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

By Christopher Andrew; Vasili Mitrokhin | Go to book overview

SIX
WAR

During the later months of 1940, with Trotsky dead and the worst of the bloodletting inside INO at an end, the Centre sought to rebuild its foreign intelligence network. Until the Great Terror, all new recruits to INO had been trained individually at secret apartments in Moscow and kept strictly apart from other trainees. By 1938, however, so many INO officers had been unmasked as (imaginary) enemies of the people that the Centre decided group training was required to increase the flow of new recruits. NKVD order no. 00648 of October 3 set up the Soviet Union's first foreign intelligence training school, hidden from public view in the middle of a wood at Balashikha, fifteen miles east of the Moscow ringroad. Given the official title Shkola Osobogo Naznacheniya (Special Purpose School), but better known by the acronym SHON, it drew its recruits either from Party and Komsomol members with higher education or from new university graduates in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and elsewhere.1

Since most of the new recruits had experienced only the cramped, squalid living conditions of crowded city apartment blocks, collective farms and army barracks, an attempt was made to introduce them to gracious living so that they would feel at ease in Western "high society." Their rooms were furnished with what an official history solemnly describes as "rugs, comfortable and beautiful furniture, and tastefully chosen pictures on the walls, with excellent bed linens and expensive bedspreads."2 With no experience of personal privacy, the trainees would have been disoriented by being accommodated separately even if space had allowed, and so were housed two to a room. The curriculum included four hours' teaching a day on foreign languages, two hours on intelligence tradecraft, and lectures on the CPSU, history, diplomacy, philosophy, religion and painting--an eclectic mix designed both to reinforce their ideological orthodoxy and to acquaint them with Western bourgeois culture.3 There were also regular musical evenings. Instructors with experience living in the West gave the trainees crash courses in bourgeois manners, diplomatic etiquette, fashionable dressing and "good taste."4 During its first three years, SHON taught annual intakes totalling about 120 trainees--all but four of them male.5

The most successful of SHON's first intake of students was Pavel Mikhailovich Fitin, whose early career had been spent in an agricultural publishing house. In February 1938 he had been recruited by the NKVD's internal training school to fill one

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