Leiba Lazarevich Feldbin (he adopted the name Alexander Orlov in 1936) was born in Babruysk on 21st August, 1895 to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Lazer Feldbin, worked in the timber industry.
On the outbreak of the First World War the family moved to Moscow and Orlov was admitted to the Lazaresvsky Institute. He then studied law at Moscow University but in 1916 he was forced to join the Russian Army. He served as a private with the 104th Infantry Regiment. Although he was well-qualified academically, as a Jew he was unable to enter officer training.
After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March, 1917, George Lvov was asked to head the new Provisional Government in Russia. One of the first reforms was to allow Jews to become officers in the army. Orlov now became second lieutenant and while at military school he joined the Bolshevik Party. After the Russian Revolution he became Chief of the Information Section of the Revolutionary Finance Administration. Orlov also became a Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka) officer and was involved in the arrest of American spy, Xenophon Kalamatiano, in September 1918. Orlov later recalled in his memoirs: "Kalamatiano turned pale and lost his composure. The investigation soon discovered that the cane contained an inner tube and he extracted it. In it were hidden a secret cipher, spy reports, a coded list of thirty-two spies and money receipts from some of them."
In September 1920 he joined the Red Army and fought in the Russian Civil War. Orlov was posted to the 12th Army fighting along the Polish front. Later that year he captured a suspected spy named Senkovsky. During interrogation he confessed he was a spy but advised Orlov to contact his childhood friend, Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka, before he was executed. Orlov did this and was surprised when Dzerzhinsky ordered the man to be taken to Moscow. Senkovsky provided Dzerzhinsky with the identities of the French military attaches in Warsaw who were responsible for organising and financing Poland's guerrilla operations. Senkovsky also agreed to work as a double agent.
Dzerzhinsky was impressed with Orlov and decided to sponsor his career. In 1921 he resumed his law studies. When he completed his degree he worked under Nikolai Krylenko at the Bolshevik High Tribunal. In May 1924 he joined the Government Political Administration (GPU) under Dzerzhinsky. Orlov later recalled that "Dzerzhinsky ran the organisation with an iron fist and every member knew where he stood, yet this leader had compassion for everyone under him.
Orlov was involved in the setting up the anti-Bolshevik organization, Monarchist Union of Central Russia (also known as "The Trust") that was used to trap Boris Savinkov and MI6 contract agent Sidney Reilly. In his book, The March of Time (2004) Orlov describes the arrest of Savinkov, who was killed on 25th May, 1925. Reilly was executed on 5th November 1925.
In 1926 Orlov was transferred to the recently formed Foreign Department (INO), the branch of the NKVD responsible for overseas operations. During this period he spent time in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London. In April 1931 he was appointed Chief of the Economic Department for Foreign Trade of the NKVD. In this position he helped to change policy concerning spies. Up until this time, most Soviet agents were usually diplomats. In this way KGB officers enjoyed the protection of diplomatic immunity. However, the opposing intelligence service had little difficulty identifying the agents and therefore could minimize their effectiveness. Orlov's idea was to employ trade officials as agents.
Orlov had the responsibility for establishing this spying network. In 1932 he entered the United States on the grounds he wanted to visit General Motors in order to negotiate for the purchase of 150 cars for various Soviet government agencies. Orlov met with James Mooney, the Vice President of General Motors, responsible overseas operations, on a regular basis. He also scouted out prospective dead-drop sites in New York City and made contact with Soviet spies in the city.
According to his biographer, Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "The one thing that bothered Orlov, and which he witnessed daily during the brief time he was in the US, was the great depression that had enveloped the nation. He could see the inordinate number of men on the streets who seemed to be loitering with no apparent place to go, although of an age that would indicate they should be employed; the scarcity of help-wanted advertisements in the classified section of the newspapers; the long lines of men seeking employment, perhaps for one job opening; the bleak news articles that foreshadowed a long recession; and the welfare kitchens in his own neighbourhoods in Harlem and upper Manhattan that overflowed with people seeking meagre sustenance. All this told him that there had to be a flaw in this capitalist society to generate such economic injustice. He saw from his own perspective the difference between the haves and have nots as he was able to enjoy many amenities in the US only because he had an income. Early on he had learned that under Communism there would be no class distinctions and that the means of production would be common to all. The end result would be a society where all would share and prosper. What deficits he was aware of in the new Soviet Union he attributed to the transitory period that had to be faced by an emerging nation. Also, the USSR was about to embark on another five-year plan which would eliminate all problems."
Orlov worked closely with Genrikh Yagoda, the head of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). One of his first tasks was to remove Stalin's main rival for the leadership of the party. Sergy Kirov had been a loyal supporter of Stalin but he grew jealous of his popularity. As Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "In sharp contrast to Stalin, Kirov was a much younger man and an eloquent speaker, who was able to sway his listeners; above all, he possessed a charismatic personality. Unlike Stalin who was a Georgian, Kirov was also an ethnic Russian, which stood in his favour." According to Orlov, who had been told this by Yagoda, Stalin decided that Kirov had to die.
Genrikh Yagoda assigned the task to Vania Zaporozhets, one of his trusted lieutenants in the NKVD. He selected a young man, Leonid Nikolayev, as a possible candidate. Nikolayev had recently been expelled from the Communist Party and had vowed his revenge by claiming that he intended to assassinate a leading government figure. Zaporozhets met Nikolayev and when he discovered he was of low intelligence and appeared to be a person who could be easily manipulated, he decided that he was the ideal candidate as assassin.
Zaporozhets provided him with a pistol and gave him instructions to kill Kirov in the Smolny Institute in Leningrad. However, soon after entering the building he was arrested. Zaporozhets had to use his influence to get him released. On 1st December, 1934, Nikolayev, got past the guards and was able to shoot Kirov dead. Nikolayev was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov.
According to Alexander Orlov: "Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov". Victor Kravchenko has pointed out: "Hundreds of suspects in Leningrad were rounded up and shot summarily, without trial. Hundreds of others, dragged from prison cells where they had been confined for years, were executed in a gesture of official vengeance against the Party's enemies. The first accounts of Kirov's death said that the assassin had acted as a tool of dastardly foreigners - Estonian, Polish, German and finally British. Then came a series of official reports vaguely linking Nikolayev with present and past followers of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other dissident old Bolsheviks."
Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001), claims that Alexander Orlov later admitted: "In the months preceding the trial, the two men were subjected to every conceivable form of interrogation: subtle pressure, then periods of enormous pressure, starvation, open and veiled threats, promises, as well as physical and mental torture. Neither man would succumb to the ordeal they faced." Stalin was frustrated by Stalin's lack of success and brought in Nikolai Yezhov to carry out the interrogations.
Orlov later admitted what happened. "Towards the end of their ordeal, Zinoviev became sick and exhausted. Yezhov took advantage of the situation in a desperate attempt to get a confession. Yezhov warned that Zinoviev must affirm at a public trial that he had plotted the assassination of Stalin and other members of the Politburo. Zinoviev declined the demand. Yezhov then relayed Stalin's offer; that if he co-operated at an open trial, his life would be spared; if he did not, he would be tried in a closed military court and executed, along with all of the opposition. Zinoviev vehemently rejected Stalin's offer. Yezhov then tried the same tactics on Kamenev and again was rebuffed."
In July 1936 Yezhov told Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev that their children would be charged with being part of the conspiracy and would face execution if found guilty. The two men now agreed to co-operate at the trial if Stalin promised to spare their lives. At a meeting with Stalin, Kamenev told him that they would agree to co-operate on the condition that none of the old-line Bolsheviks who were considered the opposition and charged at the new trial would be executed, that their families would not be persecuted, and that in the future none of the former members of the opposition would be subjected to the death penalty. Stalin replied: "That goes without saying!"
The trial opened on 19th August 1936. Five of the sixteen defendants were actually NKVD plants, whose confessional testimony was expected to solidify the state's case by exposing Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other defendants as their fellow conspirators. The presiding judge was Vasily Ulrikh, a member of the secret police. The prosecutor was Andrei Vyshinsky, who was to become well-known during the Show Trials over the next few years.
Yuri Piatakov accepted the post of chief witness "with all my heart." Max Shachtman pointed out: "The official indictment charges a widespread assassination conspiracy, carried on these five years or more, directed against the head of the Communist party and the government, organized with the direct connivance of the Hitler regime, and aimed at the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Russia. And who are included in these stupefying charges, either as direct participants or, what would be no less reprehensible, as persons with knowledge of the conspiracy who failed to disclose it?"
The men made confessions of their guilt. Lev Kamenev said: "I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party's - Stalin's policy - was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party; but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow. Stalin's leadership we were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power."
Gregory Zinoviev also confessed: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."
Kamenev's final words in the trial concerned the plight of his children: "I should like to say a few words to my children. I have two children, one is an army pilot, the other a Young Pioneer. Whatever my sentence may be, I consider it just... Together with the people, follow where Stalin leads." This was a reference to the promise that Stalin made about his sons.
On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh entered the courtroom and began reading the long and dull summation leading up to the verdict. Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "Those in attendance fully expected the customary addendum which was used in political trials that stipulated that the sentence was commuted by reason of a defendant's contribution to the Revolution. These words never came, and it was apparent that the death sentence was final when Ulrikh placed the summation on his desk and left the court-room."
The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot.
On 26th August 1936 Joseph Stalin appointed Orlov as the Soviet Politburo adviser to the Popular Front government. The following month Orlov travelled to Spain and was given considerable authority by the Republican administration during the Spanish Civil War. His official assignment was to organize intelligence and counterintelligence activities and guerrilla warfare in the territory under the control of General Francisco Franco. He later claimed that around 3,000 guerrillas had been trained for this work over the next two years.
Orlov was not very impressed with President Manuel Azaña: "Azaña was a man with an ugly face. He was an apparent weakling, deeply in love with himself and with the lofty positions he had held in Spanish public life since the abdication of the king. The events of the Spanish Civil War proved him an egotist and veritable coward, who deserted his people when the war reached a critical stage." However, he got on much better with the prime minister, Francisco Largo Caballero, who "gave the impression of a forceful and uncompromising person without the slightest shred of self-importance".
On 12th October 1936, Orlov received a message from Nikolai Yezhov. "Arrange with the head of the Spanish Government, Caballero, for shipment of gold reserves of Spain to the Soviet Union. Use a Soviet steamer. Maintain utmost secrecy. If the Spaniards demand from a receipt, refuse - I repeat, refuse to sign anything. Say that a formal receipt will be issued in Moscow by the State Bank. I hold you personally responsible for this operation."
Over the next few months Orlov organized the transfer of about 70 per cent of Spain's gold reserves to Russia for "safe-keeping". At the time Spain had the fourth largest reserves in the world (worth nearly $800 million) as a result of the trade boom during the First World War. Orlov's men were given false papers that suggested the gold was being moved by the Bank of America: "If the anarchists intercepted my men, Russians with truckloads of Spanish gold, they would kill my men, and it would be a tremendous political scandal all over the world, and it might even create an internal revolution." On its arrival in Moscow, Stalin was said to have remarked that "the Spaniards will never see their gold again, just as one cannot see one's own ears".
Orlov and his NKVD agents had the unofficial task of eliminating the supporters of Leon Trotsky fighting for the Republican Army and the International Brigades. This included the arrest and execution of leaders of the Worker's Party (POUM), National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996) has pointed out: "Stalin had a secret and extremely important aim in Spain: to eliminate the supporters of Trotsky who had gathered from all over the world to fight for the Spanish revolution. NKVD men, and Comintern agents loyal to Stalin, accused the Trotskyists of espionage and ruthlessly executed them." Orlov later claimed that "the decision to perform an execution abroad, a rather risky affair, was up to Stalin personally. If he ordered it, a so-called mobile brigade was dispatched to carry it out. It was too dangerous to operate through local agents who might deviate later and start to talk."
In 1936 Yan Berzin was chief military advisor to the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War and worked with Orlov. According to the authors of Deadly Illusions (1993) in March 1937 General Berzin had sent a confidential report to War Commissar Kliment Voroshilov "reporting resentment and protests he had received about the NKVD's repressive operations from high Republican officials. It stated that the NKVD agents were compromising Soviet authority by their excessive interference and espionage in Government quarters. They were treating Spain like a colony. The ranking Red Army General concluded his report with a demand that Orlov be recalled from Spain at once." Abram Slutsky, the head of the Foreign Department of NKVD, told Walter Krivitsky. "Berzin is absolutely right our men were behaving in Spain as if they were in a colony, treating even Spanish leaders as colonists handle natives".
Orlov was responsible for the killing of Andreu Nin, the POUM leader. Nin was tortured for several days. Jesus Hernández has explained: "Nin was not giving in. He was resisting until he fainted. His inquisitors were getting impatient. They decided to abandon the dry method. Then the blood flowed, the skin peeled off, muscles torn, physical suffering pushed to the limits of human endurance. Nin resisted the cruel pain of the most refined tortures. In a few days his face was a shapeless mass of flesh." Nin was executed on 20th June 1937.
Orlov was also involved in the rationalization of the security services into the Servicio de Investigacion Militar (SIM). NKVD agents and members of the Spanish Communist Party began to infiltrate and control the police and security services in the autumn of 1936. Anthony Beevor, the author of The Spanish Civil War (1982) has argued: "If Russian communism appeared to its critics as Tsarism with a proletarian face, then Spanish communism, with its power base in New Castile, seemed to them to be growing into a Marxist variation of Philip II's integrated state based on the army. The SIM resembled the Inquisition and the commissars the church. SIM officers included both unquestioningly loyal Party members and the ambitious. Its unchallenged power attracted opportunists of every sort to its ranks." The SIM was later described as "the Russian syphilis" by the German writer, Gustav Regler, who served in the International Brigades.
Orlov later argued that Jesus Hernandez, the Minister of Education, was the man chosen as the future leader. Orlov told Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001) that Hernandez was a member of the Communist Party (PCE) and a leading member of Comintern and would therefore be expected to do the bidding of the Soviets as their puppet in power.
In December 1936, Nikolai Yezhov established a new section of the NKVD named the Administration of Special Tasks (AST). It contained about 300 of his own trusted men from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Yezhov's intention was complete control of the NKVD by using men who could be expected to carry out sensitive assignments without any reservations. The new AST operatives would have no allegiance to any members of the old NKVD and would therefore have no reason not to carry out an assignment against any of one of them. The AST was used to remove all those who had knowledge of the conspiracy to destroy Stalin's rivals. One of the first to be arrested was Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD.
Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Group had been created to deal with the ever increasing problem of possible NKVD defectors, as officers serving abroad were beginning to see that the arrest of people like Yagoda, their former chief, would mean that they might be next in line. The head of the Mobile Group was Mikhail Shpiegelglass. By the summer of 1937, over forty intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union.
In July 1937, Orlov heard that his cousin, Zinovy Borisovich Katsnelson, a high-ranking NKVD officer, had been executed. Later that month he had a meeting with Theodore Maly in Paris, who had just been recalled to the Soviet Union. He explained his concern as he had heard stories of other senior NKVD officers who had been recalled and then seemed to have disappeared. He feared being executed but after discussing the matter he decided to return and take up this offer of a post in the Foreign Department in Moscow. Another friend, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, was recalled in August. Maly and Antonov-Ovseenko were both executed.
Ignaz Reiss was an NKVD agent serving in Paris when he was summoned back to the Soviet Union. Reiss had the advantage of having his wife and daughter with him when he decided to defect to France. In July 1937 he sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Paris explaining his decision to break with the Soviet Union because he no longer supported the views of Stalin's counter-revolution and wanted to return to the freedom and teachings of Lenin. Orlov learnt of this letter from a close contact in France.
According to Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "On learning that Reiss had disobeyed the order to return and intended to defect, an enraged Stalin ordered that an example be made of his case so as to warn other KGB officers against taking steps in the same direction. Stalin reasoned that any betrayal by KGB officers would not only expose the entire operation, but would succeed in placing the most dangerous secrets of the KGB's spy networks in the hands of the enemy's intelligence services. Stalin ordered Yezhov to dispatch a Mobile Group to find and assassinate Reiss and his family in a manner that would be sure to send an unmistakable message to any KGB officer considering Reiss's route."
Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Alexander Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.
Abram Slutsky, the head of the Foreign Department (INO), warned Orlov that he was in danger of being kidnapped by German intelligence. Slutsky said he was sending to Spain twelve NKVD bodyguards to protect Orlov. He rejected the offer as he feared they would kill him. Orlov decided to recruit ten bodyguards from the Thaelmann Battalion that had been fighting for the Republican Army.
Orlov was ordered back to the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in July 1938. Aware of the Great Purge that was going on and that several of his friends had been executed, Orlov fled to France with his wife and daughter before making his way to the Canada. Orlov was concerned that his mother and mother-in-law, were still living in the Soviet Union. He sent a letter to Joseph Stalin (a copy was sent to Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD). He warned that an account of Stalin's crimes were lodged with his attorney and should he, or any member of his immediate family, be kidnapped or murdered by the NKVD, his attorney was under instruction to have the record of Stalin's crimes published immediately.
After spending a short time in Montreal the family arrived in New York City on 13th August 1938. He made contact with the lawyer, John Frederick Finerty, who was working for John Dewey, who was carrying out an investigation into the truth of the testimony that had been presented at the Show Trials. Finerty became Orlov's attorney and probably looked after his account of Stalin's crimes. Orlov also sent a letter to Leon Trotsky warning him of a possible assassination attempt. It was later discovered that Trotsky believed Orlov's letter was a hoax perpetrated by the NKVD.
Orlov and his family went to live in Los Angeles. He changed his name to Leon Berg. It was considered too dangerous to send Vera to school, and she was educated at home by her parents. Both the Orlovs were university educated. Maria taught her English, French, German and history and Alexander dealt with the rest of the subjects. Vera's health was poor as she had never fully recovered from developing an uncommon form of rheumatic fever several years earlier. The illness had caused permanent damage to her heart valves.
Vera Orlov died at the age of sixteen on 14th July 1940. Alexander Orlov later recalled: "Care for our daughter was the supreme goal of our life. She was only 15 (when we defected), too young to fathom the nightmare which we had left behind and the crisis we were entering upon. She picked up the English language quickly and came to love and admire this beautiful country. Because of her knowledge of several languages, she dreamed of becoming a foreign journalist and taking care of us. This thought kept her very happy. But this periodic recurrence of rheumatic fever wore her heart out until one fateful morning, in July 1940, after several days of uncontrollable violent palpitations, it stopped beating."
On 10th February, 1941, Orlov read that his friend, and fellow defector from the Soviet Union, Walter Krivitsky, had found dead in the Bellevue Hotel in Washington on 10th February, 1941. At first it was claimed that Krivitsky had committed suicide. However, others claimed his hiding place had been disclosed by a Soviet mole working for MI5 and had been murdered by Soviet agents. Whittaker Chambers definitely believed that he had been killed by the NKVD: "He had left a letter in which he gave his wife and children the unlikely advice that the Soviet Government and people were their best friends. Previously he had warned them that, if he were found dead, never under any circumstances to believe that he had committed suicide." Krivitsky once told Chambers: "Any fool can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a good natural death."
Orlov was worried that the NKVD would discover where he was living. He therefore decided to keep moving. He left Los Angeles and moved to Boston. In December 1943 Alexander and Maria settled in Cleveland. Orlov became a student at Dyke College and graduated on 15th June 1945 with a degree in Business Administration. His main objective was to speak and write English accurately. His friend, Edward P. Gazur, an FBI agent, commented: "I was trained to be alert to traces of a foreign accent and speech patterns of a questionable nature, but as to Orlov I was only able to detect the presence of a minimal foreign accent and a speech pattern that was almost flawless."
Orlov now began work on the book that was to be published after the death of Joseph Stalin. When it was completed he was introduced to Max Eastman, who became his literary agent. Eastman had been the editor of the left-wing The Masses and had been a long-term friend of Leon Trotsky. However, he had become disillusioned with the rule of Joseph Stalin and was now employed by the right-wing Reader's Digest. Eastman arranged for Orlov to meet Eugene Lyons, another former Marxist who was now a staunch anti-Communist. This led to a meeting with John S. Billings, the editor of Life Magazine.
Joseph Stalin died on 5th March, 1953. He submitted his manuscript to Life Magazine and the first of the four articles, The Ghastly Secrets of Stalin's Power, appeared on 6th April. The article created great controversy and was discussed in great depth in the American media. With each successive installment, the circulation of the magazine reached new heights. Orlov's book, The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes, was published by Random House in the autumn of 1953.
Orlov continued to publish articles on the Soviet Union. On 23rd April 1956, he published an article in Life Magazine entitled The Sensational Secret behind the Damnation of Stalin. Orlov commented on Nikita Khrushchev denouncation of Stalin: "It has been argued that Khrushchev and his associates wanted personal revenge on Stalin who had so long humiliated them. Whoever believes this does not know the men who spent twenty years as Stalin's apprentices; he taught them always to put political expediency ahead of personal feelings. Stalin personally hated Lenin, who had disowned him in his last testament; he hounded Lenin's widow; he destroyed all of Lenin's personal friends. But Stalin the politician knew what was good for him. Year after year he built Lenin up as a deity and established himself as Lenin's true prophet. Why didn't Khrushchev and his colleagues do as Stalin did? They had been Stalin's closest aides for many years. As such, they had inherited his power. Why did they not perpetuate Stalin's cult and profit from it?"
Orlov's claimed that Khrushchev was taking a dangerous risk by attacking Stalin: "It is obvious that Khrushchev and the others must have realised that by indicting Stalin they would gravely endanger themselves. They had been closest to him. They had condoned and abetted many of his crimes. Their sudden attack on Stalin was bound to rouse in the minds of the Russian people angry recollections of how Khrushchev, Bulganin, Kaganovich, Miloyan and Malenkov had glorified Stalin and his policies before huge audiences of Communist Party activists, how they had justified Stalin's bloody Moscow trials and how they had hailed the shooting of the Red Army Generals... The bosses of the Kremlin no doubt knew that in the minds of the Russian people pertinent questions were bound to arise as to their complicity in Stalin's crimes and their fitness for continuing as leaders of the Soviet Union and world Communism. But in spite of that, Khrushchev and the rest found it necessary to bring into the open the story of Stalin's crimes. Why did they take such a risk? Why did they do it now, at this time?" Orlov answered the question by claiming that NKVD agents had discovered papers in the Tsarist archives which proved Stalin had once been an Okhrana agent. He also added that although Khrushchev and the other new leaders, had distanced themselves from Stalin the person, they had not truly broken with the Stalin legacy.
In September 1962, Orlov became a Senior Research Fellow at the Law School of the University of Michigan. It later emerged that the post had been funded by the CIA. According to Professor Whitmore Gray: "You have to remember that it was a different time. There might have been a hundred members of the University of Michigan faculty receiving CIA funds for research. Back then it was the patriotic thing to do. I can assure you no eyebrows were raised about a former NKVD general being here. No one thought it was unusual." Orlov's book, A Handbook of Intelligence and Guerrilla Warfare, was published by the university in 1963.
Edward P. Gazur met Alexander and Maria Orlov for the first time in 1971. "Orlov came across in the true meaning of what one thinks a military general should be. He had a military bearing and a presence, a quality of confidence and self assurance. He also struck me as an extremely intelligent person. Maria came across as an intelligent and very strong-willed person, who was also uncommonly compassionate and loyal to her husband. I detected in her a degree of sophistication that I had not expected and a manner that was more official than friendly."
Maria Orlov died on 16th November 1971. Gazur used to see Orlov at least once a week. "My personal observations of Orlov were all positive. Although he was lean and short in stature, probably no more than 5 feet 7 inches tall, he had cast an enormously large historical shadow. Like a general, he carried himself in an erect military manner, which commanded attention and exuded that elusive condition known as presence. He had the flair for saying the right thing at the right time and what he had to say was organised and concise. His suave manner and dapper appearance reminded one of a European aristocrat and suggested that he was a man of the world, which he was. He was an immaculate dresser and I never saw him without a formal shirt and tie. When he again became financially solvent, his lifestyle dictated the very best; all his purchases, such as clothing and personal items, were from the very best stores, which I suspect was a result of his days in the top echelons of the KGB. Despite his sophistication, he was self-effacing and humble, a combination that few people possess. He never spoke down to anyone and had the ability to listen patiently to the other side. He was an extremely intelligent man of immense character and integrity. I never knew him to lie to me and I had plenty of opportunity to discover if he had. Perhaps he didn't tell me everything about himself during his life as Orlov the KGB general, but then again I never asked."
Alexander Orlov died in Cleveland, Ohio, on 25th March 1973. In his book, Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001), Gazur claims that Orlov told him that MI6 agent, Ernest Boyce, was a double agent and was responsible for betraying Sidney Reilly, Xenophon Kalamatiano and Boris Savinkov.
Orlov's The March of Time Reminiscences, was published in 2004. Gordon Brook-Shepherd, the author of Iron Maze: The Western Secret Services and the Bolsheviks (1998) has pointed out: "Entitled The March of Time, Reminiscences by Alexander Orlov, it is 655 pages long and deals in twenty-nine chapters with episodes in his career as a soldier and Soviet secret service man, from those first years of Bolshevik rule down to his own break with Stalin in 1939 and his adventurous flight from his final post in Spain to North America. Much of that Spanish story and his escape from Stalin's clutches had already appeared in print. This account of the earlier period had never been published or even circulated. It covered half the book, much of it on that first decade of Bolshevik power with which I was concerned. (The whole of Chapter Five, for example, gives the real story, over seventy-six pages, of the entrapment of Boris Savinkov, the 'great conspirator', and the most dangerous of all the Bolsheviks' Russian foes.) I have quoted extensively from both of these sections, not only because of the fascinating human detail they provide, but because I came to regard them, after frequent counter-checks, as totally reliable."
The final scene in this saga of deception and betrayal - as described by Orlov from first-hand accounts given him by all the OGPU actors involved - has a touch of farce in it, alongside the drama. Grisha produced a blanket for the shivering Lioubov and military raincoats for the two men - Savinkov's bearing a colonel's badge of rank. They then drove some fifteen miles to a forester's log cabin in the middle of a clearing. Inside they were introduced to three men, using false names, who were in fact their chief captors: the red-headed Puzitsky, who had led the Tiflis hospital charade; a thin young man who looked like a German village pastor but was in fact Pilar, the OGPU chief of Byelorussia; and the plump, well-groomed Artuzov himself, who could not resist coming in person to witness the moment of his triumph.
That moment came after a jolly interval (for each side was very happy in its way) during which the ubiquitous samovar started to hum and Madame Derental began setting the table and preparing an omelette from the eggs on display. Then, at a signal from Artuzov, Grisha politely relieved the visitors of any weapons they carried (the baroness producing with a giggle a small pearl-handled Browning pistol from her underwear). Grisha then frisked a puzzled Savinkov and pronounced what was in effect a death sentence on the prize victim: "Boris Viktorovich, believe me, this is the saddest day of my life, but I must declare you under arrest. I came to like you very much but revolutionary duty comes first."
Savinkov was probably too dumbfounded to hear Pilar adding his solemn warning against any attempt at escape, telling him that the cabin "is surrounded by my men"
Another agent, General Alexander Orlov, shortly followed. His real name was Lev Feldbin. In the second half of the twenties he was a 'resident' (spy) in Paris, and in 1933-1935 he operated in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In 1936, while the show trials were in progress, Orlov was sent to Spain, where General Franco was fighting, with Hitler's support, against the left-wing Republican government, which was aided by Stalin.
Stalin exploited the Spanish Civil War to the full. Besides supplying Soviet arms to the Republicans, he flooded their army with Soviet "military advisers," genuine or spurious, but in reality mostly NKVD agents. From Spain, Stalin's spies infiltrated other European countries, while in Spain itself they recruited additional agents from among the antifascists. Stalin made Orlov deputy chief military adviser to the Republican army. His official assignment was to organize intelligence and counterintelligence activities and guerrilla warfare behind Franco's lines.
He had a further, unofficial task. Stalin had a secret and extremely important aim in Spain: to eliminate the supporters of Trotsky who had gathered from all over the world to fight for the Spanish revolution. NKVD men, and Comintern agents loyal to Stalin, accused the Trotskyists of espionage and ruthlessly executed them. As the Stalinist spy Sudoplatov said in his memoirs: "When the Spanish Civil War ended there was no room left in the world for Trotsky."
But Orlov's main service was the top-secret assignment which he subsequently described in his book. When General Franco's forces were approaching Madrid, Orlov received an encoded telegram from a certain "Ivan Vasilievich." (Stalin sometimes signed secret telegrams with the Christian name and patronymic of his greatest hero, Ivan the Terrible.)
The telegram ordered Orlov to persuade the government of the Spanish Republic to transfer the country's gold reserves to the USSR. His efforts were successful. The gold had been stored in a cave at Cartagena. To the end of his days, Orlov remembered entering the cave and suddenly seeing a mountainous pile of boxes containing six hundred tons of gold. The Boss had insisted in his telegram that there should be no trace of Russian involvement in the export of the gold, and Orlov realized that he had no intention of returning it. Ever thrifty, the Boss obviously regarded the gold as a form of payment by the Republicans for his help in the war. Orlov supervised the export of the gold as "Mr. Blakeston, representative of the National Bank of America."
While all this was happening Orlov carefully read the reports of the Moscow trials in Pravda. He realized that they spelled the complete destruction of the old Party. It was not difficult for him, as an old Party member and a GPU officer since 1924, to foresee what his own end might be. So when, in 1938, he was told to return quickly on a Soviet motor vessel, allegedly for secret consultations, he did not hesitate. His hour had come, and, like Reiss and Krivitsky before him, he chose to remain in the West. Knowing how ruthlessly the Boss punished defectors, Orlov wrote to him proposing a deal: if the Boss spared him and his family he undertook to keep secret all that he knew. The Boss did not reply, but acted accordingly, and Orlov survived. He did not publish his book about the secrets of the NKVD, from which I have so frequently quoted, until after Stalin's death.
It seems that Nin had first been taken by car from Barcelona to Orlov's own prison, in the dilapidated ex-cathedral city of Alcala de Henares, Azana's birthplace and Cervantes's, but now almost a Russian colony. He there underwent the customary Soviet interrogation of traitors to the cause. His resistance to these methods was amazing. He refused to sign documents admitting his guilt and that of his friends. Orlov was at his wits' end. So were Bielov and Vittorio Vidali, who apparently were his colleagues in the actual interrogation of Nin. What should they do? Orlov himself went in deadly fear of Yezhov, the insensate chief of the GPU in Russia. Eventually, according to Hernandez later, the Italian Vidali (Carlos Contreras) suggested that a 'Nazi' attack to liberate Nin should be simulated. So, one dark night, probably 22 or 23 June, they took him to a house in Alcala used by the (communist) head of the air force, Ignacio Hildago de Cisneros. There he was tortured but he confessed nothing. He was taken out and killed in a field halfway between Alcala and Perales de Tajuna. Orlov with an assistant (Juzik) went to the prison in Alcala where Nin had been held. His refusal to admit his guilt probably saved the lives of his friends. Stalin and Yezhov perhaps planned a trial in Spain on the model of the Moscow trials, with a paraphernalia of confessions; if so, they were thwarted, though, during subsequent months, the remaining POUM leaders were subjected to interrogation and torture.
Nin was not giving in. He was resisting until he fainted. His inquisitors were getting impatient. They decided to abandon the 'dry' method. Then the blood flowed, the skin peeled off, muscles torn, physical suffering pushed to the limits of human endurance. Nin resisted the cruel pain of the most refined tortures. In a few days his face was a shapeless mass of flesh.
Probably the most ominous of all the developments in Republican territory at this time was the rationalization of the security services into the SIM, Servicio de Investigacion Militar. Prieto was the architect of this restructuring to increase central control, but the communists promptly seized it for their own use. Prieto believed that the fragmented growth of counter-espionage organizations was uncontrolled and inefficient. One intelligence chief complained that "everyone in our rearguard carried on counter-espionage". Independent services with their own networks of agents were run by the army, the Directorate General of Security, the carabineros, the foreign ministry, the Generalidad and the Basque government in exile (now based in Barcelona). Even the International Brigades had their own NKVD-run branch of heretic hunters based at Albacete. The new department was out of its creator's control as soon as it was constituted in August, since the communists had started to infiltrate and control the police and security services in the autumn of 1936....
This particular variety of the disease can, of course, be ascribed to Russian carriers, but one cannot say that, if Orlov and his NKVD men had not come to Spain, nothing of the sort would have happened. If Russian communism appeared to its critics as Tsarism with a proletarian face, then Spanish communism, with its power base in New Castile, seemed to them to be growing into a Marxist variation of Philip II's integrated state based on the army. The SIM resembled the Inquisition and the commissars the church.
SIM officers included both unquestioningly loyal Party members and the ambitious. Its unchallenged power attracted opportunists of every sort to its ranks. Even its former civil guard commander, Colonel Uribarri, escaped abroad with several million pesetas. The core of executive officers then created a network of agents through bribery and blackmail. They even managed to plant their organization in resolutely anti-communist formations as a result of their control of transfer and promotion. For example, a nineteen-year-old rifleman in 119 Brigade was suborned and then promoted overnight to become the SIM chief of the whole formation with a greater power of life and death than its commander.
It is difficult to know the total number of agents employed by the SIM. There were said to have been 6,000 in Madrid alone, and its official payroll was 22 million pesetas. Its 13 sections covered every facet of civilian and military life and its agents were present in every district and command. There was a separate espionage section operating in Nationalist territory, called the SIEP (Servicio de Investigacion Especial Periferica). The most feared section was the 13th, otherwise known as the Special Brigade, which was responsible for interrogation. When its infamous reputation became known abroad, it simply changed its name. The government insisted that it had been disbanded, but in fact there was an increase in the number of its victims who `crossed over to the enemy' (the euphemism for death under torture or secret execution).
The SIM's interrogation methods evolved beyond beatings with rubber piping, hot and cold water treatment, splinters inserted under nails, and mock executions which had been carried out in the early days. The Soviet advisers made the procedures more scientific. Cell floors were specially constructed with the sharp corners of bricks pointing upward so that the naked prisoners were in constant pain. Strange metallic sounds, colours, lights and sloping floors were used as disorientation and sensory-deprivation techniques. If these failed, or if the interrogators were in a hurry, there was always the 'electric chair' and the `noise box' but they risked sending prisoners mad too quickly.
There are no reliable estimates of the total number of SIM prisoners, nor of the proportions, though it seems fairly certain that there were more Republicans than Nationalists. It was alleged that any critic of Russian military incompetence, such as foreign volunteer pilots, was as likely to find himself accused of treason as a person who opposed the communists on ideological grounds. Meanwhile, in public, the new military tribunals tried 'fifth columnists' (a term which had been extended to include any opponents of the communist line). The Basque minister of Justice, Manuel de Irujo, resigned his post in protest at their rigged proceedings, but he still kept his seat in the cabinet. Negrin simply dismissed critical accounts of SIM activity as enemy propaganda.
The communists had been remarkably successful in creating a large degree of control over the government, the bureaucracy and the machinery of public order, while retaining a token presence of only two minor ministries in the cabinet - a requirement of Russian foreign policy. They had made themselves indispensable to the centrist politicians who had wanted to restore state power and who were now too involved in the process to protest. Nevertheless, a reaction against communist power was starting to develop, especially within the army.
It has been argued that Khrushchev and his associates wanted personal revenge on Stalin who had so long humiliated them. Whoever believes this does not know the men who spent twenty years as Stalin's apprentices; he taught them always to put political expediency ahead of personal feelings. Stalin personally hated Lenin, who had disowned him in his last testament; he hounded Lenin's widow; he destroyed all of Lenin's personal friends. But Stalin the politician knew what was good for him. Year after year he built Lenin up as a deity and established himself as Lenin's true prophet.
Why didn't Khrushchev and his colleagues do as Stalin did? They had been Stalin's closest aides for many years. As such, they had inherited his power. Why did they not perpetuate Stalin's cult and profit from it?
By means of rewriting and falsifying history Stalin had succeeded in building himself up as the supreme strategist of the October Revolution and the only infallible leader of world Communism. He had transformed the backward country of Russia into a powerful industrial empire. He had won military victories unequalled in the history of Russia. He had outwitted his Western allies at Teheran, Yalta and in China. He had extended the power of the Soviet Union over 900 million people. With such a record Stalin was not good enough for Khrushchev, Bulganin and the others as an ancestor?
Moreover, it is obvious that Khrushchev and the others must have realised that by indicting Stalin they would gravely endanger themselves. They had been closest to him. They had condoned and abetted many of his crimes. Their sudden attack on Stalin was bound to rouse in the minds of the Russian people angry recollections of how Khrushchev, Bulganin, Kaganovich, Miloyan and Malenkov had glorified Stalin and his policies before huge audiences of Communist Party activists, how they had justified Stalin's bloody Moscow trials and how they had hailed the shooting of the Red Army Generals as a "just punishment of traitors".
The bosses of the Kremlin no doubt knew that in the minds of the Russian people pertinent questions were bound to arise as to their complicity in Stalin's crimes and their fitness for continuing as leaders of the Soviet Union and world Communism. But in spite of that, Khrushchev and the rest found it necessary to bring into the open the story of Stalin's crimes. Why did they take such a risk? Why did they do it now, at this time?
Something must have happened to the new oligarchs which had left them only one way out: to disown Stalin completely and to do it fast. That "something", I am convinced, was the discovery of the incontrovertible proof that Stalin had been an agent provocateur of the Tsarist secret police.
The Kremlin leaders then had no real alternative but to try to cut the umbilical cord that tied them to a usurper and impostor who had few parallels in all human history. The risk was enormous, but unless they dissociated themselves fast and fully from the Tsarist agent, they might themselves have been doomed. They could not take a chance on keeping the dreadful secret from leaking out ultimately, now that Stalin himself was not there to keep it smothered. And possibly there were those - Marshal Zhukov or others - who warned that the facts would not remain secret unless the Stalin myth was completely deflated.
One of the areas of suspicion uncovered had concerned allegations about his role in the anti-Trotsky purges in Spain. Their attention had particularly been drawn by a public challenge against Orlov made by the ex-Minister of Information in the Catalan Government in a letter published in the 11 May edition of Life. Jaime Miravitales demanded to know whether the former Soviet General who had written the Stalin articles was the NKVD chief in Spain. Orlov had also been accused by the former Republican Minister Jose Hernandez in his recently published memoir of planning the assassination of Indalecio Prieto, the Republican Minister of War, and carrying out the execution of Andres Nin "under orders to liquidate Trotskyists in foreign countries".
Orlov's finely honed response was to admit that while he was NKVD chief in Spain, he had played no part in Nin's murder, or in the attempt on Prieto's life. In a denial that smacked of protesting too much, he claimed that he would not have been trusted by Stalin with such a sensitive operation because he himself was already marked down for liquidation. Even had he received such orders, Orlov insisted, his diplomatic status and role as adviser on intelligence and guerilla activities would have precluded his involvement. To dispel any remaining doubts Orlov stated that the assassinations in Spain had not been directed by him but by "a task force of secret liquidators sent from Moscow, one of whom, Bolodin, was probably the agent who did away with Nin".
This was the text that Orlov subsequently reprised with vigour and consistency to the FBI, the Immigration Service, the Senate Sub-Committee and to the CIA whenever the charges made against him in Hernandez's memoirs were resurrected. He had more trouble dismissing the very specific charges made by his old NKVD comrade Krivitsky in his memoir. When he was taxed with these allegations, Orlov produced a line by line rebuttal of Krivitsky's "absolutely foolish" allegations that the NKVD in Spain had "employed all the methods familiar in Moscow of extorting confessions and summary executions". It was "simply invention", Orlov said of Krivitsky's recollection of seeing the letter from General Berzin demanding the NKVD General's recall because he was behaving with "colonial" ruthlessness in Spain. "Absolute invention" was how Orlov rejected the charge that he had been involved in the disappearance of the POUM leader. "Had I killed Nin," Orlov said in the annotation of Krivitsky's text he prepared for the FBI, "Russia in the eyes of the world would have been discredited." He maintained that he knew "nothing concerning their disappearance or murder in Spain".
Orlov's elaborately constructed denials are now exposed as deliberate deceptions by his actual reports in the NKVD files of the kidnapping of Nin and the other so-called liternoye delo operations. The FBI made repeated attempts to break through Orlov's barrier of dissimulation, but they failed every time they tried to get the truth in the course of their two-year investigation. A number of witnesses were found who corroborated the allegations of murder and secret police terror Orlov masterminded in Spain, but none could produce any hard evidence to back up what were hearsay claims. Typical of the charges was an unidentified source in Miami who told the FBI that Orlov had a "bad reputation" as NKVD chief in Spain because he had controlled the Spanish secret police, who in turn systematically purged and "put to death persons opposing the efforts of the Republican Government".
Confirmation of the facts of these cases did come from veteran American journalists who covered the Spanish Civil War, including Louis Fischer of the New York Times and Paul Wohl, an associate editor of Christian Science Monitor. Even Sokolsky, who had helped Orlov get Stalin's Crimes published, voiced his own suspicions that there was a darker side to the former General's Spanish activity although he was not interviewed by the FBI until after he announced that he knew Orlov, in his October 19 review of Orlov's memoir in the Washington Times Herald. This he had praised as "a most valuable book" for its authentic portrayal of Stalin's character, which, he wrote, "stands out like a horrible frightening nightmare: this man was devoid of all moral qualities". But in his review Sokolsky had also urged Orlov to write about his role in the Spanish Civil War "to fill in some of the blank spaces in this carnival of murder". Privately, he told FBI investigators that he for one did "not have full confidence in any people like Orlov". Sokolsky said that he had suggested to Orlov that he write a book which revealed how the American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were manipulated by the Communists. According to the FBI special agent's report on this conversation, Sokolsky was highly critical of Orlov for not writing his own autobiography and hiding his own account behind that of Stalin.
"The big story," Sokolsky said was "what Orlov himself did". It was his opinion that his friend from Bobruysk was holding back the real truth about himself "because if he told the full story this might paint Orlov as a criminal". The contemporary NKVD records confirm that Sokolsky was not only correct, but that the emigre journalist had accurately divined the strategic objective of his boyhood friend. Orlov, as the files demonstrate, was responsible for engineering and directing a Stalinist purge of the POUM, that led to the death of Nin and hundreds of Trotsky's Spanish supporters and other opponents of the Moscow-backed Republican Government. But without the documentary evidence that was to surface forty years later in the NKVD archives, the FBI in 1952, despite its conviction of Orlov's complicity in the Spanish purges, had no way of breaking through his barrier of lies. Hoover was all the more chagrined because he had jealously insisted on monopolizing the debriefing of Orlov, fending off all requests from the INS and the CIA who were kept posted only with summaries of the Bureau's slow progress.44
Orlov produced an article on Beria for Life magazine on 20 July 1953, apparently thumbing his nose at the FBI by going direct to the public with his revelations. This further irritated Hoover, who had fostered the impression that his agency was the true fount of accurate information about the Soviet intelligence service. The FBI had been advised by Sokolsky that, because Orlov had expressed his intention of seeking US citizenship to "become a bourgeois", he believed that "if a way could be found to give Orlov assurances he could stay in this country that it would be possible to get his whole story". The Bureau ignored his advice and piled on the pressure. Since the records show Orlov had not admitted his Communist Party membership during his 1940 aliens registration statements, he was technically liable to deportation. To put pressure on Orlov, the FBI permitted the INS to begin their investigation and Orlov's lawyer was informed in October 1953 that his client was expected to present himself at their New York office. According to the law, if the examining immigration officer concluded that there were grounds for a deportation case, "the warrant for his arrest must be served immediately and Orlov taken into custody".
Alerted to the possibility of deportation by a summons from the Immigration Bureau, the Orlovs arrived on 13 November 1953 at the INS offices on 70 Columbus Avenue armed with an affidavit to apply in person for American citizenship. Their papers had been drawn up by their new lawyer, Hugo C. Pollock. This time around the Orlovs had no need to beg for favours and had retained one of the top New York immigration attorneys thanks to the $44,500 they had received in advances. Articles and book had made Orlov something of a cause celebre, but, as he explained to the immigration officer, he still feared to disclose his current address for fear of Soviet reprisals.
Despite Orlov's claims to special treatment by the Immigration authorities because his life was in danger, there is no evidence in the KGB records of the Centre resurrecting action against Orlov after the publication of his articles and book on Stalin. While it was certainly an irritant, the KGB, like Philby, appears to have remained confident that, despite press headlines, their former General would stand by his word and not give damaging revelations about the agents or operations he had listed in his 1938 letter.
Orlov's rank lent credibility to his revelations about Stalin, which were exploited by the Voice of America for propaganda broadcasts to the Soviet bloc. The following year, 1954, CBS broadcast The Terror Begins, a vivid television dramatization based on his version of the Kirov murder.
The one thing that bothered Orlov, and which he witnessed daily during the brief time he was in the US, was the great depression that had enveloped the nation. He could see the inordinate number of men on the streets who seemed to be loitering with no apparent place to go, although of an age that would indicate they should be employed; the scarcity of help-wanted advertisements in the classified section of the newspapers; the long lines of men seeking employment, perhaps for one job opening; the bleak news articles that foreshadowed a long recession; and the welfare kitchens in his own neighbourhoods in Harlem and upper Manhattan that overflowed with people seeking meagre sustenance. All this told him that there had to be a flaw in this capitalist society to generate such economic injustice. He saw from his own perspective the difference between the haves and have nots as he was able to enjoy many amenities in the US only because he had an income. Early on he had learned that under Communism there would be no class distinctions and that the means of production would be common to all. The end result would be a society where all would share and prosper. What deficits he was aware of in the new Soviet Union he attributed to the transitory period that had to be faced by an emerging nation. Also, the USSR was about to embark on another five-year plan which would eliminate all problems. Years later, when explaining the Utopian form of government he had envisaged in the Soviet Union, Orlov revealed that, as an ardent Communist, this had been his way of thinking in 1932. He admitted that it had taken only two short months in the US for him to come to the conclusion that Communism was the avenue he would continue to tread as compared to the years it would take before he saw the inherent flaws in the Communist form of government. With this political philosophy, he would depart the United States.
Mr Gazur and his wife, Ruth, became the only truly close friends the Orlovs had during their more than thirty years of asylum in the United States - so much so that the general had made Mr Gazur his literary administrator and the legal guardian of all his personal papers. Was I interested in seeing these, asked Mr Gazur? He liked what I had written about the man he so admired and would be willing therefore to give me access to material which no outside eye had hitherto seen. When it turned out that the general (who died in 1973) had written extensively from his own experience on the early years of the Bolshevik regime, and that none of this material had appeared in his two published books, I expressed great interest. When it later transpired that, for example, no fewer than sixty-five pages dealt with the Soviet inside story of the rise and fall of "Britain's Intelligence Ace, Sydney Reilly", my interest became compulsive. I soon found myself sitting under an apple tree in the sunlit garden of the Gazurs' hospitable Kentucky home with a fat typescript in my lap. It was the general's much rumoured but still unseen `third book'.
Entitled The March of Time, Reminiscences by Alexander Orlov, it is 655 pages long and deals in twenty-nine chapters with episodes in his career as a soldier and Soviet secret service man, from those first years of Bolshevik rule down to his own break with Stalin in 1939 and his adventurous flight from his final post in Spain to North America. Much of that Spanish story and his escape from Stalin's clutches had already appeared in print. This account of the earlier period had never been published or even circulated. It covered half the book, much of it on that first decade of Bolshevik power with which I was concerned. (The whole of Chapter Five, for example, gives the real story, over seventy-six pages, of the entrapment of Boris Savinkov, the 'great conspirator', and the most dangerous of all the Bolsheviks' Russian foes.) I have quoted extensively from both of these sections, not only because of the fascinating human detail they provide, but because I came to regard them, after frequent counter-checks, as totally reliable. I ought to explain why, to the general reader and the intelligence buff alike.
There are four main reasons, apart from the circumstance that Orlov rose to be a KGB general. The first is that he was not involved himself in the events he was describing: there is no cause, therefore, to suspect him of exaggerating or of playing down (where things went wrong) his own part in any of the operations. He was, however (and this is the second reason), an irrepressibly curious man, always trying to get to the bottom of the major battles with the West which his department fought - and usually won. He was the ideal example of what, in the profession of journalism, would have been called `the investigative reporter' (and, unlike some of that ilk, he was conscientious about getting his facts straight).
Moreover, and this is the third reason, he was in the right place at the right time and with the right connections. He was twice posted to the Moscow headquarters of the secret police during the years 1924-6, the very years when the Lubyanka was buzzing with excitement over the capture first of Boris Savinkov and then of Sydney Reilly. As a protégé of the police supremo, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Orlov was able to glean all the details of these successive triumphs from the colleagues responsible - either for the running of the deadly deception campaign or the interrogation of the famous prisoners (and sometimes both). Federov, Styrne, Puzitsky, Pilar and, above all, the chiefs right-hand man in the operation, Artur Artuzov, are names which will occur frequently in this narrative. All were repeatedly questioned by the inquisitive Orlov and, in his chronicle of events, he usually names which of his colleagues had been the source for any event or anecdote related.
The fourth reason for believing in Orlov's account is, from the historian's point of view, perhaps the most important. His testimony, on these or other matters, has never been proven wrong when checked out over the years from other reputable sources. This held true when, soon after his death, I spent the best part of a week in Washington being briefed by his CIA case officers (above all the venerable and much-lamented Raymond Rocca) for those two chapters of The Storm Birds on his defection. It still holds true, so far as I can establish, today.
There is much, it must be stressed, that he did not tell his debriefers. Thus, there was no mention of the major role he is known to have played in the early 1930s as the OGPU's roving inspector of foreign intelligence assets - including, in Britain, Philby and the rest of the 'Cambridge Five'. On this he kept mum, though he seems to have been bursting to get it off his chest shortly before he died. But what he did state always stood up over the years and I have been able to confirm this again as regards The March of Time. Whenever his account is compared with other objective versions, Western or Russian, it squares up.
My personal observations of Orlov were all positive. Although he was lean and short in stature, probably no more than 5 feet 7 inches tall, he had cast an enormously large historical shadow. Like a general, he carried himself in an erect military manner, which commanded attention and exuded that elusive condition known as presence. He had the flair for saying the right thing at the right time and what he had to say was organised and concise. His suave manner and dapper appearance reminded one of a European aristocrat and suggested that he was a man of the world, which he was. He was an immaculate dresser and I never saw him without a formal shirt and tie. When he again became financially solvent, his lifestyle dictated the very best; all his purchases, such as clothing and personal items, were from the very best stores, which I suspect was a result of his days in the top echelons of the KGB. Despite his sophistication, he was self-effacing and humble, a combination that few people possess. He never spoke down to anyone and had the ability to listen patiently to the other side. He was an extremely intelligent man of immense character and integrity. I never knew him to lie to me and I had plenty of opportunity to discover if he had. Perhaps he didn't tell me everything about himself during his life as Orlov the KGB general, but then again I never asked.