Review by Sunny Delaney:
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 exfiltrated 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 the 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 boobytrapped–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.”