Deadly Illusions

I’m continuing with the Kim Philby theme.

Raw Feed (1995): Deadly Illusions: The KGB Orlov Dossier Reveals Stalin’s Master Spy, John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, 1993.Deadly Illusions

An interesting collaboration between Costello, an English journalist/historian specializing in espionage history, and Tsarev, an officer with the KGB’s (now SVRR) Press Department.

The book details the career (and very little of the personal life since it is drawn almost entirely from KGB, FBI, CIA, and INS records) of Alexander Orlov, the most famous pseudonym of an NKVD officer thought to have defected from the Soviet Union in 1938. What this book reveals is that Orlov (in 1938 the head of Soviet activity aiding the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and on-site director of purges against Marxists Stalin regarded as competitors in Spain) merely fled Stalin’s mad purges of the NKVD and was, as the KGB files put it, a “non-returner” and not a defector. During his time in hiding in America from 1938 to 1973, he never revealed anything of value to the CIA or FBI interrogators though he wrote two books, one on Stalin’s crimes, the other on guerilla warfare and counter intelligence. He exposed only spy rings, operations, and agents already “blown” and nothing of what he did know which was quite a lot.

He helped organized the Rote Kapelle, Red Orchestra, the very successful NKVD spy ring in Nazi Germany till 1942. He founded most of the Oxford-Cambridge spy ring. He did not recruit Philby though he did tell Philby he was working for the Soviet Union and not just anti-fascists. I found the “Oxbridge” part of the book most interesting not only for its revelations as to how agents are recruited, motivated, and supervised and for showing that MI6 never caught all the ring’s members but also how it depicts the zeal with which its members embraced Communism as a religious faith for their alienated, spiritually vacant lives. It also showed how seductive Communism was to the rationalistic mindset, particularly among scientists, of Cambridge. I was also interested to see that not only was Communism fashionable in academic circles but fascism had its devotees in government. The lax security that afforded Donald Maclean such easy access to classified documents shows a typically British blindness regarding class. It was simply assumed that only gentlemen worked for the Foreign Office and, therefore, wouldn’t steal documents.

Orlov also knew of the effort to kill Trotsky and personally helped purge people in Spain. One can’t feel sorry for Orlov’s near death at the hands of Stalin. Like so many revolutionaries since the French Revolution, he thought he could ride the tiger and ignore or even approve of the bloodshed around him – until it became his turn. But Orlov cleverly evaded a trap for him and blackmailed Stalin and the NKVD by stating that, if he died, secret operations – like the Rote Kapelle, purges in Spain, and the “Oxbridge” ring – would be exposed. Stalin took no action against him. The blackmail letter, quoted here, does not explicitly make such a threat but it is heavily implied and certainly NKVD records show that’s how it was taken. Orlov never exposed those operations though pretending to be a defector. (The FBI suspected he was holding out and had ran assassination squads in Spain but couldn’t prove it.)

He died a dedicated communist and was described by one CIA officer as the single most versatile (he ran guerilla operations, counter-intelligence, and intelligence), powerful, and productive agent the Soviets produced.

 

More reviews of espionage related works are at the Espionage page.

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