A historian examines an archive of Soviet files smuggled to the West by a former K.G.B. agent.
By JOSEPH E. PERSICO
THE SWORD AND THE SHIELD
The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.
By Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin.
Illustrated. 700 pp. New York:
Basic Books. $32.50.
ollaborations between authors from opposite sides of the fallen Iron Curtain are becoming common enough to suggest a budding dacha industry. None, however, has enjoyed the blastoff of ''The Sword and the Shield'' -- a ''60 Minutes'' television segment, a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, a documentary on the History Channel and swift best sellerdom in this publication. All the attention arises from the book's reception as a fount of revelations about Soviet intelligence operations from the Russian Revolution through the cold war.
Here is its genesis: Vasili Mitrokhin, a veteran K.G.B. officer, becomes progressively disenchanted with the Soviet system. In 1972, he is made responsible for checking and sealing some 300,000 K.G.B. files in a move from the Lubyanka headquarters to a new building. He uses this privileged access to take longhand notes of the most sensitive files that pass through his hands. Over the next 12 years he hides thousands of pages of these notes at his dacha. In 1992, Mitrokhin defects to Britain, bringing his cache with him. He makes the smuggled archive available to British intelligence and teams up with Christopher Andrew, a leading writer on Soviet intelligence, to produce this volume.
Though much of ''The Sword and the Shield'' is drawn from Andrew's earlier works and collaborations, the book does contain fresh revelations. It comes as unsettling news that the K.G.B. secretly subsidized several Western authors, for example, financing, without the writer's knowledge, some of the research for Mark Lane's 1966 best-selling conspiratorial treatment of the Kennedy assassination, ''Rush to Judgment.'' The K.G.B. sent forged letters to major American newspapers claiming that the F.B.I. Director, J. Edgar Hoover, ''not content with turning the F.B.I. into 'a den of faggots,' had also allegedly been engaged for several decades in a larger gay conspiracy to staff the C.I.A. and State Department with homosexuals.''
"By the beginning of the 1970s Mitrokhin's political views were deeply influenced by the dissident struggle, which he was able to follow both in KGB records and Western broadcasts. 'I was a loner,' he recalls, 'but I now knew that I was not alone.' Though Mitrokhin never had any thought of aligning himself openly with the human rights movement, the example of the Chronicle of Current Events and other samizdat productions helped to inspire him with the idea of producing a classified variant of the dissidents' attempts to document the iniquities of the Soviet system. Gradually the project began to form in his mind of compiling his own private record of the foreign operations of the KGB."
We learn that before World War II, Soviet agents had a plan in place for a sniper to shoot Hermann GRated PG-13ring; that another agent became the piano tuner for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller; and that Soviet agents succeeded in bugging the meeting room of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Several of the much-publicized revelations, however, hardly qualify as such. For instance, the authors tell how the K.G.B. forged a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald to E. Howard Hunt, the former C.I.A. officer and later Watergate conspirator, in order to implicate the C.I.A. in the Kennedy assassination. Actually, this story surfaced in Henry Hurt's ''Reasonable Doubt,'' written 13 years ago. Similarly, the story that the K.G.B. considered schemes for breaking the legs of the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev for defecting to the West was first reported in a book written six years ago.
Of course, the authors are not responsible for what the news media have chosen to emphasize. They copiously acknowledge their sources in the back of the book. Rather, the recycling seems to speed up the old publishing saw that any story can be retold every 20 years.
The real value of this work is not so much in its fresh or not-so-fresh revelations. Rather, it provides a sweeping, densely documented history of the K.G.B. and its predecessor incarnations that establishes four salient features of Soviet espionage: that the preponderance of Soviet intelligence operations, after striking successes during World War II, were ham-fisted failures; that paranoia rather than reality prompted numerous K.G.B. spy operations; that what successes the K.G.B. did achieve during the cold war were enabled mostly by the greed of American and other traitors; and that good intelligence was often neutered by a fear of upsetting the cherished preconceptions of Kremlin leaders.
It is difficult to imagine a clumsier operation than the one mounted against Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, an implacable foe of the Soviet Union. Overrating Jackson's prospects as a 1976 Presidential candidate, the K.G.B. forged bogus F.B.I. documents alleging that Jackson belonged to a gay sex club. More laughable was a 1974 attempt ordered by the K.G.B. chief, Yuri V. Andropov himself, in a display of his monumental ignorance of America, to recruit hard-liners like Pat Buchanan and William Safire as Soviet agents.
Paranoia was so endemic in Soviet intelligence that even the Kremlin's star spies, the Cambridge five -- Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt -- were temporarily shelved in the baseless belief that they were working for British intelligence. With the passing of this ideologically motivated generation, the K.G.B.'s later successes depended on windfalls, not conquests. Robert Lipka, a clerk with the National Security Agency, now identified through the Mitrokhin papers, walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, offering his services for pay. John Walker walked into the same embassy to sell United States naval codes. And the most flagrant walk-in, the C.I.A.'s Aldrich Ames, we learn, was probably the top earner, collecting nearly $3 million from the K.G.B. for betraying 20 Western agents, most of whom were shot.
Paranoia seems to have been a communicable disease in the Kremlin. In retrospect, it is frightening to learn how often Soviet intelligence operations were motivated by an absolute conviction that the United States intended a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. At one point, the K.G.B. delivered an assessment to Nikita S. Khrushchev reporting, ''In the C.I.A. it is known that the leadership of the Pentagon is convinced of the need to initiate a war with the Soviet Union 'as soon as possible.' ''A K.G.B. officer later admitted, ''In order to please our superiors, we sent in falsified and biased information, acting on the principle 'Blame everything on the Americans, and everything will be O.K.' ''
Even the cream of Soviet intelligence was rendered useless if it did not fit the bosses' biases. K.G.B. historians recorded over 100 intelligence reports forwarded to Stalin in 1941 that foretold Germany's invasion of Russia. Stalin stubbornly remained convinced that Winston Churchill was his archenemy, not Hitler, and he dismissed intelligence that failed to fit this near-fatal prejudice.
One answer that the reader seeks in vain to find in the Mitrokhin papers is a final explanation of the still-cloudy 1982 plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II. A source note in the back of the book reveals that even within the K.G.B., opinion was divided, with roughly half the staff believing that the Soviet Union was not involved and the other half believing that it was.
There was one espionage arena in which the K.G.B. did excel -- stealing American science and technology (perhaps because technology intelligence is hard and factual, while political intelligence is subjective and elusive). I.B.M., McDonnell Douglas, T.R.W., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago were all penetrated by K.G.B. agents.
A persnickety reader could quibble that the Mitrokhin archive is hearsay since it is composed of notes excerpted from documents rather than the documents themselves. It does seem odd that a key K.G.B. archivist never had access to a copying machine, but had to copy thousands of pages in longhand. Still, the overall impact of this volume is convincing, though none of the material will send historians scurrying to rewrite their books. Indeed, one conclusion that the reader comes away with is that the shenanigans of the K.G.B. differed little from those of the C.I.A. and other nations' intelligence operations, except that, thanks to Comrade Mitrokhin, the K.G.B. and most who spied for it have been stripped naked.
Joseph E. Persico is a biographer and historian currently writing on Franklin D. Roosevelt's involvement in World War II espionage.