New KGB: Engine of Soviet Power. New York: Morrow

LCCN:    85002911

JN6529.I6 C67 1985


Date Updated:  October 30, 2015

Despite its title, this book is mainly a history of the Soviet security and intelligence apparatus, rounded out by a retelling of some of the organization’s more notorious exploits in Britain and the United States. The chapters on the methods employed by Soviet agents in ferreting out the West’s industrial and military secrets are particularly timely, what with recent arrests of a number of Americans accused of spying for Moscow. But the book’s message lies elsewhere. The authors, who claim a combined 70 years’ experience in military intelligence, contend that the KGB has taken over control of the Soviet Communist Party and “now operates the USSR” They concede that this view puts them at odds with many “traditional” American scholars who see the party as still firmly in charge, and they provide little real evidence in support of their own opinion. Their conclusions are more a matter of interpreting Soviet political dynamics as holding out little hope for any improvement in East-West relations. American ventures in detente, trade and scientific exchange are dismissed as delusions that have made it that much easier for the KGB, beefed up before his death by the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, to carry out his ukase—massive filching of Western high technology to modernize and expand the Soviet armed forces. Soviet professions of reasonableness are pretense, a smokescreen behind which Russia under its new KGB masters reverts to harshest Stalinism.

There is little left to do, as the authors would have it, but hold the Russians at arm’s length and proceed with President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” program. It is unfortunate, in a book laying claim to special expertise, that the footnotes and bibliography should contain so many errors in transliterations of Russian names and words.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[1]

From Earl’s Court5 tube station, follow the one-way traffic along Warwick Road, turning right onto Pembroke Road, then left into Pembroke Gardens. On the left is 31 Pembroke Gardens. The route you have taken to reach the home of Ernest Holloway Oldham is the route taken in 1930 by a dogged Soviet intelligence officer who found Oldham as one might find a needle in a haystack and who made Oldham (for a while) a Soviet agent. Oldham’s story tells us much about the Cheka’s ingenuity and ruthlessness—and about Soviet penetration of HM Government. .

Oldham was an unlikely spy for those days, motivated by greed and not ideology. After 17 years as a Foreign Office cypher clerk, he was poor and resented it. In Paris briefly with a trade delegation in 1929, he went to the Soviet Embassy and announced himself as “Mr Scott” with a British cypher for sale. He was kept waiting while the OGPU’s Vladimir Voynovich examined the material, and he was astonished to be cast out of the embassy within the hour, his documents thrown out with him. Voynovich denounced him as a provocateur and proudly sent the copied cypher to Moscow.

“Scott” went through nervous times back in London. A Soviet defector from the Paris Embassy had told the French of an amusing incident about an Englishman named Scott, and the French had told the British. The defector referred to Scott as B-3, suggesting that Scott was the third Briton working for the Soviets, but the British made little of any of it.

Now, however, Voynovich too went through nervous times. Moscow Centre had found Scott’s material authentic and wanted him immediately as an agent. But his name was obviously fake and the embassy had compounded the problem by producing a surveillance report with the wrong address for his pension. (Moscow considered Voynovich a fool and later executed him in the Great Purge.)

To find their man, Moscow enlisted an “illegal” based in the Netherlands, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, who used the name Hans Galleni and often presented himself as a Hungarian count. In London, Galleni exhibited the kind of resourcefulness that Stalin’s purges would almost extinguish among Chekisti: he sought the aid of London’s Metropolitan Police! He could do so, of course, only after eluding surveillance by the Soviet rezident, since to be seen contacting the British authorities would have earned him a one-way ticket to the Lubyanka.

At the police station, Galleni feigned difficulty speaking English and told the Bobbies a cleverly crafted tale. His sister’s son had been injured in Paris, he said; the hit-and-run accident had been witnessed by a helpful Englishman whose name and address had, alas, been lost. The Englishman said he was with the Foreign Office. Could the Bobbies help? Galleni’s sister needed the insurance money she would get if the Good Samaritan could be summoned to testify as he had promised. The Bobbies could indeed help. They telephoned the FO, they received the return call while Galleni waited, and they supplied Galleni with the names of four persons who had been in Paris for the FO on the date specified.

Galleni eliminated two of the four—one was a woman, the other lived in too grand a street. He lay in wait for the person living in Pembroke Gardens, hoping that this one would match the photo taken surreptitiously at the Paris Embassy. When he saw his man at Cromwell Road, the exultant Galleni thrust into Oldham’s hands an envelope containing £2,000 and instructions for a subsequent meeting. He darted away, leaving a stunned Oldham at the kerb.

At the designated meeting, Galleni persuaded Oldham to continue his espionage by giving him more money. The truth of Oldham’s co-operation has been undisclosed for six decades, write Costello and Tsarev[2], the significance of the case underestimated. Oldham was “not just a code clerk but a cypher expert” and between 1930 and 1932 he sent “a great deal of information on security and secret traffic systems” to Moscow.

But Oldham had misgivings. He resigned from the FO, possibly as a way to end his relationship with Soviet Intelligence (even though Galleni had warned him against refusing to continue). And now the Soviets were worried. Oldham had helped to recruit John Herbert King in the FO communications department, thus compromising the principle of compartmentation whereby agents shouldn’t know of each other’s existence. The Soviets were worried that the disaffected Oldham would reveal Bert King’s treason as well as his own.

As William R. Corson and Robert T. Crowley note mordantly in The New KGB, “There were no live deserters from Stalin’s secret army.” And indeed, on 29 September, 1933, a year after Oldham’s resignation from the FO (and from Stalin’s secret army), he lay unconscious on his kitchen floor here in Pembroke Gardens. The hospital pronounced him dead on arrival; the coroner’s report indicated “coal gas suffocation” and mentioned Oldham’s “unsound mind”. (Bert King later went to prison, his treason revealed by defecting Chekist Walter Krivitsky. In 1941 Krivitsky too was found dead—another/suicide”—in his Washington hotel room.)

Twelve years after Oldham’s death, MI5 asked Mrs. Oldham to help in identifying Galleni (presumably by photograph, since Moscow had recalled him in 1936 and sent him to the gulag). The day before meeting with MI5 she fell mysteriously ill. She died before making the identification. Her timely death raises once more the question of Soviet penetration of MI5. Intelligence writer Richard Deacon hints that Guy Liddell (see Site 32: Shrewsbury House, 42 Cheyne Walk), soon to become deputy director-general of MI5 and later suspected of being a Soviet mole, knew more than he should have about the deaths of Oldham and his widow.

Nearby at Holland Road in Kensington High Street is the Olympia Hilton Hotel where Iraqi dissidents and CIA officers held secret meetings in 1992 to discuss an Iraqi plan to kill Saddam Hussein. The plotters in Iraq were ultimately betrayed in 1993, only days before the plan’s execution, and Saddam arrested hundreds. Did the Americans betray them, as alleged by a leading Iraqi exile in London? Maybe not. Saddam would have learnt from the Soviet security services precisely how to infiltrate such a cabal—or even how to create one, attracting and then controlling the plotters.

Some more comments by Roy Berkeley:[3]

Start at the Bank of England. If you have time, take the bus; the changing glimpses of St Paul’s Cathedral will remain with you long afterwards. At the Bank of England, look west for the street named Poultry (where poultry was sold in medieval times). In the 1920s the Midland Bank asked the eminent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to design the bank’s head office here at 27-32 Poultry. In June, 1983, the Midland Bank received word that Dennis Skinner, its resident manager in Moscow, had fallen to his death from his flat high above Leninsky Prospekt. Two days earlier he had sent an urgent message to the British authorities indicating knowledge of “a Soviet spy” in the British Embassy.

Naturally there was no evidence to support a verdict of “unlawful death” but a coroner’s jury in London brought exactly this verdict, differing sharply from the Soviet view that no crime had occurred. Naturally too, the Foreign Office took the position that the case had no implications for national security, and at the coroner’s inquest in London a British diplomat mentioned Skinner’s “exaggerated” fears. A bit unnaturally, the Labour Party sided against the Soviet Union—more precisely, against the Conservative Party—in suggesting that HM Government knew more than it was saying about the whol thing. Undoubtedly so. For decades, both the American and British intelligence services (and others, no doubt) have arranged cover for their operatives as employees of the larger international banks.

According to Corson and Crowley in The New KGB[4], Skinner was “murdered in circumstances resembling the classical “artistic suicide”} so long favored by the organs.” Undoubtedly so. The incident marked a return to the tried-and-true technique of defenestration that had enjoyed some currency after WWII. The death of Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, was the best known of these “suicides”, several of which were connected with the Alger Hiss case in the US.

The only real mystery about Skinner’s death, to my mind, concerns what he knew that caused him to be thrown to his death by KGB thugs

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, p.

[2] Costello, John (1993) and Oleg Tsarev. Deadly Illusions: The KGB Orlov Dossier Reveals Stalin’s Master Spy. New York: Crown

[3] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 241`-242

[4] Corson, William R. (1985), and Robert T. Crowley. The New KGB: Engine of Soviet Power. New York: Morrow


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4 Responses to The New KGB

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