KGB: The World Was Going Our Way (Book Reivew)
“The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World – Newly Revealed Secrets from the Mitrokhin Archive ”; by Christopher Andrew; #0465003117; Basic Books; c2005; $14; 678 pages.
The focus of this massive work is on KGB interest and operations in developing countries (Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and India). The volume details countless KGB “contacts” and “agents”, some surprising: India (Indira Gandhi, code name “Vanoy), Chile (Salvador Allende, codename “Leader”), Nicaragua (Carlos Fonseca, codename “Hydrologist”) - and countless others. The focus here is on the latter country. It is surprising how many Sandinista-related articles and blogs only mention this book or its author in passing, or as an afterthought - that some author claims Fonseca was a KGB agent, as if it was evidence someone found scribbled on a post-it note and nothing more. Accounts usually follow up the single-sentence claim with a disclaimer that some people (or many, or countless – depends who tells the story) deny the charge. For a good brief example, see the concluding section of Fonseca’s Wikipedia entry.
What is alleged is far more involved and the documentation far more detailed, and it seems unlikely most blog authors read the book outlining the Fonseca-related events, most of which extend far beyond Fonseca and occur after his death. Most of the recent work in the broader topic is only possible due to the efforts of a then senior KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin. Following his disgust at the events tied to the Czech Repression (1968), Mitrokhin spent his remaining 16 years of pre-retirement in the Archive collecting and transcribing documents on Russian operations. Mitrokhin, after more than a decade of keeping secret notes and transcriptions smuggled his stash out of the country and into British hands in the early 1990’s (he originally approached the CIA, but they didn’t believe he could have so much authentic documentation, so they wrote him off as a crank, forger, or perhaps a KGB misinformation plant). The massive documentation has since been considered authentic in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. The FBI has labeled Mitrokhin’s unpaid and unsolicited work the single most complete and extensive intelligence ever achieved from any source.
To some, the nature of the work and documents insures validity; to others, it is a fascinating account from the other side, but has not been independently confirmed – as even post-Gorbachev era the Archive remained one of the more secure depositories in the world. The sheer breadth of knowledge and level of detail lends many to assume Mitokhin cannot be doing anything other than telling the truth. Having so much information that is confirmed and secret even in the West, combined with that which explains so many gaps in Western classified documents, combined with the fact that none of the 1000’s of documents contradict each other, make is so unlikely that they are anything but authentic transcriptions and summaries.
For the record, neither of the critics cited at the end of the Fonseca Wikipedia piece has anything critical to say regarding Latin American operations. For example, historian J. Arch Getty, without any evidence of his own or from any other source merely states the obvious, wondering aloud in a book review what the odds were and how someone ever stole so much data from one of the most heavily protected archives in the world (and as an historian he, of course, bemoans the loss of not having the originals, as opposed to Mitrokhin’s transcriptions). The second “disbeliever” cited is former Indian counter-terrorism chief B. Raman – whose work, unlike Getty’s, doesn’t appear to be published in any authoritative source and is cited as a multi-part blog via Indian Rediff News. As a proud Indian National and former intelligence officer Raman takes personally the claims and accusations Andrews and Mitrokhin make regarding his country and Indira Gandhi, and while he questions the veracity of the entire Mitrokhin affair, amazingly, he fails to prove incorrect (in fact, he doesn’t even try) a single thing he has said across nearly 30,000 pages of transcribed documents, nor anywhere in the first 1400 pages of published summaries (the first two KGB-related volumes; the book here being #2). This, more than anything, undermines Raman’s input on the matter.
What follows is a summary of the summary via Mitrokhin’s files; the claims are tied directly to those found in the Mitkokhin archives as summarized by C. Andrews. Of interest per Nicaragua are Mitrokhin’s notes and transcriptions clearly depicting Carlos Fonseca a KGB agent. Per Mitrokhin’s documents: In 1961 KGB Director Shelepin sent Khrushchev a plan which targeted liberation movements in the developing world. His basis was Cuba, the “Bridgehead”. His extended focus was later Nicaragua, where he considered Somoza susceptible to a Batista-like attack. Shelepin proposed that they secretly cultivate revolution in Central America, via Cuba, then Nicaragua. Mitrokhin claims that Fonseca (codename “hydrologist”; in Romanized Russian, “GIDROLOG”) was a trusted KGB agent, though it is unclear if this was established before or during his trip to Russia. Fonseca was then the only Nicaraguan to attend the World Youth Festival in Moscow, where his trip was extended more than 4 months (later resulting in a book, “A Nicaraguan in Moscow”); he would later repeatedly later praised the Marxist struggle of Lenin, Fidel, Che, and Ho Chi-Minh as the one the Sandinistas would adopt for final liberation (just as his book and speeches praised Soviet freedom of religion, the press, etc.).
The key Nicaraguan was Fonseca’s mentor, Torres Espinosa, an exile living in Mexico (codename “Pimen”), where he was also General Secretary of the Anti-Somoza United Front. Torres had a pan-American revolutionary vision. Shelepin’s reports to Khruschev depict united work by Cubans and Nicaraguans and requested additional KGB funding for Fonseca, Espinosa, and Andara y Ubeda (a Nicaraguan surgeon also in exile in Mexico; codename “Prim”). The then primary interest in the FSLN by the KGB was for the creation of a sabotage-terrorism group. KGB decisions and directives reveal a strategic interest and financing of FSLN per the goal of creating unrest designed to provoke the U.S. Later additional funding was approved for Fonseca to select 12 men to be led by Andara y Ubeda, and who would receive full operational training in terrorism. All operations are placed under the authority of Fonseca, as is financial management and future activities. Subsequent guerilla training was to be provided in Honduras where the team was to collect recruits and the prepare for work inside Nicaragua. Instructions given Fonseca were: build ranks form the local population; create support base; develop logistical routes, raid government establishments, and target enterprises belonging to North Americans. A second Cuba was the plan, a second “Bridgehead” – as the KGB referred to it.
In Mexico Andara y Ubeda received KGB funding for weapons and training; his guerillas, later 22 in all, were sent from Mexico to Nicaragua, and were to be ready for operations on the 1st of March 1962, awaiting orders to go against American organizations the following night. Andara y Ubeda (who Mitrokhin claims was not originally aware that he was KGB-funded; he was presented with KGB-based forged documents depicting funds via progressive burgeoisie supporters; Fonseca’s role in the deception is unclear) wisely refused to attack bases with so few and so recently trained men. Instead, they conducted surveillance on Somoza’s agents and anti-Castro Cubans then living under Somoza’s protection. Reports from both case handlers depict Torres as a valuable and reliable KGB agent.
As work progressed, Moscow was disappointed in the FSLN guerillas; their progress was difficult to measure (elsewhere Borge later recalled that not only did they not recruit a legion of followers, but that they were eventually reduced to begging the locals for food). Following a heavy loss to Somoza’s Guard, the FSLN was reconfigured and given the name of Lenin’s newspaper, ISKRA. But, by 1964 it again looked like failure for the FSLN – three years into the Soviet plan for them. Things did not look good for the Nicaraguan revolutionaries, nor for Castro as post-coup Brezhnev was unwilling to tolerate another round of financial mismanagement and economic unproductivity by the Cubans. In a saving attempt, in 1967 Castro orchestrated another Nicaraguan offensive which also failed.
As the FSLN was losing against Somoza’s Guard, Che was attempting to export revolution in Bolivia where he failed to recruit any Bolivian peasants and the Bolivian Communist Party refused to support him or issue his mandates. Surprisingly, his death masked a long history of incompetence as a soldier, revolutionary, and Marxist theorist (his book, “Guerilla Warfare”, intended as a handbook for revolutionaries, in Moscow was taken as further evidence that he did not understand Marxism). Moscow did not support any of his work outside Cuba - and even upon his death Soviet papers included articles on the futility of directly exporting the Cuban revolution; it wasn’t until years later that the propaganda value of Che became useful to them. Prospects for a FSLN revolution faded away, and the Soviets again focused on using the Fonseca project to sabotage targets inside the U.S. In 1966, a new KGB-based ISKRA group had been set up for work on the U.S. border, primarily in Tijuana and Cuidad Juarez. Andara y Ubeda received specialized training in Moscow and his intended targets were missile sites, radar stations, and the oil pipeline from El Paso to California and the Saturn support group (illegal alien transport of weapons across the border) was established.
The details of their work are unclear. But, Moscow was rarely impressed with Latin projects. On top of that, in 1965 Castro acknowledged his jails held over 20,000 political prisoners (having them didn’t necessarily upset Moscow, acknowledging them did). And, by late 1969 Cuba already owed Moscow over $4 billion dollars and had contributed nothing beyond personnel to any outside operation. Just as things looked most bleak for Moscow in the Latin America, the first Marxist to ever assume the Presidency via the ballot box occurred in Chile: Salvador Allende. In 1961 the Soviet Trade Mission in Chile became the front for the KGB and documents reveal Allende was a secret though self-proclaimed supporter of the Soviet Union, but was never classified as an Agent and was merely a “Contact” – perhaps because he believed he would be elected and stay in power with or without the Russians. The CIA’s spent $425,000 in an attempt to prevent Allende’s bid for power, but was outmatched by the KGB which, directly and indirectly, saw to more than $565,000 – and answered Allende’s personal request for financing (and he won by less than 40,000 votes out of well over 3 million). Andropov had additional funds waiting for Allende should he need them per the Congressional Presidential vote due to the fact that he had less than 50% majority.
In post election meetings, Allende met not with the Soviet Ambassador to Chile, but directly with the KGB, where he was receptive to linking the Chilean and Soviet intelligence services. Most meetings were established by Allende’s mistress (codename “Piyata”). Allendes black-beret security detail had already included Cubans and Soviets. In response to detailed answers on political and economic matters that were given directly to the Politubro, Allende personally received additional KGB payments. Allende then received monthly payments from the KGB, as did a Chilean newspaper the KGB established. For a multitude of reasons by 1973 the experiment was over, and shortly Pinochet was in power. And, by 1974 Nicaragua was no longer on the KGB “priority list” for operations and with Chile gone, it was Cuba, Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Mexico; the FSLN was no longer considered politically viable by those in Moscow.
Unfortunately, many details linking Chile and Nicaragua are unclear (KGB Latin America had been based in Chile, Pre-Pinochet). But, in 1978 one of the most audacious guerilla plans came together. Then, 24 Terceristas disguised as members of an elite National Guard unit seized control of the Managua National Palace where Congress was in session. KGB files detail that the training and financing of the original group was funded by the KGB, which had earlier given their core the codename ISKRA. Additionally, that on the evening of the attack the First Chief Directorate of the KGB was personally briefed on the FSLN plan. The captors and ransom were received in Cuba (codename “outpost” – the true base of all KGB operations in the Caribbean and Latin America). As a sidebar, one of the more surprising revelations per the Mitrokhin documents is that the KGB did not make contact with Castro until after he had taken power – meaning that all early revolutionary work was essentially an internal project handled by his people. Subsequent Costa Rican, Cuban and Soviet records/testimony indicate that without KGB assistance, the Sandinsitas would not have been able to overthrow Somoza – though the ease of which this happened was not predicted by the Costa Ricans, the CIA, or the KGB.
Once the Sandinistas were in power in Nicaragua, all in-country work was handled by Nikolai Leonov, KGB Senior Specialist in the Latin World. He arrived 1 day after the Sandinistas took control, long before the Russians had an Embassy. Leonov was there undercover on press credentials. Leonov was sent to meet personally with Sandinista leaders and reported back to Moscow in person. When he later returned to Managua he was scheduled for a week of secret talks with the Ortega brothers and Borge, as well as related talks with other Sandinistas. Leonov’s reports unequivocally state that on day 1 the FSLN leadership was ready to morph into a full Marxist-Leninist Party, and that they were willing to allow other parties to exist only in that it created a convenient democratic façade for public relations work against the United States. Leonov’s records claim Daniel Ortega’s summary was that, “our strategy is to tear Nicaragua from the capitalist orbit and, in time, become a member of CMEA”. To show commitment to the joint Party project, Ortega provided Leonov with a secret document outlining FSLN transformation plans (likely a version of the 72-hour document then unknown to the public) to unite with Cuba and the Soviet Bloc where Nicaragua would then lead the class struggle throughout the Americas.
The KGB was involved in subsequent meetings between Nicaraguans and Salvadorans. The KGB had meetings with Salvadoran revolutionaries outlining their ability to provide Western-made armaments that would confuse reporting of alleged Soviet funding of their activities. Due to the emerging war in Afghanastan, the Soviets were not inviting of another large scale operation. They were completely surprised that the Carter Administration granted aid to the Sandinistas. The Soviets then funneled all press via Cuba, though all funding and armament arrangements were addressed by a tripartite committee: Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan. Nicaragua was instrumental in El Salvador as their Marxist factions united following a secret KGB-derived meeting in Havana. Nicaragua agreed to provide the Salvadorans with a secret base within its border. All parties involved were in agreement that the bulk of the work needed to be accomplished while Carter was still U.S. President, and so the Salvadorans gathered arms from Hanoi, East Berlin, Prague, Sofia, and Ethiopia. The Salvadorans acknowledged that this would not have been possible without Nicaragua’s assistance via the Soviets.
Though all parties expected a military success in El Salvador, it failed and the new FMLN retreated to the mountains, and shortly thereafter new Secretary of State Alexander Haig put so much public pressure that Moscow retreated from El Salvador. Documents show that Castro personally voiced objection that the Sandinistas were now bypassing Cuba and directly approaching the Soviets for further and large-scale armaments. Less than 2 months later Humberto Ortega signed an arms treaty in Moscow, which in short order guaranteed the Sandinistas would have the largest army in Central American history. As Haig and Reagan lectured on (then, without evidence available to the public) Cuba and the Soviet’s role in Central America, KGB documents show Castro questioning Soviet judgment in not challenging the U.S. (little known to anyone else at the time, Castro would later offer Cuba for a Soviet nuclear missile base if U.S. missiles went into Europe; Castro was afraid that if the Russian invaded Poland to crush the Solidarity movement, the U.S. would invade Cuba). This was not the only area where Moscow differed with Castro. Just as Che’s work did so earlier, Cuban troops and policies in Angola and Ethiopia were problematic for the KGB. Moscow in particular continued to question Cuba’s role especially given that its own mismanaged economy meant it could not be counted on to contribute funding for any project. Moscow did not buy into Castro’s view of impending revolution in the Americas, via Grenada, Honduras and Guatemala based on his tied to Nicaragua.
Per the Soviets, Castro held secret meetings in Managua with Nicaraguans and their proponents from Honduras and El Salvador, where the prepared for a secret uprising in Honduras, should the FMLN encounter Honduran military. Via Moscow, Qaddafi made it known funds were available for true guerilla groups in Latin America. Castro focused on harassing Salvadoran elections, and used Soviet arms via Nicaragua to do so. The plan failed (80% election turnout). The Soviet response in El Salvador differed from the Cuban and Nicaraguan model/recommendation. Instead the KGB went after U.S. public opinion, based on Reagan’s sharp funding increase in El Salvador. In the U.S. left-wing committees were financed and in some cases created, but most may have been unnecessary given that there was measurable U.S. anti-government support independent of propaganda. Some work did end up influential, including the ”Dissent Paper on El Salvador and Central America”, reputed to be the work of countless conscientious objectors within the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, etc. In reality, it was a KGB project which was reported as fact in some outlets, including the New York Times (journalists Flora Lewes and Anthony Lewis treated the document as fact; Flora later apologized to readers for her error). When the U.S. support for the Contras was no longer a secret the KGB helped fuel protest, funding committees, projects, and publications - much of which helped force the Boland Amendment.
For all its media attention, Nicaragua was still not on the Soviet “preferred states” list; the Soviets had not declared them “socialist-oriented states” status. Additionally, documents reveal that Moscow had stated quite clearly to Castro and the Ortegas that the soviet military would not defend them if they were invaded by the United States. Daniel Ortega’s early 1983 visit to Moscow was accompanied by Andropov’s official claim that “the revolutionary government of Nicaragua has all the necessary resources to defend its motherland”, which must have seemed less than reassuring as a few months later the Marxist regime in Grenada was overthrown soon after the Prime Minister, his mistress, his deputy, and his supporters were involved in a shootout in front of the regime’s official Che Guevera mural.
Central America was looking to be a dismal failure for the Soviets (who had already failed with Allende, Torrijos, and a host of others), just as it was for the U.S. Though never impressed by the Sandinistas work, and after deciding not to fund them with MiG-21’s, Moscow did continue to provide uniforms, food, medical care, etc., to more than 70,000 service personnel. This, not counting aid, Nicaragua owed the Soviets well over $1 billion dollars –an astounding amount in a brief political union. Things spiraled downward for the Sandinistas and with Soviet interest and money dwindling they eventually succumbed to negotiation. Eventually, Oscar Arias put together a peace plan that was forced on the table partly by Moscow (Nicaragua’s chronic economic mismanagement was an internal problem and it would no longer be funded by the Russians). The Sandinistas would later be voted out of office and Castro was left defending Marxist orthodoxy long after Gorbachev and many Russians had given up on it. Soviet relations with Central America soured further when KGB Chairmen Chebrikov failed to restore good relations with Castro. Shortly thereafter, Cuban insider Florentino Lombard defected to the U.S. revealing, among other things, that Castro’s Cuban Intelligence was targeting Soviet /Bloc countries. On the 35th anniversary of Castro’s rebellion, Gorbachev was not in attendance, and Castro for the first time publicly criticized him. It was downhill for both Gorbachev and Castro. As the Bloc fell apart, so did Castro’s financing.
The Mitrokhin “story”, per this volume anyway, appears to stop around the time of the Nicaragua General Eelctions (1984, the same year Mitrokhin ended employment in the Archive). What is most interesting about the Mitrokhin claims regarding Nicaragua is how much they differ from many so-called traditional accounts of U.S. diplomatic and other failures forcing the Sandinistas to turn from their alleged democratic intentions, to the Russians. Additionally, even lengthy treatments taking the other slant, or those considered most objective, rarely touch on the idea that Soviet funding was available so early and across so many fronts, touching so many people. In addition to the not-so-surprising wastes of money, what stands out in the volume is how easily both East/West sides recruited “traitors” from the highest branches of government. Though not strictly labeled “volume 2”, this work is essentially a continuation of Andrew’s “Mitrokhin Project”, the original volume being, “The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB” (another nearly 700-page work, covering operations in the U.S. and Europe). Andrews is also author of the well-known history of British Intelligence (“Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community”), recently revamped when MI5 gave the Cambridge University Professor near-total access to older documents (“Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5”) – at more than 1100 pages. His comparable American work is, “For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush” – yet another 700-page work. While his works are essentially original-document summaries that connect the dots, their size is also a testament to how many top-secret classified documents exist just within intelligence services, as well as how many operations were in play, often simultaneously. Few outside people have ever had so much access to so many secret or formerly secret documents, and many of the people he writes about, themselves, had access to only a portion of what Andrews has seen and documented. While many “spy histories” tout the intrigue, danger and life-and-death struggles of countries, etc., what Andrews has documented often reveals how expensive and wasteful most operations are, and how small and pathetic the victories usually -but not always- tend to be.