The Churchill Archive Centre at Cambridge, England opened the Mitrokhin Archive on Monday, July 7, 2014, after keeping most of the archival documents secret for over twenty years. Churchill College announced, “KGB files from the famous Mitrokhin Archive – described by the FBI as ‘the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source’ – will today open to the public for the first time.”
Vasili Mitrokhin (1922-2004) joined the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service in 1948 and eventually became a senior archivist for the First Chief Directorate of the Committee for State Security, the K.G.B. branch that handled foreign operations. Between 1972 and 1982, he was in charge of moving the foreign intelligence archives from the old headquarters in Lubyanka Square in central Moscow to a new foreign intelligence headquarters at Yasenevo District in southwestern Moscow.
From 1972 to 1984, he secretly took handwritten notes on important documents and every night snuck them out of the foreign intelligence archive. Then he typed out the notes and collated the typewritten documents into ten volumes, organized geographically.
Mitorkhin hid these volumes at his dacha (countryside cottage). He stuffed some of them in a milk churn and buried the churn, as Jill Lawless of the Associated Press reported.
In 1992, Mitrokhin smuggled some of the documents out of Russia when he traveled to one of the Baltic States – which one had never been publicly identified – that had seceded from the Union of Soviet Social Republics as it collapsed in 1991. He had this sample of his files to show at the American embassy. Some imbecile turned him away.
He tried his luck at the British embassy where a junior diplomat offered him tea. The British Secret Intelligence Service exfiltrated Mitrokhin, his family, and his treasure trove of secrets out of the Russian Federation.
After his family settled in London, he continued to transcribe his notes and typed another twenty-six volumes. He lived in the United Kingdom under police protection until his death at age eighty-one.
Mitrokhin’s list of Soviet spies and American traitors in the U.S.A. is forty pages long and names about 1,000 people. One of them was Robert Lipka (1946-2013), codenamed “Dan,” a National Security Agency (N.S.A.) employee who sold secret documents to the Soviet Union for $27,000 in the 1960s. After British authorities alerted American authorities about Lipka’s treason, he was arrested and sentenced to eighteen years in prison.
The documents reveal that K.G.B. agents had caches of weapons and communication equipment in N.A.T.O. countries. There is a map of three such caches in Rome.
As many agents as the K.G.B. deployed in Western countries, they deployed even more within the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. The documents in the Mitrokhin Archive indicate the K.G.B. had agents infiltrate the dissident groups behind the pro-democracy uprising that took place in Prague in the spring of 1968 and the entourage of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla – the future Pope John Paul II.
The world learnt of Mitrokhin when Christopher Andrew, a historian at the University of Cambridge who later became the official historian of MI5, wrote The Mitrokhin Archive. Vol. I: The KGB in Europe and the West, published in 1999. [The Mitrokhin Archive. Vol. I: The KGB and the World would be published in 2005.] Mitrokhin helped Andrew write both volumes, which were global bestsellers.
The first volume publicly revealed that Melita Norwood (1912-2005), codenamed “Hola,” was a spy for the N.K.V.D. and its successor agency the K.G.B. since 1937 that the British authorities had already been aware of this before Mitrokhin’s defection, and yet they never arrested her, interrogated her, or charged her with a crime. Reporters confronted her after the book’s publication in 1999, when she was eighty-seven years old, and she was unrepentant. The files researchers can now access reveal that the K.G.B. considered Mrs. Norwood, who received the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, more reliable than the notorious spy ring known as the Cambridge Five.
Ms. Lawless observed, “The files describe Guy Burgess as ‘constantly under the influence of alcohol,’ while Donald Maclean was ‘not very good at keeping secrets.’” The Scottish journalist and novelist Allan Massie wrote on his Telegraph blog, “So the Mitrokhin files from Soviet Intelligence reveal that they were wary and critical of some of the Cambridge spies. Burgess and Maclean were unreliable drunks – Burgess careless in looking after files he had removed from the Foreign Office for copying, Maclean given to speaking rashly when in liquor. As we used to say as prep-school boys: ‘Tell us news, not history.’ All this has been known here for a long time. It would be astonishing if it wasn’t equally common knowledge in Moscow, where, one might add, alcoholism was scarcely unusual among members of the Soviet Politburo. The Cambridge spies flourished long before the days of ‘Only mineral water, thanks’ at lunchtime.”
Regarding Mrs. Norwood, The Telegraph’s Ben Farmer wrote, “Documents from the Mitrokhin archive…reveal how a woman considered by some to be the Soviets' most important UK spy was given a medal and lifetime £20-a-month pension ‘for many years of excellent work’ revealing nuclear secrets from her London office.”
The Churchill Archive Centre is granting researchers access to thousands of files in the form of nineteen boxes of Mitrokhin’s typewritten volumes, while his handwritten notes remain classified. Ms. Lawless noted, “There are glimpses of Mitrokhin’s mindset in the titles he gave the volumes, including ‘The Accursed Regime’ and ‘The Mousetrap.’”
Churchill College stated, “In accordance with the deposit agreement, the Churchill Archives Centre is opening Mitrokhin’s edited Russian-language versions of his original notes.The [sic] original manuscript notes and notebooks will remain closed under the terms of the deposit agreement, subject to review.”
Professor Andrew, is the only historian to date allowed access to the archive. He said, “There are only two places in the world where you’ll find material like this. One is the KBG archive – which is not open and very difficult to get into – and the other is here at Churchill College where Mitrokhin’s own typescript notes are today being opened for all the world to see.”
Mitrokhin dreamed of making this material public from 1972 until his death; it’s now happening in 2014. 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.
“The Mitrokhin files range in time from the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the eve of the Gorbachev era,” said Andrew. “Initially he smuggled his daily notes out on small scraps of paper hidden in his shoes. After a few months, he began to take them out in his jacket pockets then buried them every weekend at the family dacha in the countryside near Moscow.”
The enormous risks in compiling his secret archive might well have ended with a secret trial and a bullet in the back of the head in an execution cellar. He was a dissident willing to make the most extraordinary sacrifice.
Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said, “This collection is a wonderful illustration of the value of archives and the power of archivists. It was Mitrokhin's position as archivist that allowed him his unprecedented access and overview of the KGB files. It was his commitment to preserving and providing access to the truth that led him to make his copies, at huge personal risk. We are therefore proud to house his papers and to honour his wish that they should be made freely available for research.”
Churchill College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge. A trust headed by Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965) founded Churchill College as a British and Commonwealth memorial to the prime minister in 1959, four years after his second premiership ended. Churchill College received a Royal Charter in 1960.
The Churchill Archives Centre has the papers of Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill (who simply used Churchill in public life); a later Conservative Party prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1925-2013); and over 600 of their contemporaries – politicians, diplomats, civil servants, military officers, scientists, and engineers.
The focus of Churchill College is science, engineering, and technology. It has 485 undergraduate students, 330 postgraduates, 216 Fellows and By-Fellows, and 140 staff members. The college campus is outside the center of the city, part of a larger westward expansion of Cambridge University.