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Mitrokhin, Vasili 1922- 2004

Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin was a senior archivist for the Soviet Union's foreign intelligence service, the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. Mitrokhin defected to the United Kingdom in 1992


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Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin was born on 3 March 1922 in the village of Yurasovo in Ryazan oblast (central Russia). Throughout his life he retained a deep attachment to his roots, although the family moved to Moscow, where he was educated. On leaving school, he briefly attended an artillery academy. Before the outbreak of war he was enrolled in the History and Archives Institute (Istoriko-Arkhivnyy Institut - IAI) in Moscow, founded in 1935 to train archivists for a variety of state and public institutions.

Following Hitler's invasion in the summer of 1941, Stalin's Supreme Command (the Stavka) ordered the general evacuation of all vulnerable industrial plants, research establishments and national cultural institutions to remote areas. The decree governing' the evacuation of Moscow caused the IAI to move en bloc to Alma-Ata (now Almaty) in Kazakhstan, which became a haven for much of the Moscow and Leningrad cultural and scientific elite.

After his first year with the IAI, Mitrokhin transferred to the Kharkov Higher Juridical Institute, which had also been evacuated to Kazakhstan ahead of the German conquest of Ukraine.

On graduating in Kharkov in 1944, he was initially appointed a police lawyer, attached to the military procurator's office. The role evidently brought him to the notice of the MGB (predecessor of the KGB), which nominated him for a three-year course at the Higher Diplomatic School in Moscow, to prepare him for a career in foreign intelligence.

His new career began in 1948, with his assignment to the Committee of Information (the body which controlled foreign intelligence operations from October 1947 to November 1951). This brought him one substantial undercover appointment to the Middle East before the death of Stalin. With the establishment of the KGB, in March 1954, Mitrokhin was given further short term assignments abroad, notably as escort to the Soviet Olympic team at Melbourne, October 1956.

Thereafter, Mitrokhin's career lay with the foreign intelligence archives, within the First Chief Directorate and in the KGB headquarters at Karlshorst in the GDR. From June 1972 he personally supervised the removal of KGB archives from the old Lubyanka headquarters to Yasenevo, off the Moscow ring road. The most sensitive part of the operation consisted of checking each of the Directorate S (Illegals) files consigned to the archives.

At this stage, Mitrokhin began to take extensive manuscript notes of the papers which passed through his hands. At great risk, he smuggled these out and secreted them under the floor of his suburban dacha (log cabin). Over time, he sorted the material thematically in a large number of brown envelopes. Following his retirement in 1984, he organised the manuscript material geographically, and proceeded to type out systematic studies of KGB operations in key parts of the world (beginning with Afghanistan and Iran). In all, he produced 10 volumes of typescript, together with some 30 envelopes of unprocessed manuscript notes. All this was brought to London, when he and his family were exfiltrated from the Soviet Union by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in 1992.

Once in London, Mitrokhin continued to transcribe his manuscript notes. The 10 Moscow-typed volumes and a further 26 volumes typed in London provided the basis for collaboration with Christopher Andrew, yielding two volumes of The Mitrokhin Archive (Penguin Press, 1999 and 2005).

His intention, however, was to publish the bulk of his original archive material, primarily for a Russian academic readership. Besides the area studies (edited and published by the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.), Vasili Mitrokhin planned to produce a "Chekisms" trilogy, an anthology of decrees and case histories from the 1917 Cheka to the mid-1980s KGB. He was still selecting original material from his extensive manuscript archive at the time of his death in January 2004.


Popular Documents

April 2004

KGB Active Measures in Southwest Asia in 1980-82

Materials provided by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin to CWIHP, following the publication of the Working Paper No. 40, "The KGB in Afghanistan." As with all Mitrokhin’s notes, his compilation on Soviet “active measures” in South and Southwest Asia is based on other smuggled-out notes and was prepared especially for CWIHP. Please read the Notes on Sources for information on the nature and limitations of these documents.

June 2007

The KGB vs. Vatican City. Folder 29. The Chekist Anthology.

In this entry Mitrokhin describes the history of chilly diplomatic relations between the KGB and Vatican City from the 1960s through the mid 1980s.

June 2007

KGB Practices. Folder 70. The Chekist Anthology.

This entry contains brief descriptions of a variety of KGB operations carried out between the early 1960’s and late 1970’s, and provides a sampling of the kinds of operations that were common in that era. Operation “Grom” [“Thunder”] involved fabricating a US State Department memo on Soviet citizens’ inclination towards treason. The memo discussed ways in which the US could exploit this tendency to its advantage. It was published on the front page of the British newspaper “Daily Express.” A pamphlet created by the KGB and attributed to the terrorist organization ‘BAS’ (South Tyrolean Liberation Committee) was introduced as evidence in the trial of BAS leader Norbert Burger in Austria. In July 1976 the KGB residency in Singapore spied on Chess Grandmaster Boris Spassky during his visit to Singapore, and noted in its report that he spent much of his free time on the tennis court. The KGB created and disseminated a letter, ostensibly from nationalist Ukrainian emigrants, protesting the French government’s cooperation with Zionists, and threatening reprisals against French Zionists. The KGB residency in Austria organized operation “Bonga” [“Bigwig”] in which forged letters from Chairman Mao were produced. These letters indicated that Mao himself had essentially organized the opposition to Hua Guofeng’s reforms, and that Hua might lead China to a revisionist course. In March 1977, the newspaper of the Austrian Communist Party printed a translation of a secret Chilean document in which the Chilean secret police asked Gen. Augusto Pinochet for additional funds to carry out undercover operations abroad. Pinochet’s reply contained a harsh rebuke for the request, and a strong admonishment against engaging in clandestine operations abroad. Mitrokhin did not mention where the document came from, nor did he state whether it was authentic or a forgery.

April 2004

STASI German/Russian Lexicon of Intelligence Terms Introduction

This compact German-Russian dictionary came to light in 1967. The dictionary is anonymous: it has no indication of title, authorship, publisher, place and date of publication - there are no indications at all. On reading through it, it is clear that it contains Cheka terminology, and was compiled after 1954. When translated into Russian, these terms were to assist operational officers working in the USSR KGB Establishment attached to the GDR MfS [Ministerium für Staatssicherheit] - helping them to read secret German-language materials supplied in great quantities by the GDR MfS [2], sent on to the Centre with a cover note, and to carry on conversations on Chekist themes with their German colleagues.

June 2007

By the Church Gates. Folder 1. The Chekist Anthology.

This folder includes information on the arrest of Patriarch Tikhon, 1919 and 1922, and Felix Dzerzhinsky’s minutes of 2 December 1920 meeting asserting exclusive role of the VChK in undermining the Church. The note includes extracts of a 23 February 1922 decree on confiscation of Church treasures, and describes the subsequent liquidation of Bishop Phillipe and Professor Uspenski, the emergence and persecution of the True Orthodox Church and True Orthodox Christians operating underground, and KGB Penetration of the True Orthodox Church’s top leadership during the 1960’s. Efforts to strengthen Orthodox control over Belorussian, Kazakh, and Ukrainian national churches, the February 1975 conference of heads of Warsaw Pact security services and their decision to engage in joint action against the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and other religious institutions in the West, and the KGB’s campaign against underground religious manuscript publishers (samizdat) during 1970’s are discussed.

The file contains KGB statistics on religious participation throughout the USSR, and a description of Archbishop Sinod’s, anti-Soviet activities in 1920’s and his support for Hitler during the Great Patriotic War. The notes section includes Mitrokhin’s thoughts on religion in Kievan Russ in 988 and extracts from FCD operations files on Church personalities involved in operations abroad. Includes operational codenames of KGB agents who had infiltrated the True Orthodox Church