The KGB vs. The CIA: The Secret Struggle
his program sets out to look at the Cold War not as a political conflict but as a clash between two intelligence services which, because of their very nature, often had more in common with each other than with the governments that employed them.
The story of this deadly battle can now be told because the collapse of communism has brought KGB files into the public domain and some senior KGB officers out of the shadows.
So far no one has taken full advantage of this to look back on the battle between the KGB and the CIA and ask the crunch questions--who won and why?
THE MOST IMPORTANT AMERICAN TRAITOR WAS NEVER CAUGHT
This is the story of the most important American traitor, the man who gave away the secret of the atomic bomb. The FBI claims that it caught all the atomic traitors. It did not. The main one was never caught and no one has any idea who he is. He is known only by his code name--PERCY.
The theft of America's atom bomb secrets was the KGB's greatest coup. It made no difference to the balance of atomic terror--the Soviet Union would have developed its own bomb sooner or later anyway--but it changed the course of American social history.
It discredited the CIA, which had assured the government that the Soviet Union would take at least eight years to make its own bomb. It discredited the FBI, which had failed to uncover the Soviet atomic spy ring until it was too late. It broke the special relationship between the United States and Britain because Klaus Fuchs, the spy blamed for the theft had been sent to Los Alamos by the British. It ended all possibility of a free international exchange of atomic knowledge. It destroyed American innocence when it became apparent that American citizens could be ideological spies, and it ushered in the McCarthy era.
The FBI says today that it caught every single member of the Soviet atomic spy ring. This is not true. The main member of the ring, an American scientist, known to the KGB as PERCY, has never been identified and the KGB says that he is still alive and free today. And the husband and wife team who recruited PERCY died peacefully in Moscow a few years ago after the British, who had them in jail on another charge, exchanged them--one of the great blunders of espionage history. They were known as the Krogers, a New Zealand couple who dealt in antique books. But their real names were Morris and Lona COHEN, two New Yorkers who had worked for the KGB since 1936.
In 1967 I wrote with others a series of newspaper articles on the British traitor Kim Philby. The moment the articles appeared, the KGB mounted an operation to secure the release of the KROGERS who were serving twenty years in a British jail for their role as communications officers in the spy ring run by the KGB colonel Conon Molody ("Gordon Lonsdale") at the Portland naval base, Britain.
The first hint of this operation--the existence of which has been confirmed to me by several former KGB officers involved in it--came from Philby himself in conversation with Murray Sayle, a British journalist who had gone to Moscow to consider buying Philby's own book, "My Silent War". "That was an interesting suggestion in The Economist ," Philby said to Sayle, "the idea that I would be prepared to withdraw my manuscript if the Krogers were exchanged for Brooke [an Englishman in jail in the Soviet Union for distributing anti-Soviet pamphlets]. If that were in fact a condition of the Krogers being released, of course I would withdraw my book."
Philby then went on to try to convince Sayle that the Krogers were innocent. "We don't dispute that people like Gordon and Colonel Abel [a KGB officer caught in the United States] were our agents, highly-skilled professionals, but we cannot agree that the Krogers were the top level agents that they are being represented as, or indeed our agents at all except in the sense of being friends of Lonsdale's."
Again, we did not know it at the time but this was nonsense--the Krogers were two of the KGB's most respected and highly-valued agents who had been key players in Moscow's atomic spy ring in the United States and had worked with Abel. Our ignorance can be forgiven because SIS and the CIA, too, did not know then how important the Krogers were, otherwise they might not have gone ahead only 19 months later with the exchange of the Krogers for Brook, a very minor figure in the intelligence war. And yet . . . did it not occur to the Western services to wonder why the KGB was negotiating for the release of the Krogers, two non-Soviet citizens --something it had never done before?
I became interested in this husband and wife spy team when, while visiting Moscow in 1990, I learnt from Igor Prelin, a former KGB colonel, that they were living in a state retirement home outside Moscow, and that a KGB film unit had been recording their life stories. I asked if I could see them but instead I was invited to help adapt the Kroger interviews for a Russian-British TV documentary eventually shown in the West under the title "Strange Neighbours". It concentrated on the Kroger's life in London, and told how they pretended to be New Zealand antiquarian books dealers, whereas in reality they were busy transmitting Gordon Lonsdale's spy reports to Moscow either on their concealed radio transmitter or with a micro-dot system. But there was another story the documentary did not touch. I had seen the uncut film of the Krogers talking to the KGB and had finally realised why Moscow had gone to such lengths to get them released from their British prison, and why Kim Philby was so eager to play a role in this release.
The Krogers were really Morris and Lona Cohen, two New Yorkers who had joined the American Communist Party in 1935 and, full of idealism almost to the last, served the party cause for more than 50 years. In the KGB film, faces alight with memories--"We were going to help build a better world for the masses"--they gave the impression of being locked away in a Communist time warp. Morris, the son of a New York peddler, joined the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion of the International Brigades under the name of Israel Pickett Altman and went off to the Spanish Civil war to fight for the Republicans. Recovering in hospital after being wounded by machine gun bullets in both legs, he was recruited by Soviet intelligence officers and sent to a spy school in Barcelona. Back in the United States he married Lona, a high school sweetheart, in 1941. They were such good Communists that Lona checked with the party first to see if it would prefer her to marry Morris or a rich lawyer who had been courting her. "I told the CP official, 'The party always needs money and I can get a lot of it for you without him knowing about it. I know how to do things like that.' And he said, 'If you marry a rich man you'll have servants, you'll have everything you want, and you'll forget about communism.' And I replied, 'Never'. And he said, ' No, marry the poor man and you can work together'."
The following year Morris joined the American army. But the couple had both been working for Soviet intelligence since 1938, running a seven-man spy ring. Lona recalls on the uncut film how this ring identified secret Nazis supporters in the United States, stole weapon parts from American arms factories, succeeded in recruiting an agent (never identified) in the Office of Strategic Services and worked with Abel for ten months in 1948. But their most valuable service for Moscow was to do with the Soviet atomic spy. Lona Cohen, then only 27, made several trips to New Mexico to collect material from someone working at Los Alamos and then brought the material to her KGB controller, Anatoly Yatskov, in New York. Yatskov said in 1991 that the material was a detailed description and drawing of the world's first atomic bomb which had just been dropped on Hiroshima. In the film interview Lona does not identify the spy at Los Alamos who gave her this priceless information.. But in the uncut KGB film, Morris Cohen talks about him at length. However in "Strange Neighbours", all these references were edited out by the Soviet co-producers. Fortunately, I could remember most of them.
Cohen said he had met a young American in his battalion in the International in Brigades in Spain, that after the Spanish war this young American had become a nuclear scientist and had eventually gone to work at Los Alamos. Morris said that Moscow had given him the job of approaching this old comrade-in-arms to see if he were willing to spy for the Soviet Union. Morris said he had met his friend at Alexander's restaurant in Manhattan and the recruitment had been successful. This was the source in Los Alamos who had provided the material that Lona had couriered to the KGB in New York. Further, Morris said that this scientist had never been suspected and that he was still alive, although not now living in the United States. Yatskov gave other clues. In an interview on the same film as the Krogers he said that his atomic spy ring at Los Alamos was ten strong--five agents he described as "sources of information", three who collected the material from them, and two senior KGB officers in overall charge. The FBI had caught only seven of them. Did they include the scientist who provided Lona Cohen with the material she couriered to New York? "The people she had contact with were never exposed," said Yatskov in 1991, "and they are living peacefully in their own country now."
Then with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the KGB under threat, there was a concerted effort by the service to boost its image to help its chances of survival. Articles about the service's successes began to appear in Russian publications. One, in Novoe vremia (23 April and 30 April 1991) by Vladimir Chikov, a KGB colonel, was headed "How the Soviet Secret Service Split the American Atom". Chikov's article quoted a message from a Soviet intelligence officer in the United States sent to Moscow in 1942 or 1943 about Morris Cohen's recruitment of his Spanish Civil War colleague. "The physicist . . . contacted our source 'Louis', an acquaintance from the Spanish Civil War. . . We propose to recruit him through 'Louis'. 'Louis' has already carried out a similar task and very successfully." Chikov went on to say that the recruitment went ahead and that the physicist became the chief Soviet source within Los Alamos. Since Morris Cohen was in Moscow and safe from the FBI, Chikov had no hesitation in identifying him as the agent 'Louis'. But, significantly, he did not name the American physicist.
Although in Chikov's version it is the physicist who first approaches Morris Cohen, the rest of his account served to confirm what Morris Cohen had said in those parts of his uncut film interview. It seemed now only a matter of time before the physicist was identified. Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post led the hunt but it was not until 25 February 1996 that he announced that the Soviet agent was Theodore Alvin Hall, a Harvard-educated physicist, now aged 70, who had worked at Los Alamos in 1944-45. He had been investigated for espionage by the FBI in 1950-52 but was not prosecuted. He left the United States in 1962 for Britain and at the time of writing lives in Cambridge. He has an inoperable cancer and refuses to confirm or deny any involvement in espionage activities.
But is Hall the right man? He is a physicist, which fits Chikov's description of his profession. But that is all. He was born in 1926, which means that he would have been only ten years old at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and thirteen when it finished, so he was certainly not in the International Brigades. Yet both Morris Cohen in his KGB film and Chikov in his article are positive that the physicist did serve in Spain. Morris Cohen died in Moscow in 1993, a year after his wife. Anatoly Yatskov, the Soviet intelligence officer who ran them, also died in 1993. No one has seriously taken up the hunt for PERCY. And no one has realised his link with those Cold War icons of the Left, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In 1950, when Philby was British intelligence's liaison officer with the CIA and the FBI, his Washington office was in an annexe of the British embassy. But he also had a small office in the FBI where he would go to read FBI material too sensitive to be allowed out of the building. A lot of this related to the Venona decrypts, the radio traffic from the Soviet Consulate in New York in 1944-5, which American code-breakers had been working on since the end of the war. The Venona material offered a window into the running of the Soviet espionage apparatus in the United States. Of course, it did not reveal names. But it did offer clues to the identity of Western agents recruited by the KGB and by painstakingly putting these clues together the FBI could narrow down a list of suspects and, hopefully, finally pinpoint the traitor. American experts who have studied the Venona story, say that this one code-breaking success was responsible for nearly all the major spy cases of the postwar period.
Being party to the Venona material put Philby in a difficult and dangerous position--what should he do as he followed the FBI homing in on his Soviet intelligence service comrades? He discussed this with his Soviet control and they made some brutal decisions. If Philby were to use what he had learned from Venona to tip off those Soviet agents under suspicion so as to allow them to flee, then the FBI would suspect a leak. It would immediately ask: who has had access to Venona? Philby would be included in any such list and he would be automatically investigated. There would be no proof against him but he would be compromised, and J. Edgar Hoover who did not trust the British anyway, would make certain that Philby would never again enjoy the same degree of confidence. This could imperil Philby's lifelong plan--that he should become the chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, a coup without precedent in the history of espionage and one which would allow the KGB virtually to control the espionage Cold War. So Philby's knowledge of Venona would have to be used sparingly. This meant that those agents who were of most importance to Moscow would be helped but all the others would have to be sacrificed. Donald Maclean would be helped because he had provided excellent intelligence from Washington and the KGB hoped he would continue to rise in the British Foreign Office. (He did. In November 1950 he became head of the American Department in London and passed to Moscow, among other things, the assurance obtained from President Truman by Prime Minister Attlee that the United States would not use the atom bomb in the Korean war.)
So Philby kept his Soviet control appraised of the progress the FBI was making towards identifying Maclean and at the right moment tipped off Maclean in time for him to flee to Moscow in May, 1951. Philby also told his Soviet control that the FBI was getting close to identifying the Cohens. "In the summer of nineteen-fifty we had information from a comrade that the best thing would be for us to leave," Morris Cohen recalled in his Moscow KGB interview. That comrade was Yuri Sokolov. "I had orders from Moscow to tell them to get out immediately," he remembered in Moscow in 1991. "I went to their flat and in case it was bugged I wrote out the order on a piece of paper. They were gone within the hour."
But no one tipped off Julius and Ethel Rosenberg until it was too late. Why? Simply because the Soviets did not consider them to be sufficiently important. The KGB's assessment of the Rosenbergs was that they were "minor couriers, not significant sources, who provided no valuable secrets and who were absolutely separate from major networks gathering atomic secrets". They were not part of Yatskov's ten strong atom team. The fact is that in spy Cold War the Rosenbergs were considered expendable, especially as neither Philby nor his bosses in Soviet intelligence ever expected that even if the Rosenbergs were caught and convicted, the Americans would execute them. But there were counter-espionage pressures influencing the Rosenberg's fate that Moscow did not know about.
The FBI wanted to smash the entire Soviet espionage apparatus in the United States without revealing that it had been doing it through Venona--the fact that it had been breaking the Soviet code. So Hoover reasoned like this: if Julius Rosenberg could be persuaded to make a general confession, then the FBI could then arrest all the other agents they knew about only through Venona, but claim publicly that it had been Rosenberg's confession that had led them to these people--even though it had not . Julius Rosenberg knew nothing about Venona or the FBI's aims but he resolutely refused to confess so the Justice Department decided to increase the pressure on him. Assistant U. S. Attorney Myles Lane told the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, "The only thing that will break this man Rosenberg is the prospect of a death penalty or getting the chair, plus that if we can convict his wife too, and give her a sentence of 25 or 30 years, that may serve to make this fellow disgorge and give us the information on these other individuals." The judge at the Rosenberg's trial went further. After consulting the Justice Department he sentenced not only Julius Rosenberg to death in the electric chair but Ethel Rosenberg as well, thus offering Rosenberg the chance of saving his wife's life with his confession. But both refused to budge and were executed on 19 June 1953 after a worldwide campaign failed to convince President Eisenhower to grant them clemency.
So no wonder that when Murray Sayle saw Philby in Moscow in 1967 he formed the impression that Philby "seemed to feel a personal responsibility to the Krogers to get them out of jail." It was too late to help the Rosenbergs but Philby felt he could somehow redeem himself by sacrificing his book--which meant a lot to him--on behalf of another husband and wife spy team. On the last night of our talks in Moscow I said to Philby, "Looking back on your life, do you have any regrets?" He gave general answers and then suddenly said, "Professionally I could have done better. I made mistakes and I paid for them." At the time I thought he was talking about his friendship with Guy Burgess. I now think he was talking about the Rosenbergs, sacrificed by the KGB in order to protect the COHENS, the only ones who could identify the greatest atomic spy of all, PERCY.
There is a postscript to this story. The FBI claims that there never was a PERCY and that the whole story was invented by the Krogers at the instigation of the KGB as a disinformation exercise. Like so many aspects of the secret world, you will have to make up your own mind as to where the truth lies.
THE CUBA MISSILE CRISIS AND THE SPY NO ONE WANTED
In Russia, Colonel Oleg Vladimirovich PENKOVSKY, executed in Moscow 34 years ago is regarded as a traitor. In the West he is hailed as "the spy who saved the world". Now new evidence emerging from the old KGB suggests that Penkovsky need not have died at all--he was betrayed by his friends, the British Secret Intelligence Service.
His story is one of high if dirty drama, a battle of wits in which a British triumph--not only over the KGB but over their American "cousins", the CIA--was soured by the fact that the game cost one brave man his life and another, a patriotic Englishman, his emotional sanity. And it made many a CIA officer determined never to collaborate with the British again.
It began on the night of August 12, 1960 when two young American tourists, strolling back to their hotel in Moscow, were approached by a well-dressed Russian who said he had valuable information he wanted them to pass on to the American embassy.
Gary Powers, the American U-2 spy plane pilot, shot down over the Soviet Union the previous May, was to go on trial in Moscow in four days' time. The Russian said he could expose the Soviet version of the incident as a lie: the U-2 had not been brilliantly brought down by a single missile, as the Soviet leader Khrushchev had claimed, but by 14, not one of which had been able to score a direct hit.
One of the Americans decided that the Russian was probably a police provocateur, so he shook him off and returned directly to his hotel. But the other American was impressed by the Russian's apparent sincerity. He accepted an envelope the Russian pressed on him and took it to the American embassy, where, after some bureaucratic difficulty, it was accepted and passed by diplomatic bag to the CIA in Washington.
The letter was from Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) and it offered his services to the West as a spy. "I wish to pass materials to you immediately for study and analysis and subsequent utilisation . . .You will determine the manner of transmittal of this material yourself. It is desirable that the transfer be effected not through personal contact but through a dead letter drop."
The CIA was intrigued but suspicious. Penkovsky was not unknown to Western intelligence services. In 1955, when stationed in Ankara as assistant military attaché, he had approached various intelligence officers and military attaches to offer them his knowledge of Soviet plans for the Middle East. Everyone turned him down. His war record, his marriage to a Russian general's daughter, and his steady progress up the Soviet promotion ladder did not fit a defector's profile.
But by 1960 the atmosphere in Washington had changed. The Cold War had intensified and the CIA was hungry for information from a live military source in Moscow. After studying the debriefing of the two tourists who had met Penkovsky, the CIA sent a special officer to the Moscow embassy to handle the initial contact with him.
The officer bungled it. He complained in his reports that he could not set foot on the streets of Moscow without being followed by the KGB. In the end, all he could suggest was that he should get a message to Penkovsky to throw his material over the 12ft wall of the American bachelor quarters after first practising with snowballs. Four months after Penkovsky had made his offer, the CIA had failed to get back to him.
In the middle of January, the CIA reviewed the Penkovsky case and decided to try a new approach. With great reluctance and against the advice of many of its officers, it approached the British for help. Those who argued against this course insisted that the British were unreliable, that SIS had been penetrated, and recalled the Philby, Burgess and Maclean cases. Others pointed out that the British already knew about Penkovsky because he had been approaching British businessmen in Moscow and to go ahead without SIS collaboration risked straining relations between the two services even further.
Bringing in the British turned out to be fatal for Penkovsky. Looking back on it, one CIA officer summed up, "The big lesson of the Penkovsky case is never to enter into a joint operation with another service. Joint operations, by definition, double the risks of exposure. The differences in any two services' operating styles lead to confusion, misunderstandings and raise the possibility of compromise."
SIS saw the Penkovsky case as a marvellous opportunity to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the Americans, to show that despite Philby, Burgess and Maclean, the British service had the skill and determination to run an agent-in-place in Moscow and to get out his valuable information. As the head of the SIS, the late Sir Dick White, told his officers later, "I would stress to all of you that, if proof were needed, this operation has demonstrated beyond all doubt, the prime importance of the human intelligence source, handled with professional skill and expertise."
SIS was able to move quickly because it had already recruited a British businessman, Greville Wynne, as an agent to try to penetrate the State Committee for Science and Technology, which functioned as a cover organisation for KGB and GRU agents spying on Western technology. Conveniently, Penkovsky was a member of this committee, and in April 1961 he handed a bulky package of documents and film to Wynne.
The British and Americans could not at first believe their luck. But their experts pronounced the material genuine and important and over the next two years Penkovsky photographed or stole top-secret documents, war plans, nuclear missile diagrams and military manuals. He smuggled these to his American and British controllers by passing them to Western contacts like Wynne, either directly or via "dead letter drops"--pre-arranged hiding places in public areas. On his rare visits to the West he would sneak away from the official Soviet delegation and meet SIS and CIA officers in hotel rooms.
It was Soviet missile manuals provided by Penkovsky before the Cuban missile crisis that enabled the Americans to interpret their photographs taken from the air over Cuba and to state categorically that the Soviets were installing missile launchers there. And, it was Penkovsky's information that made the Americans realise that Khrushchev had greatly exaggerated Soviet missile capability.
The British agree on Penkovsky's importance. Dick White has said, "I am given to understand that [his] intelligence was largely instrumental in deciding that the United States should not make a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, as a substantial body of important opinion in the States has been in favour of doing."
The first puzzle is: why did Penkovsky do it? He led a privileged life in the Soviet Union, he had friends in the Soviet hierarchy, and his patron was Marshall Sergei Varentsov, a member of the Central Committee and a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. His biographers say the Soviet authorities had discovered that his father was a White Russian army officer who had fought against the Red Army after the Revolution and that Penkovsky felt that this had not only prevented his promotion to general, but had permanently prejudiced his life in the Soviet Union. At his trial in 1963, the focus was on his weak character, his vanity, his greed and his womanising.
The lack of a convincing motive led to a belief in some intelligence circles that Penkovsky was a KGB plant, inserted into Western intelligence, with or without his knowledge, to influence Western perceptions of the Soviet Union. Supporters of this theory have pointed to peculiar aspects of the Penkovsky case.
To take just one: if Wynne visited Moscow too often this might have aroused suspicion, so SIS arranged another contact for Penkovsky, someone to whom he could hand over espionage material and from who he could receive messages. This was Janet Chisholm, wife of Rauri Chisholm, a British SIS officer in the Moscow embassy under diplomatic cover.
But Rauri Chisholm had previously served in the SIS station in Berlin, where one of his SIS colleagues was none other than George Blake, who later confessed to being a KGB agent, was sentenced to 42 years' jail escaped from Wormwood Scrubs and now lives in Russia.
Blake told me in Moscow recently that included in the information he had revealed to his KGB controller were the names of all his SIS colleagues in the Berlin station. This meant that when Chisholm arrived in Moscow for his new posting, the KGB already knew that Chisholm was an SIS officer and therefore he and his wife were under automatic, full-time KGB surveillance.
KGB counter intelligence officers must have been watching when Mrs. Chisholm, apparently out for a stroll with her three small children, or out shopping in Moscow on her own, met with a Russian man in Arbat Pereulok and in a park near Tsvetnoy Boulevard on twelve occasions between October 1961 and January 1962. In fact we know KGB officers were watching because they have since released photographs of some of these meetings.
These officers may not have immediately identified the Russian as Colonel Penkovsky of the GRU, but it is inconceivable that they did not quickly do so and reach the obvious conclusion--Penkovsky was dealing with an enemy intelligence service. So why did the KGB allow these meetings to continue?
The conspiratorial answer, still supported by a number of former SIS and CIA officers, is that the KGB must have been controlling the whole operation, putting secret material in Penkovsky's way, knowing he was passing it to the West. There could have been two reasons for doing this. One would be to alter Western perceptions of Soviet missile development so as to lull the West into a false sense of security. The other could be that an anti-Khrushchev faction in the Kremlin wanted to pass a message to the West--that whatever Khrushchev might threaten, he did not have the capability to carry out that threat.
This is a persuasive theory but the reality turns out to be simpler and more easily understandable. A former KGB colonel has explained it to me in Moscow and London. He confirmed that the KGB counter-intelligence section did indeed identify as Penkovsky the Russian who had been meeting Mrs. Chisholm at various places around Moscow. Immediately bureaucratic problems arose.
There was long-standing rivalry between the KGB and the GRU, and relationships between the two services were conducted with the utmost formality and with strict observance of protocol. The KGB counter-intelligence officers had to consider the possibility that the GRU officer, Colonel Penkovsky, might be running a GRU intelligence operation. He might, for instance, be trying to recruit Mrs. Chisholm. If the KGB was to intervene it might well "blow" the operation and cause a major inter-services row.
Next, if Penkovsky were indeed involved in some traitorous enterprise, the evidence against him would have to be watertight. Not only would his own service defend him against KGB allegations but Penkovsky's patron, Marshall Varentsov, would come down heavily on any KGB counter intelligence officer who falsely accused Penkovsky.
"We had to wait until we had conclusive evidence," the KGB colonel said. "Only when we did and could convince our superiors of Penkovsky's guilt could we afford to arrest him. It's as simple as that. By the way, why don't you ask your own services why they continued to use the Chisholms to run Penkovsky when they knew early on that George Blake had given them away?"
The colonel was referring to the fact that George Blake's confession to SIS interrogator Harold Shergold that he was a KGB agent took place during an interrogation session in London on 9 April 1961. So from that date SIS knew that Blake had blown the Chisholms and that the KGB would have them under surveillance in Moscow as British spies. Yet SIS still continued to use Janet Chisholm to make contact with Penkovsky in Moscow right up until January the next year.
SIS believed that it had no alternative. Penkovsky himself was determined to go ahead with his spying activities, his material was invaluable, the CIA had tried to set up its own scheme for receiving this material but had failed, and Janet Chisholm, a mother of three small children, seemed the most innocent-looking choice for the job of beating KGB surveillance.
SIS did not, of course, tell Penkovsky that Janet Chisholm had been compromised, yet it must have known that it was only a matter of time before he would be exposed. One wonders if SIS would have been so cavalier in its handling of Penkovsky if it had not been desperate to re-establish its reputation with the CIA.
Once KGB counter-intelligence had conclusive evidence of Penkovsky's treachery, it arrested him and then Greville Wynne. They went on trial in May 1963. Wynne got eight years but in April 1964 he was exchanged for Gordon Lonsdale, a KGB officer imprisoned in Britain since 1961 (see the PERCY story). Wynne was unable to settle down to a routine existence in Britain and went to live in Majorca. He died in 1990 after a long battle with alcoholism.
Penkovsky confessed everything and was sentenced to death. Despite lurid stories that the KGB pushed him alive into a furnace in front of a gathering of high-ranking officers, he was actually shot on May 16, l963. The Chisholms, who had diplomatic immunity, went off to other postings. Rauri Chisholm died in 1979. Mrs. Chisholm lives in quiet retirement in Britain. Only Penkovsky died young.
GEORGE BLAKE, THE SPY BEHIND THE BIGGEST STING
George Blake is notorious as the spy who betrayed the Berlin Tunnel, an operation that was to be the West's greatest communications coup against the Soviet Union. But new evidence suggests that this betrayal was used by the KGB to conceal a greater sting, one that if detected could have shortened the Cold War by years.
Despite his English name, George BLAKE is half Egyptian- Jewish (his father) and half Dutch (his mother). His father, overly patriotic to Britain called him "George" after King George V. Blake had a brilliant wartime career. He was a teenage courier for the Dutch underground and was caught and interned by the Nazis. He escaped, made his way to Britain and served in the Royal Navy. Recruited by SIS, he was posted to Korea under diplomatic cover. There he was captured by the North Koreans and spent three years in a POW camp. where he contacted the KGB and volunteered to work for Moscow.
All the accounts of Blake's treachery concentrate on his betrayal of the Berlin Tunnel, "Operation Gold", which was meant to be the CIA's biggest coup in the spy war. The idea was to tap into the landlines linking East Berlin with Moscow at a point where they ran close to the Western sector. It was an enormous operations involving tunneling experts, telephone engineers, recording experts and teams of transcribers and translators. It was considered so successful that the CIA handed out gold medals to its officers who had been involved.
It was a fiasco. The joint Anglo-American intelligence committee responsible for running the operation had a planning secretary, an SIS officer who kept the minutes of the meetings and organised its records. The officer was George Blake and he systematically passed on to the KGB the committee's every decision, its every move.
Instead of "discovering" the tunnel before it became operational and displaying outrage at Western perfidy, the KGB allowed it to go ahead and then deliberately planted deception material on the unsuspecting CIA-SIS team. Then when it suited them, the Russians moved into the eastern end of the tunnel and turned the operation into a propaganda victory.
But was this really such a triumph for Moscow? Or was it promoted as one so as to disguise a much more important operation? Consider this: Operation Gold had run for only a year before the Soviets themselves shut it down. If their disinformation scheme was so successful, then why didn't they allow the West to continue to tap their telephone lines indefinitely?
The answer is that the KGB by now had a much better disinformation operation under way, one so successful that even today it is difficult to get anyone to talk about it. And, again, it involved George Blake.
Blake had been by now posted to the Berlin SIS station and given the special task of trying to establish contact with Russian personnel in East Berlin with the ultimate aim of recruiting them as Western agents. Blake has told me that he considered this as an almost impossible task. "The Russians were well aware of the dangers lurking behind the bright lights of West Berlin. The British were discouraged from visiting East Berlin except on conducted tours and as for members of SIS, since we were in possession of state secrets, we were categorically forbidden from going there at all. So if we couldn't go to them and they couldn't come to us, then how could we meet?"
Blake solved this problem by arranging for an SIS agent to get a job in a clothing shop just on the Western side of the border. This man's job was to spot Russians buying at the shop and tell Blake about any interesting ones. Further, by offering the Russians attractive items, pricing them out of the Russians' budget, but then suggesting a barter deal in caviar, it would be possible to keep the Russians coming back to the shop long enough for a recruitment approach.
This worked and Blake met Boris, an economist working for Comecon, the economic organisation which linked all Communist countries. Slowly and carefully, in his role as an SIS officer, Blake recruited Boris who turned out to be a better source than anyone had dreamed. He was a senior interpreter at all high-level Soviet negotiations on economic and trade matters and often had juicy political information as well. Blake told me that London and Washington were delighted with Blake's success. "I was the only SIS officer in Berlin with any form of contact with the Russians. As word of this spread through the British and American governments I was bombarded with questions to put to Boris. He never let me down. SIS and the CIA told me that they regarded Boris as a source with great promise. He was not 'our man' in the Kremlin yet, but there was a good prospect that he might become one."
Blake kept up his contact with Boris--both in Berlin and, later when Boris was travelling abroad with Soviet delegations--for the next three years. Then in 1961 Blake was arrested. He confessed and was sentenced to 42 years imprisonment. After serving eight, he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison, London, aided by two senior members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who helped him get to East Berlin. From there the KGB took him to Moscow.
In 1985, when he was on holiday in Berlin, his superiors asked him if he would like to meet an old acquaintance. The next afternoon, Boris turned up at the house. Now the whole plot became apparent. Boris had been "planted" on Blake. Once Blake had told the KGB what his SIS assignment was--to recruit a high-ranking Russian as a Western agent--the KGB decided it would provide one, but one who would be under their control. They chose Boris. And to make the subterfuge look even more genuine, they had not told either of their men the whole truth--Blake thought he had a genuine Russian traitor on his hands; Boris thought he was dealing with a genuine British SIS officer.
What was the purpose of all this? Once the KGB realised it had an opportunity to "plant" one of its men on SIS and the CIA, the question arose of whom to plant. The choices were many. They could have sent along a military man, a scientist, a naval officer. But they chose an economist and the choice was significant. For several years Boris and Blake, under the control of the KGB, systematically misled the West about the economic strength of the Iron Curtain countries. If we had known the truth it might have been possible to have ended the Cold War sooner. I put this to Blake the last time I saw him in Moscow. "Why don't you ask Boris," he said. "He's still around."
PHILBY KGB MASTERSPY: BETRAYED BY MOSCOW
PHILBY's is notorious as the KGB masterspy who caused enormous damage to Western intelligence and who loaded with Soviet honours, died a hero's death is Moscow. But the truth is that the KGB never entirely trusted Philby, ruined his career as a masterspy, and when he came to the Soviet Union treated him abominably.
Harold Adrian Russell Philby was a British Secret Intelligence Service officer between 1939 and 1951. He was on his way to becoming the head of service. For two years, 1949 to 1951, he was SIS liaison officer with the CIA and the FBI in Washington and thus at the heart of the Western intelligence war against the Soviet Union. But all the while Philby was really working for Moscow and thus every Western intelligence operation was doomed before it began.
When Philby was finally uncovered and he fled to Moscow where he died in 1988. His reputation is as the most effective agent the KGB ever recruited and the honours heaped on him by the Soviet Union appear to attest to this.
But with the end of the Cold War and the opening of some of the KGB records, a very different picture is emerging. The one point on which all former KGB officers who knew Philby agree is that for many years the KGB treated him abominably because he was never really trusted.
Oleg Kalugin, former chief of KGB counter-intelligence, says he was given the job of rehabilitating Philby because the then chairman of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, wanted to attract Western defectors and realised it was important to show that they had a good life in the USSR. I met Kalugin in Amsterdam in 1990 and he told me that Philby had been a pathetic character--drunk, despondent and disillusioned. Kalugin said he had arranged for Philby's flat to be refurbished, found real work for him at the KGB, brought young officers to meet him, sent him on tours of other Communist countries, and, in general, provided a much-needed boost to his ego.
Kalugin only hinted at why the KGB had treated Philby so badly and I had to wait to meet Genrikh Borovik, a Moscow journalist and broadcaster, to find out the details. In the mid-1960s Borovik had written a spy novel but the KGB had killed it without explanation. He was justifiably bitter about this and when Gorbachev ushered in a new era of glasnost, Borovik did not hesitate to remind the KGB that it owed him a favour. He said he wanted to meet a real Soviet spy and write about him. The KGB introduced him to Philby and over the next three years Borovik recorded many hours of interviews with him.
After Philby's death Borovik asked the KGB for access to Philby's personal file and, to his surprise, this was approved. Borovik was now able to compare Philby's own version of his life as a spy with the KGB version.
The result was stunning. "Prepare to have your views about Philby and the KGB shattered," Borovik told me. "Thank God Philby himself never saw his KGB file. If he hadn't died of illness, it would have killed him." For instance, it turned out that the KGB did not have a brilliant long-term plan in the 1930s to recruit British university students who would one-day hold positions of power, as I for one believed had happened with Philby. It took on Philby simply because it was convinced--mistakenly--that his father, the Arabist St John Philby, was in British intelligence.
And how did the KGB treat this tender ideological recruit? It lied to him about who he was actually working for and it threw him into the deep end of the dirty espionage pool by giving him as his first assignment the task of spying on his own father. And Philby did it. He gave his KGB bosses unquestioning loyalty, forming close personal relationships with them. In turn, they nurtured and supported him. Then, all of a sudden, they vanished, victims of Stalin's belief that they were traitors.
They were replaced by a new wave of intelligence officers all determined not to make the same mistakes as their unfortunate predecessors. They read the files, they came across Philby's name and they went to their bosses to ask about him. And the new KGB, to which Philby had agreed to devote his life, did not even know who he was. Who is he? Where is he? Who recruited him? Colonel Mar! But Mar has been executed as a traitor. Who's been running him? General Orlov! But Orlov has defected to the West. It is all very suspicious--Philby could well be a plant from British intelligence and will have to be watched all the time. And so entered the splinter of suspicion that was to fester for the rest of Philby's active life with Moscow.
In his own book and in his conversation with me, Philby presented his career with the KGB as one unbroken line of dedicated service. But the truth is that the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 had been such a blow to Philby that he had stopped working for the KGB for a year and that, in turn, the KGB wanted nothing to do with him. It only changed its mind when it learnt that without its help, suddenly and unexpectedly and all on his own, Philby had got into the British Secret Intelligence Service.
It hastened to get in touch with him again. But the KGB's initial elation soon turned sour. From the Lubyanka, Philby's entry into SIS looked too easy, suspiciously easy. All right, said his KGB bosses, if you really are in British intelligence, then give us a list of the names of British agents who are going to be sent to work against us in the Soviet Union. When Philby replied, "There aren't any", Moscow underlined this sentence twice in red ink and put two large question marks against it. The KGB simply did not believe him.
Philby's loyalty was now tested to the limit. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 meant that he could resume the anti-Fascist fight with a clear conscience. But, to his dismay, Moscow seemed uninterested in his material. They kept him busy--writing reports about himself, his father, his wife, his friends, his colleagues. Please write your autobiography again. Who are your closest friends? Tell us again how you managed to join SIS.
With the Germans at the gates of Moscow, the KGB was more intent on trying to trip up its best British agent, to get proof that he was an SIS plant, than in exploiting his privileged access to British secrets--further evidence of my belief that intelligence agencies are more interested in the game than in real information.
It even handed his entire file to a trusted desk officer for an evaluation: was Philby a genuine recruit to the Soviet cause, or was he a British penetration agent, cleverly planted on the KGB? The officer, a woman called Elena Modrzhinskaya, read Philby's files and those of the other members of the Cambridge ring. The first point she raised was the volume and value of the material the ring had been sending to Moscow. Could the British intelligence service really be run by such fools that no one had noticed that such precious material was leaking to Moscow? Was it really possible that Kim Philby with his Communist views, his work for the Communists in Vienna and his Austrian Communist wife, had been recruited for SIS and had sailed through its vetting procedures?
She decided that Philby was a plant. And if he was, all the others probably were too. So the London KGB station was told that Philby, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross were really British intelligence officers who had been inserted into the KGB network. Only Donald Maclean escaped. It was possible he was a genuine recruit but he was being secretly manipulated by the others.
This was an astounding conclusion and, of course, totally wrong. But having reached it, the KGB bosses proceeded to cover their backs by continuing to use the Cambridge spies. You can see the twisted logic at work. Elena Modrzhinskaya has made out such a powerful case against Philby and his colleagues that we will have to act on it. But what if, in the end, she turns out to be wrong. We might be blamed. We might be shot. So we will pretend that nothing has changed, let the British spies think that we trust them, and wait to see what happens.
And so the game of deceit and double-dealing continued. The Cambridge spies were deceiving their colleagues, their service, their families and their country in the sincere belief that they were serving a greater cause through an elite intelligence service, the KGB, which fathered them, mothered them, and appeared to trust them totally. But, in turn, they were being deceived by the KGB because it really believed that they were playing a treble game and were all traitors to the Communist cause. This leads me to conclude that the main threat to an intelligence agent comes not from the security services in the country against which he is operating, but from his own centre, his own people. This certainly applied to Philby because it was the KGB that brought him down.
Readers of previous books on this topic will remember that the big unanswered question in the whole Philby, Burgess and Maclean affair was: why did Burgess go? The FBI and MI5 had been closing in on Maclean and he was due to be interrogated by MI5 on Monday 28 May 1951. Tipped off by Philby that he was in danger, Maclean fled on the Friday, accompanied by Burgess who had arranged the getaway. Other accounts have suggested that Burgess's role was simply to get Maclean out of Britain on the cross-Channel steamer, and then be back before Maclean was missed. But Burgess went all the way to Moscow, never to return. His disappearance immediately threw suspicion on Philby, because they were friends and had shared a house in Washington. SIS recalled Philby to London and while agreeing that there was no real evidence against him, forced him to retire. Thus his career as a KGB penetration agent was over.
In my talks in Moscow with Philby about this he placed all the blame on Burgess. "The unplanned part was that Burgess went too. The whole thing was a mess, an intelligence nightmare, and it was all due to that bloody man Burgess. The KGB never forgave him." The KGB files revealed a very different story. The KGB had ordered Burgess to accompany Maclean to Moscow because Maclean was in such a state that he might not make it alone. But Burgess was assured that the moment he delivered Maclean to Moscow he could head back to London.
Instead the KGB kept him there and subjected him to hostile interrogation, determined to discover once and for all whether the Cambridge ring was genuine or not. But by holding Burgess it ruined the career of its best agent, Philby, the man who could have become head of British intelligence. Borovik told me that in his many conversations with Philby about this, Philby could not bring himself to blame the KGB for his downfall. Donald Maclean had no such inhibitions. When he realised what Moscow had done he wrote a furious letter to the KGB accusing it of betraying Philby, of throwing him to the lions. The KGB did not deign to reply.
© 1999 Abamedia, unless otherwise indicated.