Roundtable 8-19 on Near and Distant Neighbors: A New History of Soviet Intelligence

Near and Distant Neighbors coverIf intelligence has now received sufficient attention so that it is no longer the hidden dimension of international politics, Soviet intelligence still fits this categorization. Our three reviewers welcome Jonathan Haslam’s lively overview of the subject and commend him for drawing on so many of the documents which, although revealing as far as they go, remain tantalizingly limited. As Paul Pillar, a career government official with excellent scholarly qualifications, notes, “Near and Distant Neighbors deserves to be read as a standard work on Soviet intelligence.”

H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable, Volume VIII, No. 19 (2016)

H-Diplo/ISSF Editors:  Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable and Web/Production Editor:  George Fujii
Commissioned for H-Diplo/ISSF by Thomas Maddux
Introduction by Robert Jervis

Jonathan Haslam.  Near and Distant Neighbors:  A New History of Soviet Intelligence.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.  ISBN:  9780374219901 (hardcover, $30.00); 9780374536275 (paperback, $16.00).

Published by H-Diplo/ISSF on 1 August 2016


Introduction by Robert Jervis, Columbia University

If intelligence has now received sufficient attention so that it is no longer the hidden dimension of international politics, Soviet intelligence still fits this categorization. Our three reviewers welcome Jonathan Haslam’s lively overview of the subject and commend him for drawing on so many of the documents which, although revealing as far as they go, remain tantalizingly limited. As Paul Pillar, a career government official with excellent scholarly qualifications, notes, “Near and Distant Neighbors deserves to be read as a standard work on Soviet intelligence.”

One of Haslam’s main arguments is that for Soviet leaders foreign intelligence always began at home, as domestic threats always loomed large and were seen as closely linked to foreign machinations. As Robert Pringle, an independent scholar who has written on Soviet intelligence, points out, “Haslam notes that Moscow’s main foreign policy concern was from the beginning the threat from emigre movements.” Soviet intelligence not only relied on ideological ties to recruit and motivate spies, it also focused on the dangers to the regime posed by links between internal and external foes. Intelligence in the Cold War was never fully symmetrical. Both sides worried that ideology, in addition to the more traditional incentives of money, ego, and blackmail, could lead their nationals to steal their secrets, but only the Soviet Union worried that the stability of the regime might be at stake.

Our reviewers also commend Haslam for his argument that while the Soviet intelligence services did a great job of gaining access to their adversaries’ secrets by spy networks and stealing codebooks, these coups lead them to underinvest in the technologies of codebreaking, with the result that they found themselves far behind during the Cold War when their traditional methods faltered. Furthermore, the lack of independent analysis of the information gathered increased the politicization of intelligence and limited the value of the secrets that were stolen.

Our reviewers find that Haslam’s interest in the personalities of the large cast of characters that he presents is both a strength and a weakness. It enlivens his account and reminds us that the characteristics of the individuals can affect what information is gathered and transmitted. But David Stone, a historian of Soviet military and foreign policy, notes that this leads to an approach that “is fundamentally episodic and anecdotal,” with the result “that the reader finds a collection of trees rather than a forest.” He also concludes that when Haslam does make broader claims, these “often appear to be overstated.” Pillar agrees, arguing that Haslam is too quick to jump to conclusions about the causes of the Soviet behavior, for example, in invading Afghanistan. Pillar also raises the intriguing question of the role of luck in some famous Soviet intelligence successes.

The reviewers agree that while Near and Distant Neighbors certainly is not going to be the last word on the subject, it deserves a wide audience.


Jonathan Haslam is the George F. Kennan Professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and Emeritus Professor of Cambridge University. The monograph prior to the book under review was Russia’s Cold War. From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). His current research is for a new book detailing the role of ideas, on both extremes, left and the right, in the destruction of the European states system.

Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University.  His most recent book is Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Cornell University Press, 2010). He was President of the American Political Science Association in 2000-01 and has received career achievement awards from the International Society of Political Psychology, ISA’s Security Studies Section, and APSA’s Foreign Policy Section, and he has received honorary degrees from the University of Venice and Oberlin College.  In 2006 he received the National Academy of Science’s tri-annual award for behavioral sciences contributions to avoiding nuclear war.

Paul R. Pillar, Ph.D., is nonresident senior fellow at both the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution.  His books include Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011) and Why America Misunderstands the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

Robert W. Pringle served almost 25 years in the Foreign Service and the Central Intelligence Agency, including two years in Moscow.  Following his retirement, he taught at the University of Kentucky, Virginia Military Institute, and Christopher Newport University.  He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence (second Edition, 2015).

David R. Stone teaches in the Strategy and Policy Department of the Naval War College. From 1999 to 2015, he was a professor of history at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of numerous books and articles on Russian / Soviet military history and foreign policy, most recently The Russian Army in the Great War: The Eastern Front, 1914-1917 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015).


Review by Paul R. Pillar, Georgetown University

Jonathan Haslam’s history of Soviet intelligence is an illuminating and thorough treatment of its subject –remarkably so in view of the inherently inaccessible nature of much of the subject matter. The solid scholarship represented by this book has made the maximum use of available archival and other Russian language material. In addition to covering the nuts and bolts of organizations and operations, Haslam has succeeded in giving the reader a good sense of the more immaterial aspects—the emotions and psychology, the fears and frustrations—of what intelligence officers did and tried to do on behalf of the Soviet Union.

The book provides a balanced picture in the sense that it tells a story of both major successes and marked failures, as measured either in absolute terms or in comparison with the performance of Western intelligence services. Neither side in the spy game part of the East-West competition consistently outclassed the other.  Regarding cryptography, for example, Haslam describes at length how the Soviets were well behind the West most of the time, but they were at least as good as anyone else in figuring out ways to identify the other side’s intelligence officers. Haslam’s account also shows how the degree of success did not necessarily correlate with the skill and diligence exhibited by the intelligence service, and how luck and happenstance figured in as well. This was true most notably of one of the biggest successes Soviet intelligence ever achieved: recruitment of the Cambridge Five, the most famous spy ring ever to infiltrate the British government, which had to do at least as much with the circumstances and inclinations of the young Britons involved at that particular time as it did with any brilliance of the recruitment effort, let alone with the Soviets’ subsequent management of their cases.

Haslam’s narrative effectively places the intelligence story within the larger context of Soviet decision-making and foreign policy. His treatment reinforces the often-neglected point that the intelligence input to any country’s foreign and security policy involves not just the immediate output of an intelligence service but rather the interaction between that service and the policy-makers, who may or may not be receptive to what the intelligence officers are saying. What made the USSR a special case during much of the period this book covers was the forbidding presence of Joseph Stalin looming over everything.  When falling out of favor means not just losing an audience but also losing one’s life, this is bound to affect the way intelligence officers go about their work. The dictator’s idiosyncrasies and paranoia had other major effects on what his intelligence services could or could not do on behalf of the Soviet Union, such as with Stalin’s slowness in recognizing the threat of fascism in Germany being related to the fact that his rival Leon Trotsky had been warning of exactly that threat.  But in other instances the instincts of the man at the top, in the USSR as in other countries, may be at least as sound as what an intelligence agency offers—for example, Stalin’s correct anticipation during World War II of the relative postwar roles of the United States and Britain.

Haslam gives much emphasis to individual personalities within the intelligence services. With each new character who enters the story, the reader is treated to a detailed description of physical characteristics and personal background. Some of this may be overdone, but it is a reminder that the operation of any bureaucracy, including intelligence bureaucracies, often has as much to do with personalities and the competition among them as with the formal workings of the organizational machinery.

Related to this point, some of the patterns that Haslam describes in the USSR’s intelligence story mirror what can be found in the stories involving intelligence services elsewhere. One is a fetish with reorganization. When Haslam writes, “Whenever the Soviet régime faced a problem of some magnitude, the instinctive response was to engage in frantic bureaucratic reorganisation” (174), he could have been describing a pattern readily apparent as well in the United States. Also, when he suggests that analysis of the Red Army’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) may have been tainted throughout its history by a desire of higher-ups to limit the exposure of anything that would contradict a case for higher military expenditures, he raises an issue of politicization that has arisen as well with Western intelligence.

Very few specifics in Haslam’s thoroughly researched account are ripe for criticism, but questions can be raised about his interpretation of two episodes that occurred about three and a half decades ago.  One is the Soviet decision to launch a full-scale military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979. Haslam says this decision was the result of the United States having tricked Soviet leaders into believing that Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin was about to switch sides and turn to the United States for support (249-251). Haslam makes this argument in an earlier book[1] and incorporates it by reference into Near and Distant Neighbors, while repeating the quotation of a celebratory blurt by U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski: “They have taken the bait!”. One problem with this interpretation is that we never learn how this trick supposedly was accomplished or whether the quoted comments from Brzezinski were anything more than braggadocio.  (Brzezinski makes no mention in his memoirs of any such ploy.[2]) More fundamentally, the interpretation leaves the impression that if it were not for U.S. machinations, the Soviets never would have decided to intervene. That impression probably is false. Even if Amin had been thinking of reaching out for U.S. support, this would have been a symptom rather than a cause of what was the biggest reason for Soviet leaders to worry, which was an Afghan insurgency that had grown so active and strong that it appeared capable of toppling the Communist regime in Kabul. In his earlier book Haslam notes that although the Soviets had not encouraged the coup that brought Communists to power in Afghanistan, once it occurred they considered it an event of “extraordinary political importance” and “the first social revolution in the lands of the Middle East.”[3] By late 1979 the Soviets’ investment in the Afghan regime had become substantial. Most likely they would have overcome their reluctance to intervene and would have acted to protect their investment and prevent a mujahedin victory no matter what the United States did. The KGB’s analysis of Amin’s loyalties probably was a contributing factor but not the decisive one.

The other episode is the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 by a Turk, Mehmet Ali Ağca. Haslam’s passage about the incident appears to take as a given, with more certainty than the available information warrants, that the Soviets instigated the attempt. It is well established that the Bulgarian secret service had some dealings with Ağca and extensive ties with its Soviet counterpart, the KGB, but the years of investigation and scrutiny have failed to produce any more of a chain of evidence linking Moscow to the shooting of John Paul. Moreover, Haslam offers no evidence to back up his assertion that Moscow’s “role in this murky affair would have been hard to cover up but for the fact that the U.S. Government was eager…not to fan the flames and create a political conflagration it could not control, or expose an agent in place that could alone have informed them of what had occurred” (262).

These are but two entries in a long and otherwise well-documented ledger. Near and Distant Neighbors deserves to be read as a standard work on Soviet intelligence. Haslam ends his book by raising the interesting question, now that the Soviet Union is no more, of how much the characteristics of what he has described can be attributed to Communism and how much to the actors being Russian. His answer to this question emphasizes the latter. He observes, “Instead of the Soviet Union’s collapse leading directly to the dismantling of the security organs, a decade later they had taken over the Russian Federation” (278). His reasoning about this is valid, but similar dynamics may be observed even beyond Russia. The phenomenon of a mukhabarat, an intelligence agency or security apparatus, becoming a deep state exercising power well beyond its ostensible responsibilities has been, for example, a familiar pattern with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.


Review by Robert Pringle, Independent Scholar

Jonathan Haslam, a respected British scholar of several books on Soviet diplomacy, has written a history of Soviet foreign intelligence.  To explain the title: the KGB (Committee of State Security was known as the near neighbor and the GRU (military intelligence) as the distant neighbor in terms of their closeness to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The work makes extensive use of Russian sources, memoirs, and websites.  It is especially useful to the academic community for its discussion of Soviet military intelligence and the signals intelligence components of the KGB and the GRU.

Haslam’s first chapters deal with the early years of Moscow’s intelligence service, and here he does us a service.  Too many people begin a history of Moscow’s efforts with the recruitment of the Cambridge ‘ring of five,’ Kim Philby and company, to penetrate the British establishment.  Rather, Haslam notes that Moscow’s main foreign policy concern was from the beginning the threat from emigre movements. Party leaders Vladimir Lenin and then Joseph Stalin believed that their policies and repression could generate an internal (counter) revolution, a peasant jacquerie that the émigrés could exploit.  In short, they worried about who was the ‘White Lenin.’  Thus the elaborate counterintelligence operations against émigrés, beginning with the Truo lure emigre agents back to the Soviet Union where they could be executed in the early 1920s, and culminating with the murder of Leon Trotsky in 1940 in Mexico reflected Stalin’s concerns with the fragility of Bolshevik power.

Haslam’s second major theme is the relative weakness of Soviet Signals Intelligence (Sigint): both the code making and code breaking efforts of the intelligence services.  For the first two decades of Soviet power, Moscow’s codes were vulnerable on more than one occasion, and the services relied heavily on the compromise of opponents’ code clerks to break codes.  Rather than attempting to crack the Axis powers’ ciphers as the Anglo-Americans did, Moscow obtained copies of intercepts from the Enigma machine from intelligence penetrations of the British service. This had a downside for Soviet intelligence during the Cold War, for as Haslam notes: “Technology backwardness meant the Russians had no hope of winning the decryption race, and it was not until the end of the decade were top mathematicians drawn into code and cipher cracking” (119).

During World War II, Soviet intelligence operated most effectively in Ottawa, London, and Washington.  Besides scientific intelligence, and access to Allied intelligence, Stalin wanted penetrations of Allied governments in order to insure that he knew of any efforts to craft a secret peace with Germany.  The intelligence services were running more than 300 agents inside Western governments, intelligence services, and scientific institutions, which gave Stalin knowledge of London and Washington’s war fighting strategy and the development of the atom bomb. It is to its intelligence officers’ credit that Stalin at the time of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, he knew far more about nuclear weapons and Allied war planning than Vice President Harry Truman.  Haslam is correct in pointing out that Moscow’s successes in the war years were not replicated after 1945.  The services failed to deal with more difficult counterintelligence environment in Washington and London as defectors and decryption of Soviet codes led to the end of established networks.  Both services lost control of agents, most of whom were serving for ideological reasons by 1950.  Haslam quotes Soviet intelligence memoirs, and cables.  Two especially rich sources used are the 2,400 intelligence cables decripted in the VENONA program by the National Security Agency, and interviews and memoirs found on, a website maintain by the Russian researcher Svetlana Chervonnaya. Good documentary evidence of this failure can be found in letters from the Washington MGB residency to Moscow found in, which is maintained by Svetlana Chervonnaya, a Russian academic.[4]

Haslam’s discussion of major Cold-War intelligence cases is interesting and useful, though he spends less than two pages on the nuclear espionage including the Rosenberg case (1944-50) Rosenberg case.  He is more interested in the services’ British failures and successes than the American ones.  Nevertheless, he makes two important points.  First, while Moscow used the scientific and technical intelligence in developing weapons such as the atomic bomb, it frequently ignored prescient political intelligence.  Second, he emphasizes that the KGB leadership, by crafting requirements to find enemy activity, often dictated the services’ conclusions.  There was no analytical component in the KGB until relatively late in the game.  Messages from the field went to Instantsiya, the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  The best and most tragic example of this politicization was the rejection of Yuri Andropov, chairman of the KGB from 1967 to 1982, of reporting from his officers that Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a bad idea.

Haslam’s book, like all histories of Soviet intelligence history, can be criticized for the author’s use of sources and selection of cases.  In my opinion, the author mines the Russian and English sources very well.  While he largely passes over Soviet efforts in the United States and the Third World, his detailing of work in Germany, and evidence of GRU and SIGINT operations compensates for this weakness.

Moreover, his discussion of the professionalism of the KGB counterintelligence effort in Moscow and abroad is as entertaining as it is enlightening.  Haslam is at his best as he reviews how the KGB identified CIA case officers in the field by mining diplomatic lists, and observing U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in the field (254-257).   Haslam, however, does not mention that Western intelligence officers, well aware of Soviet efforts, devised methods of ‘going black’ to operate on the streets of Moscow and other capitals.  It is worth reading David E. Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy in order to understand the KGB-CIA war on the streets of Moscow.[5]

While foreign intelligence, the First Chief Directorate (FCD), was an important component of state security, it was never the most important.  At the time of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the FCD had at most a staff of 15,000.  The total manpower of state security was 486,000, approximately half of whom served in the border guards.  Haslam provides excellent analysis does us a favor by tracking how foreign counterintelligence fitted into the service’s mission of regime control in the Lenin and Stalin years.  Any future history of the KGB should build on this work to show that the Cheka/NKVD/KGB operated as a fully-fledged security/intelligence community.  Amy Knight some years ago wrote about this, but given the release of documents from party and police archives since 1991, this needs to be updated.[6]

Haslam also notes the links between the Soviet- era security service and the Vladimir Putin security establishment.  He begins the book with the arrest of ten Russian “illegals”/non-official cover officers in 2010, linking that to the history of Soviet intelligence.  Too many Western government officials, academics, and journalists thought in the 1990s that a few laws could disestablish the KGB, and end the threat of political terror.  They were terriblywrong.  A Russian dissident told the British journalist Benjamin Juddah, “Russia doesn’t have the KGB.  Russia should be so lucky”[7]This book may be criticized as falling between the academic and general markets.  This is unfortunate, since it is a well-researched and well-written study, and it compliments many of the memoirs written in the 1980s and 1990s.[8]Haslam is interested in the personalities of senior chekisty, the men and women who under demands of an unforgiving leadership in Moscow and surveillance from Western counterintelligence did their duties well.  They were not stock characters from a film, but excellent, if sometimes heartless, intelligence officers which I think makes the understanding of the story clearer.  These men were not stock characters from a film, rather they were competent if frequently heartless bureaucrats.  For those without a grasp of Russian history, the details can provide a challenge.

Moreover, Haslam could have had a better editor. Haslam claims Stalin launched Operation Kutuzov to pre-empt the German Kursk offensive in July 1943 (operation Citadel).  Actually, Kutuzov was a counter stroke against the over-extended German positions after the attack had run its course.  (125-6). On page 254, he states that Ray Cline was “in charge of operation” at CIA.  While Cline was an important official at CIA and the Department of State, he was never Deputy Director of Operation. Haslam repeatedly uses KGB term and code names.  These are not really useful to experts who are acquainted with them, but could be confusing to the general reader.

However, for academics, especially intelligence scholars, the footnotes and bibliography of Neighbors are valuable aids to further research, while Haslam’s exploration of the world of Soviet intelligence is worth the very few moments of frustration.  We have no other academic work that ties so well the branches of the Soviet intelligence establishment, and their struggles with opposition intelligence services, and—all too often—the country’s leadership.


Review by David R. Stone, Naval War College

Jonathan Haslam has set himself a daunting task: to cover in 279 pages the history of Soviet intelligence. He includes in this mission not simply civilian foreign intelligence (the KGB, to use a single term as shorthand to cover a bewildering series of organizations) but also military intelligence (the GRU). In addition to the glamorous work of foreign intelligence, he covers the more prosaic but no less vital functions of counterintelligence, industrial espionage, and signals intelligence. Christopher Andrew has published some 2200 pages focusing only on the KGB and primarily on its foreign intelligence responsibilities; Haslam has much to do.[9]

The amount of material to be covered is not Haslam’s most daunting task. As he notes in his preface, source material on Soviet intelligence is terribly uneven and tainted by severe problems of reliability and bias. Intelligence materials sometimes leak into archives that are accessible to scholars. Minutes of Politburo meetings, for example, occasionally touch on intelligence affairs, and some military intelligence materials are available in military archives.[10] Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of archival materials on intelligence are still in the hands of the Russian power ministries, which have no interest in making their materials available to scholars in an open and even-handed manner. Post-Soviet intelligence services have indeed published numerous documentary collections and semi-official histories, but those have tended towards the self-congratulatory and defensive, as with the numerous efforts to demonstrate that Soviet intelligence provided ample warning of Nazi Germany’s 1941 attack.[11] Haslam has no choice but to use these sources. At times, though, Haslam appears to take at face value claims by Soviet operatives that seem to deserve at least some skepticism. For example, the KRO, counter-intelligence branch of Soviet Russia’s Cheka, claimed in 1924 that British intelligence was recruiting Russian émigrés in Estonia for sabotage missions inside the Soviet Union, and that the intelligence services of Finland, the Baltic States, Poland, Sweden, and Norway worked as wholly-owned subsidiaries of London (17, 33). While both claims might be true, they require more evidence than the say-so of Soviet intelligence itself.

Given these twin handicaps of source material and space, how does Haslam treat the history of Soviet intelligence? His approach is fundamentally episodic and anecdotal. The bulk of the book is comprised of character sketches and brief biographies of the leadership of Soviet intelligence services, of particular Soviet operatives abroad, and of the foreign agents they recruited through love, money, or ideology. This approach suits the spotty nature of the source material. Some agents and operations are reasonably well-understood and well-documented and can be covered with some thoroughness; others languish in obscurity for lack of information. We read in Haslam about such well-known Soviet intelligence operatives and agents such as Richard Sorge, the Cambridge Five, and Aldrich Ames. Post-Soviet literature on intelligence, at least that approved by those services themselves, often takes the form of accounts of particular feats of insight or derring-do by heroic Chekists, and so large sections of the book discuss the career highlights of particular Soviet officers.

The problem in such an approach is that the reader finds a collection of trees rather than a forest. Haslam does on occasion step back from a series of stories about intelligence officers and operations to offer analysis and synthesis, but the lion’s share of the book is particular and specific. What Haslam’s story means, and what we are to conclude about Soviet intelligence, come across less strongly than it might.

Some of Haslam’s broader claims seem well-grounded, and are quite likely correct. He suggests, for example, that early Soviet intelligence had its “primary focus . . . less upon rival foreign powers than on the enemy within” (40). As a result, the chief successes of Soviet intelligence in the 1920s involved the infiltration of émigré organizations, the creation of false-flag anti-Soviet groups to expose the regime’s opponents, and the assassination of individual anti-communist activists. Foreign intelligence proper in the 1920s was subordinate to combating Russian opposition at home and abroad, and so the Soviet intelligence apparatus grew out of counterintelligence.

Haslam also suggests that Soviet intelligence was hampered by a long-term deficit in analysis as opposed to the simple gathering of intelligence. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin famously wanted raw intelligence, not analytical product of his subordinates. As a result, the analytical unit under Soviet military intelligence that had been created in the early 1920s was closed down in 1935. Veteran Latin American operative Nikolai Leonov was brought back to Moscow to reinvigorate analysis in the early 1970s, but the processing of intelligence data never matched the successes of human intelligence. Similarly, Haslam is almost certainly correct that the code and cipher expertise of the Russian Empire’s diplomatic service, which was destroyed by the Russian Revolution, was never fully rebuilt throughout the history of the Soviet Union. Stalin, through his predilection for ideologically-motivated human intelligence, permitted a long-term stagnation in signals intelligence and cryptography. The Soviets relied heavily on the theft or purchase of codebooks, and so left themselves without the capability to deal with sophisticated systems like the German Enigma, and vulnerable to Anglo-American cryptologic attacks after World War II. Even here, though, Haslam provides grounds in his own book for questioning these claims. He notes without explanation the Soviet success in the late 1930s breaking Japanese ciphers (98). In Haslam’s coverage of computerization in late 1950s and early 1960s, Soviet failures in signals intelligence (232) are juxtaposed with the successful and systematic monitoring of U.S. military communications from listening posts in Cuba, but without a sense of how to reconcile the two (234).

The emphasis on an anecdotal over analytical approach, however, means that broad claims often appear to be overstated. Haslam claims that it was intelligence from Cambridge Five “that allowed Stalin to turn the tide of war in July 1943,” thanks to John Cairncross’s relaying of Enigma intercepts to the Soviets on the eve of Kursk (126, 274). While the Cambridge Five were certainly useful, putting the emphasis on the role of those particular individuals neglects the importance of much broader systems of intelligence gathering that gave the Soviets important advantages at Kursk.[12] Haslam also suggests that in the post-war period, and particularly after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 revelations of Stalin’s crimes, the Soviets recruited agents essentially by monetary means and found ideological recruitment closed off (214). In addition to the exception that Haslam explicitly notes, U.S. naval photographer Glenn Souther (275), Haslam’s account includes as well National Security Agency technicians Bernon Mitchell and William Martin as well as State Department employee Kendall Myers (though Myers was working only indirectly for the Soviets through Cuba).

In other cases, assertions lack documentation or even seem to contradict claims made elsewhere in the book. Haslam suggests that the Soviets systematically undervalued open source work—perhaps true, but unsubstantiated in his book (253). Haslam suggests that the Berlin Blockade was “a war of nerves made possible only through Stalin’s direct knowledge of British and American decision-making supplied by the Cambridge Five” (166), but does not offer a footnote or an argument to sustain this claim. He suggests that the Cold War mission of the GRU under Khrushchev was predominantly to provide early warning of a U.S. nuclear attack, offering no source to document this (197), but then subsequently suggests in the same period, again without citing a source, that the GRU was particularly strong in scientific/technical intelligence, and in the liaison with and promotion of Third World national liberation movements (210)

To summarize, Haslam has done yeoman’s work assembling a vast range of available data from a broad range of sources, and his book will be a valuable resource for future scholars. I would have liked to see, though, more attention to the analysis of the material he found and a better sense of the broader patterns at work behind his mass of data.


Author’s Response by Jonathan Haslam, School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Paul Pillar has inter alia raised three points of criticism in a review that does the book credit and for which I am obviously most grateful. The first is the general issue of greater bureaucratisation as a general response by the Soviet régime to failure. I accept that all governments in the twentieth century indulged in this and I also fully accept that, compared to the Washington DC of the 1930s, the American government is now a monument to bureaucratisation. But the rapid responses by the Kremlin in terms of bureaucratic reorganisation are really on a par with no other government I know of. I fight with the stream of acronyms that ushered forth, daily. It was particularly notable in the Stalin period as the leader was ever anxious to hold others collectively responsible for what were in reality chronic mistakes in policy for which he was ultimately if not immediately responsible. The difference here with the Americans is one of degree rather than one of kind.

On the issue of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the role of the United States in precipitating it and therefore its responsibility for the blowback we are still experiencing from Islamic terrorism, I accept that the evidence I adduce is not optimal. But, as Pillar recognises, the history of these matters is not exactly an open book in terms of documentation. While President Jimmy Carter is still alive, his former adviser on national security Zbigniew Brzezinski is not likely to come forward with explicit acknowledgement, though it is striking to me that nowhere has he sought to deny that what I say is true. And Brzezinski’s right hand man, William Odom: anyone who knew him, and I knew him over several years, will admit that he was normally incredibly discreet about inside information. Indeed, his book, The Collapse of the Soviet Military, is tantalising in its reluctance to give out secrets.[13] His indiscretion came out after a particularly good dinner in college and a great deal of wine. He went a little pale and then immediately said to those present, myself and Arne Westad: this is off the record isn’t it? And he insisted that he not be named as a source, and I did so only after he died, when it would no longer have mattered to him.

On Pope John Paul II, the circumstantial evidence seems to me overwhelming. I would not give the Russians the benefit of the doubt here. One cannot expect much more in these sticky areas of secret intelligence.

Robert Pringle is, of course, no stranger to the subject of Soviet intelligence and I read his review in some trepidation.  But he has been very generous. I agree that I spent little time on the Rosenbergs. I did so because I felt the topic was covered in such detail and so well by American scholars that I really had nothing new to say. The heavier emphasis on Europe than the Third World in my book was, I believed, a necessary counter-balance to existing writing, and where I had no new evidence of any value, I felt reluctant to contribute. I am not anti-Third World. The episode in Chile with the régime of Salvador Allende and the role of Cuba is already fully documented in my book on The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende’s Chile. A Case of Assisted Suicide.[14] I will certainly return to all this in a later edition, if that becomes possible.

On the issue of Soviet counter-intelligence, I thought I had made clear that this area, to which I give extensive coverage, was critical and hitherto seriously neglected. It was critical the Americans had so much trouble operating within the Soviet Union. I do not find that David Hoffman’s book [15]adds anything to what one can find in the literature and on the CIA website. The story of Dmitrii Polyakov was infinitely more important and his mistrust of US capabilities in Moscow was surely and sadly justified.

David Stone, whom I am glad to see is now at the Naval War College, has robustly attacked my book on several fronts, most notably for being episodic and anecdotal. But I wanted to bring the history of Soviet intelligence to life. And what struck me when researching it was how interesting the characters were and how they often acted with extraordinary freedom, despite the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy that stood over them, even under Joseph Stalin. I am baffled by his saying that I am insufficiently analytical. Perhaps, to justify this point, he should have drawn out an analysis from the material I presented. But I very much doubt he could have done so. If anything, I felt that the analysis I made, about the role of the GRU versus KGB, or about counter-intelligence versus foreign intelligence, of, especially, signals versus human intelligence, stretched the skein of information to the very limit.

As a postscript, I should thank all those who have written to me to correct points of detail, including a former intelligence officer in Kiev. If only I could have sent the manuscript out to them before it went to the publisher! Can I therefore encourage others with specialist knowledge to come forth.



[1] Jonathan Haslam, Russia’s Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 319-326.

[2] Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser 1977-1981 (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983), 426-430.

[3] Haslam, Russia’s Cold War, 320.

[4] Documents Talk, it should be noted, must be used with some caution, especially in its discussion of the Hiss-Chamberlain case.  Nevertheless, it is an important source of information about the Soviet services.

[5] David E. Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal (New York: Doubleday, 2015).

[6] Amy Knight, KGB; Police and Politics in the USSR.  (New York; Harper Collins, 1988). See also her studies of the Kirov case and her biography of Lavrenty Beria. Who Killed Kirov?: The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999) and Beria: Stalin’s First Lieutenant (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

[7] Ben Judah, Fragile Empire, How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 256.

[8] Rem Krassilnikov, KGB protiv MI6 (KGB versus MI6) (Moscow: Tsentrpoligraf, 1998) is an excellent memoir of operations against British Intelligence.  Leonid Shebarshin, The Hand of Moscow (Moscow: Tsentrpoligram, 1994) is the memoir of a man who served an intelligence chief in Iran during the revolution of 1979-80, and was for a day chief of the KGB in 1979.

[9] Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story (New York: Harper Collins, 1992); Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999); Ibid., The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (New York, Basic Books, 2005).

[10] For example, David R. Stone, “The August 1924 Raid on Stolpce, Poland, and the Evolution of Soviet Active Intelligence,” Intelligence and National Security 21:3 (June 2006), 331-341.

[11] See as examples Sekrety Gitlera na stole u Stalina (Moscow: Mosgorakhiv, 1995); Organy gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti SSSR v Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voine, vol. 1, bk. 2 (Moscow: Kniga i biznes, 1995); Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, vol. 3 (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1997).

[12] David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, The Battle of Kursk (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999), 77-78, 229-233.

[13] William Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998)

[14] Jonathan Haslam, The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende’s Chile. A Case of Assisted Suicide (London: Verso, 2005)

[15] David E. Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal (New York: Doubleday, 2015)