WASHINGTON AND LONDON — Thirty-one years after he walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington offering classified documents from America's most secret intelligence agency, Robert Lipka's past finally caught up with him.
Arrested at his Pennsylvania home in 1996 by the FBI, the former National Security Agency clerk pleaded guilty the following year to spying for Moscow from 1965 to 1967. He received 18 years in jail. Because no trial was held, it was never disclosed how the FBI tracked him down.
Until now, that is.
A new book reveals that a KGB official defected to Britain in 1992 with six trunkloads of files, in the biggest single leak of top-secret materials in the history of espionage.
One of those files, eventually provided to the FBI, documented the exploits of Mr. Lipka, an agent the KGB code- named DAN.
The book reveals how the KGB penetrated the top levels of the Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower administrations, tried to discredit prominent Americans, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Edward Kennedy, and former Secretaries of State Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger, and planted secret weapons caches around the US and Europe.
It also discloses that the defector, Vasili Mitrokhin, first went to the CIA with his treasure trove, but was turned away. While details of KGB operations against the US are drawing attention in America more for their historic significance than anything else, the book, "The Sword and the Shield - The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB" has ignited a political firestorm in Britain.
The scandal centers on Melita Norwood, who as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Association during World War II, leaked materials to Moscow on Britain's nascent atomic bomb program. Outcry over the government's failure to arrest her has forced Prime Minister Tony Blair to demand greater accountability by the intelligence agency, MI5.
And it is clear that Mrs. Norwood, a life-long Communist and great-grandmother dubbed "the Bolshevik from Bexleyheath" by the British tabloid press, is only one player in a far, far bigger drama.
Christopher Andrew, the British academic who co-authored the book with Mr. Mitrokhin, says many former KGB agents are still at large. "Nobody who spied for the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev took power can be certain that their secrets will remain secure," he says.
According to Rupert Allason, a leading British espionage expert who writes under the name Nigel West, intelligence agencies elsewhere in Western Europe are now hunting for turncoats revealed by the book. A former member of Parliament, Mr. Allason says the Federal German Security Service, the BfV, is now cooperating closely with MI5 in some 50 investigations.
Professor Andrew says the Mitrokhin archives are also being used to investigate suspects in the US. The FBI has already followed up on some 10,000 leads gleaned from the materials. "The information has been out there since 1992, so a lot of things have been looked into and investigated," says a US official.
The book is based on handwritten notes taken by Mitrokhin while he worked on the KGB's archives over a 12-year period. He smuggled the notes in his shoes and pockets to his weekend cottage and buried them. Disaffected by his years in the KGB and what he learned from the archives, he decided to defect. "The value [of the book] is historical in nature and allowed the United States government to confirm other information it had from other sources over the years," says the US official, without elaborating.
Some experts say that there is so much material in the book, some of it embarrassing revelations about KGB penetrations of the CIA and US military, that it will likely be years before all of the investigations are complete. "I'm sure there are other cases they are working on," says a former CIA field agent, who requested anonymity. "What we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg."
Indeed, the book reveals the code names of dozens of KGB agents, but not their identities, something the CIA, the FBI, and their counterparts in other governments almost certainly want to confirm. These include scientists and officials in leading defense firms and other companies, and universities involved in projects with military and other applications.
The book also reveals extensive KGB bugging operations against top US officials, including Mr. Kissinger. Other operations included:
*Attempts to implicate the CIA and wealthy right-wing Americans to the assassination of President Kennedy. As part of these efforts, the book says the KGB in the 1970s forged a letter from Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, to E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA agent who was convicted in the Watergate break-in.
*Disinformation operations designed to foment racial unrest in the US, including efforts to portray Dr. King as an anti-Semite.
*KGB plans for sabotage operations in the US and Europe, including schemes to disrupt the power supply in New York state.
*The burying of arms and radio caches for KGB agents throughout the West. The book says the caches were booby-trapped, and one was uncovered in Switzerland in 1998.
Belgian officials yesterday said they had discovered three buried caches of KGB radio transmitters.
The book also makes clear the extent of KGB incompetence, despite its successes. Its reports to Soviet leaders were often wrong, incomplete, or colored by a stilted Stalinist view of the world. Many were also drafted to conform with the Kremlin's analysis of events because disagreeing with them could result in dismissal, jail, or even death.
Advance copies of the book were released last week, and it was featured in reports on CBS's "60 Minutes" and on ABC's "Nightline"; in Britain it is being serialized in The Times of London.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society