|The KGB's hidden hand in terrorism
By Nigel West
Published: December 23 2005 13:59 | Last updated: December 23 2005 13:59
The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World
by Christopher Andrewand Vasili Mitrokhin
Basic Books/Allen Lane $22/£30, 677 pages
When a scruffy Russian pensioner walked into the British embassy in Riga in April 1992 and produced some exercise books covered in his notes, hand-written in a neat Cyrillic script, few would have expected that an extraordinary milestone in the history of espionage had been reached.
Certainly the CIA had not believed it, they had turned away Major Vasili Mitrokhin when he had offered his wares across town at the US embassy. But Mitrokhin's material turned out to be documents he had spent 10 years copying until his retirement from the KGB in 1984. When he defected to London in November 1992, accompanied by his wife and disabled son, he brought his treasure trove.
The first volume of his revelations was released in 1999 and shed light on hundreds of KGB operations across the globe, concentrating on Europe and the US. There is no doubt about the authenticity of the material. As well as initiating dozens of investigations in numerous countries, Mitrokhin's disclosures enabled molehunters to entrap spies and conduct ingenious counter-intelligence operations against agents who were contacted under a "false flagâ€ and invited to incriminate themselves. Two such men, Colonel George Trofimoff and Robert Lipka, are now serving long prison sentences. Another, Felix Bloch, who was a senior State Department diplomat, is under FBI surveillance.
The Mitrokhin Archive II, published three years after the KGB archivist's death, deals with Soviet operations in the developing world. The documented links between former Chilean leader Salvador Allende and the Kremlin, and the clandestine funding of senior politicians in Delhi, have already caused uproar but there is plenty more to prove Moscow's complicity in some of the more sinister world events. In particular, Mitrokhin produces the best evidence yet seen of the KGB's hitherto hidden hand in directing international terrorism.
During the Reagan era the CIA tried, and failed, to find proof that Palestinian extremists had received secret backing from the Politburo. Now we learn that Waddi Haddad, the godfather of modern terrorism, was codenamed Natsionalist (sic) and funded by the KGB, which also supplied him with weapons and guided him to particular targets.
Haddad led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and achieved worldwide notoriety in September 1970 when he pioneered air piracy as an instrument of political blackmail. Britain, Germany, Switzerland and the US succumbed to his demands in return for the release of prisoners, including Leila Khalid, who was being held in a London police station after a failed hijack bid.
It is largely thanks to Haddad's innovative approach to terrorism that airline passengers now suffer the inconvenience of security checks and long queues. In May 1970 KGB chairman Yuri Andropov reported to Leonid Brezhnev that his organisation controlled "the external operations of the PFLP to a certain degreeâ€, and Mitrokhin duly copied the message. This is the smoking gun that CIA analysts spent years trying to find, encouraged by Bill Casey and Alexander Haig, who felt sure such a link was to be found but were to be disappointed.
Slightly less convincing is the evidence against Yassir Arafat, who was cultivated by the KGB but apparently never recruited. Arafat's case highlights the problem of discriminating between the manuscript notes made by Mitrokhin while he was in the organisation, and his co-author's contribution, which has put them in their historical context. Christopher Andrew tells us the KGB was "doubtless well aware that Arafat's claims to have been born in Jerusalem were fraudulentâ€, but he acknowledges that this assertion is speculation, based not on material supplied by Mitrokhin but an inference drawn from one of Arafat's biographies.
The authors are on firmer ground when they reveal that Arafat's trusted intelligence chief, Hani al-Hasan, had been a KGB source, codenamed Gidar, since 1968.
And this illustrates the problem. There are gems on every page but without constantly referring to the endnotes it is impossible to tell whether we are reading Mitrokhin's copper-bottomed fact, or Andrew's supposition.
Take, for instance, the passage dealing with a PFLP abduction, inspired by the KGB in Beirut in August 1970, of an American academic identified as Hani Korda. Apparently, Korda was taken across the border to Jordan for a brutal interrogation but he committed suicide after refusing to admit, as the KGB believed, he was a deep-cover CIA agent. A harrowing tale indeed, until a little research shows there is no public record of such an incident.
The endnotes state blandly that "it has not proved possible to confirm the English spelling of Korda's nameâ€. In other words, it is claimed that the Soviets participated in the death of an innocent American academic, yet there seems little to back up the allegation, and certainly no discernible trace of anyone matching Korda's description seized in Lebanon in 1970.
Of course, there is more than enough blame for the KGB to shoulder for dozens of other atrocities. And the malign influence the Kremlin exercised over the developing world will be shocking even to the most hardened cold war cynics. Yet this is the sanitised version, a catalogue of covert operations that Mitrokhin's western sponsors, principally the British Secret Intelligence Service and the CIA, have decided can be revealed without jeopardising current investigations or compromising their own interests. Accordingly, the chapters describing wholesale political corruption in the Indian subcontinent serve a purpose, as does the detailed analysis of the forgeries and counterfeit documents the KGB peddled to gullible journalists in support of Soviet propaganda, especially in Africa. Clearly we should be reminded of the zeal with which particular foreign correspondents penned stories now exposed as unsophisticated efforts to denigrate the CIA and boost Soviet goals.
Although the tide turned dramatically and swiftly against the Communists in 1989, there were moments in Latin America and southern Africa during the previous decade when Soviet influence looked ascendant. Even Fidel Castro, once the KGB's most trusted supporter and always anxious to spread mischief in Angola and central America, fell from favour and was denounced for being grandiose.
The politburo was isolated from independent political analysis and self-delusion became a way of life, to the extent that grotesquely flawed advice persuaded the Kremlin to invade Afghanistan in December 1979.
Mitrokhin devotes two chapters to the bitter Soviet experience in that country and the endnotes reveal much of the material has been drawn from "The KGB in Afghanistan", a long study written by Mitrokhin from other notes. This highlights another difficulty in both volumes of his archive. Few of the documents cited in either book have been declassified and released for scrutiny, and the chapters on Afghanistan rely heavily on dozens of other books published on the wretched conflict, not on Mitrokhin's material. Mitrokhin's own handiwork has been diluted by Andrew's scholarship, which will irritate the purists, even if the end result is a holy grail of espionage, or at least as close as we can hope to get to one until the Soviet archives are opened to public inspection.
Mitrokhin II is shorter than the first volume and contains far less, as a proportion of the whole, drawing on original documents. But it is nevertheless a damning indictment of the way the KGB conducted its business, and the willingness of the Kremlin to be deluded.
Nigel West is editor of The Guy Liddell Diaries (Routledge, 2005)
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