The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew; Vasili Mitrokhin | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION: FROM THE ONE-PARTY STATE TO THE YELTSIN PRESIDENCY
The Role of Russian Intelligence

Most academic historians have been slow to recognize the role of intelligence communities in the international relations and political history of the twentieth century. One striking example concerns the history of signals intelligence ( SIGINT). From 1945 onwards, almost all histories of the Second World War mentioned the American success in breaking the main Japanese diplomatic cipher over a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. British success in breaking German ciphers during the First World War was also common knowledge; indeed one well-publicized German decrypt produced by British codebreakers--the Zimmermann telegram--had hastened the US declaration of war on Germany in 1917. But, until the revelation of the ULTRA secret in 1973, it occurred to almost no historian (save for former intelligence officers who were forbidden to mention it) that there might have been major SIGINT successes against Germany as well as Japan. Even after the disclosure of ULTRA's important role in British and American wartime operations in the west, it took another fifteen years before any historian raised the rather obvious question of whether there was a Russian ULTRA on the eastern front.1

At the end of the twentieth century, many of the historians who now acknowledge the significance of SIGINT in the Second World War still ignore it completely in their studies of the Cold War. This sudden disappearance of SIGINT from the historical landscape immediately after VJ Day has produced a series of eccentric anomalies even in some of the leading studies of policymakers and international relations. Thus, for example, Sir Martin Gilbert's massive and mostly authoritative multi- volume official biography of Churchill acknowledges his passion for SIGINT as war leader but includes not a single reference to his continuing interest in it as peacetime prime minister from 1951 to 1955.

There is even less about SIGINT in biographies of Stalin. While there are some excellent histories of the Soviet Union, it is difficult to think of any which devotes as much as a sentence to the enormous volume of SIGINT generated by the KGB and GRU. In many studies of Soviet foreign policy, the KGB is barely mentioned. The bibliography of the most recent academic history of Russian foreign relations from 1917 to 1991 (published in 1998), praised by a British authority on the subject as "easily the best general history of Soviet foreign policy," contains--apart from a biography of Beria--not a single work on Soviet intelligence among more than 120 titles.2

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