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The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin…

The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of…

by Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin

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The Sword and the Shield is based on one of the most extraordinary intelligence coups of recent times: a secret archive of top-level KGB documents smuggled out of the Soviet Union which the FBI has described, after close examination, as the "most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source." Its presence in the West represents a catastrophic hemorrhage of the KGB's secrets and reveals for the first time the full extent of its worldwide network.Vasili Mitrokhin, a secret dissident who worked in the KGB archive, smuggled out copies of its most highly classified files every day for twelve years. In 1992, a U.S. ally succeeded in exfiltrating the KGB officer and his entire archive out of Moscow. The archive covers the entire period from the Bolshevik Revolution to the 1980s and includes revelations concerning almost every country in the world. But the KGB's main target, of course, was the United States.Though there is top-secret material on almost every country in the world, the United States is at the top of the list. As well as containing many fascinating revelations, this is a major contribution to the secret history of the twentieth century.Among the topics and revelations explored are: The KGB's covert operations in the United States and throughout the West, some of which remain dangerous today. KGB files on Oswald and the JFK assassination that Boris Yeltsin almost certainly has no intention of showing President Clinton. The KGB's attempts to discredit civil rights leader in the 1960s, including its infiltration of the inner circle of a key leader. The KGB's use of radio intercept posts in New York and Washington, D.C., in the 1970s to intercept high-level U.S. government communications. The KGB's attempts to steal technological secrets from major U.S. aerospace and technology corporations. KGB covert operations against former President Ronald Reagan, which began five years before he became president. KGB spies who successfully posed as U.S. citizens under a series of ingenious disguises, including several who attained access to the upper echelons of New York society.
  Cultural_Attache | Jul 28, 2018 |
Absolutely riveting story of the worlds greatest espionage agency . ( )
  4bonasa | Oct 10, 2017 |
For 12 years, Vasili Mitrokhin worked for the KGB in their archives. He made notes about all the classified files he had access to, snuck them out after work, and hid them under his house. In 1992 he defected to the UK and brought all his notes with him, which he gave to the SIS. A few years later, Christopher Andrew was offered access to these notes in order to write a history of the KGB using this information. That's the story of the book.

The story of the KGB in all its forms spanned 3/4 of a century, starting off strong, reaching a peak in the WWII era, followed by a steady decline as the Cold War increasingly tightened up the previously lax security procedures in the USA (AKA "Main Adversary") and other NATO allies. As someone whose knowledge about the KGB comes primarily from movies, I was struck by how many failures were a regular part of the real spy business in comparison to the supermen of spy fiction (example: an assassination is planned, a target chosen, an assassin selected; much time and effort is spent studying the target and training the assassin; then the assassin is sent to complete the mission, only to have him walk into the CIA office with an offer to defect--this scenario happened more than once).

Another theme from the book is the amount of resources the KGB spent on what any objective observer would consider relatively harmless opponents of the Soviet regime, especially religious minorities and Trotskyists. The author notes that at the beginning of World War II, Stalin felt that intelligence on Trotsky (an old, ineffectual man with few followers and no influence inside the USSR) was more important than intelligence on Hitler.

This is a long book, full of operational details. Other reviewers found this level of detail mind numbing, and felt that the book may be more useful as a reference work that a narrative history, but I was not bored. The organisation is roughly chronological, with chapters based around discrete topics. This organisation leads to a fair amount of repetition, which I think is unavoidable (and probably even undesirable) in a book of this length.

There is one big caveat to my generally positive feelings towards this book: The author does not devote nearly enough towards establishing the credibility of Mitrokhin's archive. It seems almost incredible that any single person would a) be given that much access to classified files for so long, b) especially after he had been demoted to his archival job with all this access because he "became too outspoken for his own good", and then c) been able to smuggle this information out of the archives and keep it hidden for so long. It strains credibility--but the alternative, that he (or British intelligence) created this "classified" information is even less believable. I want to believe, but I wish the author made it easier for me to believe.
  EdKupfer | May 25, 2013 |
In almost mind-numbing detail Andrew documents the existence of a vast KGB apparatus that penetrated the West and oppressed its own Soviet citizens. It is remarkable that an archive this exhaustive, and secret, ever reached the light of day. Mitrokhin is an archivist's dream as he systematically raided the KGB's files to copy or extract numerous records of KGB activities. Comparable CIA histories are nowhere near as detailed; we know more about the operations of the KGB than we do of our own covert operations.
  gmicksmith | Jul 27, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0465003125, Paperback)

In early 1992, a Russian man walked into the British embassy in a newly independent Baltic republic and asked to "speak to someone in authority." As he sipped his first cup of proper English tea, he handed over a small file of notes. Eight months later, the man, his family, and his enormous archive had been safely exfiltrated to Britain. When news that a KGB officer had defected with the names of hundreds of undercover agents leaked out in 1996, a spokesperson for the SVR (Russia's foreign intelligence service, heir of the KGB) said, "Hundreds of people! That just doesn't happen! Any defector could get the name of one, two, perhaps three agents--but not hundreds!"

Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin worked as chief archivist for the FCD, the foreign-intelligence arm of the KGB. Mitrokhin was responsible for checking and sealing approximately 300,000 files, allowing him unrestricted access to one of the world's most closely guarded archives. He had lost faith in the Soviet system over the years, and was especially disturbed by the KGB's systematic silencing of dissidents at home and abroad. Faced with tough choices--stay silent, resign, or undermine the system from within--Mitrokhin decided to compile a record of the foreign operations of the KGB. Every day for 12 years, he smuggled notes out of the archive. He started by hiding scraps of paper covered with miniscule handwriting in his shoes, but later wrote notes on ordinary office paper, which he took home in his pockets. He hid the notes under his mattress, and on weekends took them to his dacha, where he typed them and hid them in containers buried under the floor. When he escaped to Britain, his archive contained tens of thousands of pages of notes.

In 1995, Mitrokhin, by then a British citizen, contacted Christopher Andrew (For the President's Eyes Only), head of the faculty of history at Cambridge University and one of the world's foremost historians of international intelligence. Andrew was allowed to examine the archive Mitrokhin created "to ensure that the truth was not forgotten, that posterity might some day come to know of it." The Sword and the Shield is the earthshaking result. The book details the KGB's foreign-intelligence operations, most notably those aimed at Great Britain and the "Main Adversary"--the United States. In the 700-page book, Andrew reveals operations aimed at discrediting high-profile Americans, from Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan; secret arms caches still hidden--and boobytrapped--throughout the West; disinformation efforts, including forging a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to implicate the CIA in the assassination of JFK; attempts to stir up racial tensions in the U.S. by sending hate mail and even bombs; and the existence of deep-cover agents in North America and Europe--some of whom were effectively "outed" when the book was published.

Mitrokhin's detailed notes are well served by Andrew, who writes forcefully and clearly. The Sword and the Shield represents a remarkable intelligence coup--one that will have serious repercussions for years to come. As Andrew notes, "No one who spied for the Soviet Union at any period between the October Revolution and the eve of the Gorbachev era can now be confident that his or her secrets are still secure." --Sunny Delaney

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:13 -0400)

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Describes a treasure trove of secret documents found by the FBI, and offers facts about every country in the world, as well as information that contributes to the history of the last century.

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