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The Mitrokhin archive: KGB defector’s extensive intelligence files open to public

10 July 2014

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Thousands of KGB files from the Mitrokhin Archive that raised a storm in India in 2005 and offered a rare peek into the erstwhile Soviet Union’s intelligence system will be opened to the public for the first time at the University of Cambridge from Monday.

A 2005 book based on the files by intelligence historian Christopher Andrew claimed that India during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister had been infiltrated at several levels by the KGB, prompting demands for a parliamentary inquiry by the then leader of the opposition, L K Advani. The KGB files, reproduced by Andrew in 'The Mitrokhin Archive II', claimed that ten Indian newspapers and one press agency were on the Soviet payroll. In 1972, the KGB claimed to have planted more than 3,500 articles in Indian newspapers. Much of the material in the archives are included in Andrew’s book, but he told HT that the files contain “lot of detail”. The files in Russian language range in time from the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the eve of the Gorbachev era. 
 Andrew made several controversial revelations based on the files, including that suitcases of money had been sent to Indira Gandhi’s house when she was prime minister, that former railway minister L N Mishra accepted money, that KGB funded the CPI and that in the 1977 elections, 21 non-communist leaders had been financed. Files related to India are also among the 19 boxes and thousands of papers open to the public by the Churchill Archive Centre, Churchill College, university sources said. The Mitrokhin Archive was described by the FBI as ‘the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source’. Some experts have raised questions about the archive but the man and the archive's origins remain an enigma. From 1972 to 1984, Major Vasiliy Mitrokhin was a senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence archive, with unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of files from a global network of spies and intelligence gathering operations. 

 At the same time, having grown disillusioned with the brutal oppression of the Soviet regime, he was taking secret handwritten notes of the material and smuggling them out of the building each evening. From 1948, he worked in foreign intelligence before being assigned to the foreign intelligence archives in the KGB First Chief Directorate. From 1972 until 1982 he was in charge of the transfer of these archives from the Lubyanka in central Moscow to a new foreign intelligence HQ at Yasenevo. Following his retirement in 1984, Mitrokhin organised much of this material geographically and, in ten volumes, typed out systematic studies of KGB operations in different parts of the world. After his exfiltration to London, Mitrokhin continued to work on transcribing and typing his manuscript notes, producing a further 26 typed volumes. In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he, his family and his archive were exfiltrated by the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service. He died in January 2004. Andrew said: “The inner workings of the KGB, its foreign intelligence operations and the foreign policy of Soviet-era Russia all lie within this extraordinary collection; the scale and nature of which gives unprecedented insight into the KGB’s activities throughout much of the Cold War."

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The Mitrokhin archive: KGB defector's copied files reveal Soviet dismay at ‘constantly drunk’ Burgess
They were two of Britain’s most notorious double agents, responsible for passing on some of this country’s most sensitive secrets to the Russians, but documents reveal that Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean 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.

It emerges that the spy they valued most was the remarkable Melita Norwood, nicknamed “The Spy Who Came in From the Co-op”, who died in 2005 aged 93. She was never prosecuted and would never have been exposed but for the archive of Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior officer in the Soviet political police who brought the documents to Britain after he defected. When she was uncovered in 1999, she was living quietly in Bexleyheath and flatly refused to apologise for her past. From 1937 to 1971, she passed to the Soviet Union information she picked up as the personal assistant to the head of the British Association for Non-Ferrous Metals Research, which was working on nuclear technology. For 11 years, the Soviets paid her £20 a month. They offered to reward her when she visited the USSR in 1979, but she declined... read more: