Inside spying, the world's second oldest profession

Monday Book Reviews

June 24, 1991|By Stanley A. Blumberg

KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations From Lenin to Gorbachev. By Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky. Harper Collins. 776 pages. $29.95.

INTELLIGENCE gathering is probably the world's second-oldest profession, and spies are its practitioners.

The book of Numbers describes how Moses sent agents into Canaan to "see what the land is like, and whether the people who live there are strong or weak . . ." Intelligence gathering is a craft that has been used both offensively and defensively. And because it usually requires covert activities, the public remains fascinated.So it isn't surprising that when "KGB" was published, sections of the book, dealing with previously unpublished stories, spawned controversy.

The book was co-authored by Oleg Gordievsky, an ex-colonel in the KGB, and historian Christopher Andrew.

Gordievsky had been appointed KGB resident (head-of-station) in London in the summer of 1985, a few months before he escaped from the Soviet Union. His bosses had begun to suspect the truth -- that since 1974 he had been working for the British Intelligence Service, also known as M16.

In the summer of 1986, Andrew and Gordievsky established contact and during their extended discussions, they were struck by "the similarity of their interpretations of KGB operations." Over 23 years, the Russian had access to the records of the KGB's foreign intelligence arm. This scholarly tome is not, however, based solely on Gordievsky's memory and recollections, but shows evidence of painstaking research, as demonstrated by extensive chapter notes.

Some of the material has been previously published, but there is enough new information and exciting revelations to hold the attention of the reader.

To historians, the book's most interesting "expose" is the report that Harry Hopkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's closest confidant, was, in the words of Gordievsky, "an unconscious rather than a conscious [Soviet] agent." In any event, Hopkins had a series of unreported and -- until the revelations in this book -- unknown meetings with Alger Hiss' wartime controller, Iskhak Abdulovick Akhmerov. It is, however, possible that Hopkins was not aware of Akhmerov's true identity.

There is a disturbing sidebar to Gordievsky's account. Maj. George Racey Jordan, who served as Hopkins' lend-lease "expediter" at the Army Air Force base in Great Falls, Mont., during the war, testified before a congressional committee and later told in his 1952 book, "From Major Jordan's Diaries," that Hopkins had personally ordered him to expedite a special shipment of uranium from Canada to the Soviet Union by air, when the export of uranium was forbidden by U.S. law.

More recently, President Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," coupled with large-scale rearmament, raised Soviet fears that the U.S. was actively preparing for nuclear war. KGB agents were instructed to watch for any evidence that the Americans were serious. Others in the KGB feared that the Soviets would act first.

The crisis passed, but we are left with a question.

Are intelligence gathering and interpretation too important to be left to the professionals?

Stanley A. Blumberg, with Gwinn Owens, is co-author of a book (( on Israeli intelligence, "The Survival Factor." He writes from Baltimore.

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