THE SWORD AND THE SHIELD: THE MITROKHIN ARCHIVE AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE KGB By Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin Basic Books 700 pp., $32.50
Here are a few vignettes from a book that has brought yet another round of spy fever to Britain, with daily revelations, accusations, defenses, and excuses.
Co-written by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, "The Sword and the Shield" offers a rambling, richly detailed account - and another volume is forthcoming! - of the inner workings of the foreign intelligence operations of the Soviet secret police (KGB) from 1917 onward.
Stuffed with more stories than anything we've seen from Hollywood spy movies, the book offers examples of the KGB's extraordinary power and capacity to meddle. For example, outraged by the defection of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev in 1961, the KGB considered breaking his legs, but then decided against it. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 opened with an attack by disguised KGB units on the government in Kabul. Both sides suffered hundreds of dead. Agents in Argentina sabotaged ships loaded with supplies for Germany during World War II. And the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico, during 1940, capped a series of assassinations and abductions by the KGB throughout Europe, triggered by the great purges.
These fall among the most spectacular of the agency's "active measures," as chronicled in this remarkably informative book, a full-dress history of the KGB as the central, virtually decisive organ of the Soviet state, both at home and abroad.
Andrew, a British academic who has established intelligence studies as a virtual separate discipline, and Mitrokhin, a former KGB archivist - and now a British citizen - whose extensive notes were smuggled out of Russia upon his defection in 1992, have written an indispensable account of the Soviet system.
Their purpose emerges early on: to counter recent books in which British or American authors have collaborated with Soviet co-authors to gain selective access to the KGB records, the consequence being to refurbish, even to normalize, the KGB's history, presenting it in a moderate, favorable light.
The authors will have none of that. To them, the cold war still continues, and they offer a thorough, inside assessment of the KGB's "active measures," in all their harshness. According to them, the KGB continues as a major, though subtle, contestant, despite its protestations of innocence. All the more reason for Andrew and Mitrokhin to stand above suspicion.
But do they? How did Mitrokhin gain access to the most secret KGB archives, taking notes day after day, year after year, and easing them out of the building? What was his motive in taking such huge risks? And how did trunks full of notes reach Britain?
Clearly, M.I.6., the British Secret Intelligence Service, must have been involved, but how? Above all, why? And how was Andrew selected to help write a book that will probably bring large sales? So long as these questions remain unanswered, suspicions will continue regarding the authenticity of this text and its character as part of a cold war that both sides see as continuing.
Not withstanding Western assumptions, the KGB practiced murder very rarely. Cooler heads prevailed after the Stalin era because the danger of being caught imposed caution. "Active measures" did not differ greatly in type from those used by the CIA and other intelligence services - however much Americans like to think of themselves as the good guys and the KGB as the bad hats.
The largest difference lies in the KGB's domestic focus, its concern with dissidents and internal opponents. Money trumped ideology, agent recruitment proceeded normally, and tiny - often insignificant - bits of secret data were collected and transferred to Moscow for evaluation. But that process is largely ignored in this book and in the spectacular hoopla attending it. All that spying: What did it signify?
*Leonard Bushkoff is writing an account of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a CIA-sponsored front organization.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society