The British government has announced that former Soviet KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, 81, died from pneumonia on January 23. Mitrokhin first came to the public’s attention in 1999 with the publication of The Sword and The Shield, an expos? of the KGB and its operations in the U.S. and Europe. The book was based on notes and materials from classified KGB files, copied by Mitrokhin from 1972 until his retirement in 1984. He defected in 1992 and his materials were later spirited out of Moscow by British agents.
Accuracy in Media first reported on Mitrokhin’s revelations shortly after the book’s publication. Reed Irvine particularly valued the book for providing “new evidence” that Harry Hopkins, FDR’s closest and most influential advisor, was a Soviet spy. In a column published in October 1999, Irvine wrote that Mitrokhin’s documents had convinced Ray Wannall, a former FBI counterintelligence expert, that Hopkins was a Soviet agent.
In a recent book review, Paul J. Redmond hailed the publication of The Sword and The Shield as a “landmark event.” Redmond wrote that it is “one of the most important and valuable books to date on the Cold War and espionage in general.” Redmond should know; he spent thirty years in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, all of it working against the former Soviet Union.
Redmond reveals how Mitrokhin’s treasures were almost lost to the West. It has been reported that Mitrokhin first approached the CIA, but was turned away. Redmond writes that, in fact, Mitrokhin twice tried to defect to the agency, but was turned down because CIA had adopted a policy that banned recruitment of Soviet/Russian intelligence officers. Redmond was told, “The KGB is dead” and that the agency wanted to “maintain the high moral ground.”
Mitrokhin turned to British intelligence, where his materials eventually led to the identification of several Soviet spies in both Britain and the U.S. Among these were Melita Norwood, who admitted giving British nuclear secrets to the Soviets, and a former Scotland Yard policeman, who became the KGB’s first “Romeo spy.” A scandal ensued in 1999 when it was learned that the government refused to prosecute either, despite its possession of this information in the early 1990s. Mitrokhin also provided new insights into the KGB’s handling of a suspected spy in the U.S. State Department, Felix Bloch.
Mitrokhin’s take must have been good, because Russian intelligence officials have consistently denigrated his importance. In late January, after the announcement of his death, ITAR-TASS published a Russian intelligence services’ statement claiming that Mitrokhin did not have “comprehensive knowledge of KGB secrets.” The statement depicted Mitrokhin as a failed spy kept on by a sympathetic KGB boss concerned about Mitrokhin’s sick child. It also claimed that Mitrokhin had “emigrated to Britain” in the early 1990s. The Russian government bought the translation rights to The Sword and The Shield, but the book is not likely to see the light of day in Moscow.