Sometime in 1992, Soviet KGB researcher Vasily Mitrokhin went to the CIA station at the United States Embassy in Riga, Latvia, and offered to defect. The CIA wasn't interested.
So Mr. Mitrokhin took his six trunks full of secrets from the Soviet spy agency to the British Embassy, where intelligence officials sneaked him out of the country and into Britain. There he revealed a breathtaking range of information about KGB operations against the West:
*A Briton, Melita Norwood, who worked for a company involved in Britain's nuclear-weapons program and who smuggled out atomic secrets to the Soviets in the late 1940s, helping them to obtain the bomb perhaps two years earlier than expected.
*KGB plans to sabotage American dams, pipelines, ports, power supplies, railways, and other targets.
*Secret, booby-trapped KGB weapons caches worldwide, including one recently unearthed in Switzerland. Others may still exist.
*KGB attempts to spread disinformation against prominent Americans such as former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
*Widespread eavesdropping on American defense contractors, communications from presidential aircraft, and Henry Kissinger's personal phone calls.
The revelations, contained in a new book by Mitrokhin and a Cambridge University academic, have caused an uproar in Britain. They provide food for thought and demand action:
First, the US, British, and other governments must prosecute when possible those who spied for the Soviets. A former US National Security Agency employee was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in 1997 based on Mitrokhin's information. Others should be vigorously pursued, regardless of their current age. Treason, past or present, cannot be tolerated.
Second, government agencies, defense contractors, and others need to take security far more seriously than they do - allegations about Chinese spying at the nation's nuclear labs show this is still a problem. And the KGB's diminished, but still potent, successor is still at work.
Third, if it hasn't already, the CIA should review the Mitrokhin case to find why such a rich source of information was turned away.
While many of the revelations are disturbing, it's well to remember that espionage is an inherently murky business and we often hear only one side of the story. Still hidden in classified archives are the many similar successes of American, British, and other Western intelligence agents.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society