The Mitrokhin tip

In 1992, KGB archivist named Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the West with a trove of notes on the Soviets’ spying operations around the world.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union (in 1991) Mitrokhin traveled to Latvia with copies of material from the archive and walked into the American embassy in Riga. Central Intelligence Agency officers there did not consider him to be credible, concluding that the copied documents could be faked.

He then went to the British embassy and a young diplomat there saw his potential and after a further appointment one month later with representatives of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) operations followed to retrieve the 25,000 pages of files hidden in his house, covering operations from as far back as the 1930s. The papers spent years hidden in a milk churn beneath a Russian dacha and read like an encyclopedia of Cold War espionage.

He and his family were then exfiltrated to Britain, although authorities of Yeltsin’s Russia were not creating any obstacles for free traveling abroad of active or retired members of secret services or members of their families.

Mitrokhin spent the rest of his life in Britain under a false name and police protection, dying in 2004 at 81.

Mitrokhin was a senior archivist at the KGB’s foreign intelligence headquarters — and a secret dissident. For more than a decade he secretly took files home, copied them in longhand and then typed and collated them into volumes.

The world did not learn of Mitrokhin until Andrew published a book based on his files in 1999. It caused a sensation by exposing the identities of KGB agents including 87-year-old Melita Norwood, the “great-granny spy,” who had passed British atomic secrets to the Soviets for years,

He had a list of KGB agents in America over several decades. It ran to 40 pages and about 1,000 names.

One of the most notorious agents was code-named “Dan.” He was Robert Lipka, a National Security Agency employee who was paid $27,000 for handing secrets to Russia in the 1960s. After Mitrokhin’s information was passed by Britain to U.S. intelligence services, Lipka was arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The volumes also reveal that Soviet agents stashed weapons and communications equipment in secret locations around NATO countries. Included is a map of Rome showing three caches, along with detailed instructions for finding them

he files list undercover agents sent to then-Czechoslovakia to infiltrate the dissidents behind the 1968 Prague Spring pro-democracy uprising. Others targeted the entourage of Polish cleric Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II. The KGB noted with disapproval the future pontiff’s “extremely anticommunist views.”

Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were two of Britain’s most notorious double agents, responsible for passing on UK most sensitive secrets to the Russians, but documents reveal that  were viewed in an unflattering light by their Soviet masters.

Among thousands of typed Russian documents in the Mitrokhin archive, open to public inspection for the first time this week, they describe how Burgess, who was “constantly drunk”, horrified his KGB controllers by staggering out of a pub one evening and dropping stolen Foreign Office documents on the pavement. Moscow was also kept informed about Donald Maclean’s alcoholic binges and loose tongue.

The former Labor member for the NSW electorate of Hunter, Albert “Bert” James, was listed as a Soviet intelligence source in the papers of KGB archivist and defector Vasili Mitrokhin, which were released in the United Kingdom in July, however no details of the MP’s dealings with Soviet intelligence were disclosed.

James’ newly declassified ASIO file, held by the National Archives, now reveals the left-wing Labor MP met regularly with KGB officers throughout his parliamentary career from 1960 to 1980.

Well-placed sources say that it contains a secret that no Australian government has wanted to acknowledge publicly: that a very senior ASIO officer gave invaluable secrets to the Soviet Union for about eight years, most likely from 1977 to 1985, seriously compromising Australia’s intelligence activities as well as those if its allies.

In 1977, “an Australian sent a letter to the USSR embassy in Canberra, enclosing top-secret documents and requesting that payment be made to a post office box in the capital. This began a fruitful relationship in which the anonymous Australian — in their intelligence agency — supplied the USSR with extremely useful information about ASIO and its American and British partners.

Mitrokhin details the way that the USSR promoted Soviet front organizations such as the World Peace Council and the Christian Peace Conference that were attempting to “mobilize worldwide Christian support for the ‘peace policies’ of the Soviet Union.

According to Mitrokhin’s notes, 15 illegally operating KGB officers got to Czechoslovakia within an operation codenamed Progress in 1968. One of their tasks was to abduct Czech literary historian Václav Černý and writer Jan Procházka. The attempt failed because the visa one of the illegals expired and because the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry provided Prochazka with guards.

Former senior New Zealand diplomat Bill Sutch was KGB recruit, four decades after he was cleared of suspicions he spied for the Soviet Union. Sutch, who died in 1975, worked for the spy agency for 24 years before he was arrested while meeting a KGB agent in Wellington in 1974.

There is more that will come as the archives are relased.

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