Walter Krivitsky (real name Samuel Ginsberg) was born into a Jewish family living in Podwoloczyska, on 28th June, 1899. At the age of thirteen he joined the radical youth movement. He later recalled "the plaintive melodies of my suffering race mingled with new songs of freedom." His friend, Ignaz Reiss, was also a member: He described Krivitsky as a tall and gentle boy, with dark hair and very pale blue eyes.
Krivitsky joined the Bolshevik Party and became an underground political organizer: "In 1917 I was a youngster of eighteen, and the Bolshevik Revolution came to me as an absolute solution to all problems of poverty; inequality and justice... I joined the Bolshevik Party with my whole soul. I seized the Marxist and Leninist faith as a weapon with which to assault the wrongs against which I had instinctively rebelled."
After the Russian Revolution he worked briefly as a journalist before he joined the Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). During the Russian Civil War he operated behind the lines of the White Army. "In 1920... I was attached to the Soviet military intelligence for the Western Front which had its headquarters in Smolensk. As the Red Armies of General Tukhachevsky moved toward Warsaw it was the function of our department to operate secretly behind the Polish lines, to create diversions, to sabotage the shipment of munitions, to shatter the morale of the Polish army by propaganda and to furnish the general staff of the Red Army with military and political information."
Krivitsky's work involved undermining the war effort of the enemy. He wrote in I Was Stalin's Agent (1939): "We organized a strike in Danzig to prevent the landing of French munitions for the Polish army. I traveled to Warsaw, Cracow, Lemberg, German and Czech Silesia and to Vienna, organizing strikes to stop arms shipments. I organized a successful railroad strike in the Czech railroad junction of Oderberg, persuading the Czech trainmen to walk out, rather than handle Skoda munitions for the Poland of Joseph Pilsudski." Krivitsky wrote one leaflet that stated: "Railroad workers! You are transporting on your line guns to slaughter your Russian working-class brothers."
When French forces occupied the Ruhr Valley in the summer of 1923, Krivitsky and six other officers were sent to the area to encourage resistance. This involved working with the German Communist Party. They created "small units of men whose function was to shatter the morale of the Reichswehr and the police." Krivitsky was involved in forming assassination units who "struck swiftly and effectively in various parts of Germany, picking off police officers and other enemies of the Communist cause".
Lenin saw the opportunity to ferment a communist revolution in Germany. He ordered Gregory Zinoviev to organise an uprising. Some senior figures, including Karl Radek, Nickolai Bukharin and Yuri Piatakov hurried to Germany to get military units in strategic locations ready for a nationwide revolt, which would be launched at the command of Moscow. Zinoviev proposed an uprising in Hamburg. Communists in the city, believing themselves backed by a national uprising, took to the streets, attacked the police station and occupied major facilities. However, they did not receive support from other working-class groups and the rebellion was crushed in three days. Krivitsky commented: "When we saw the collapse of the Comintern's efforts... we took the best men developed by our Party Intelligence... and incorporated them into the Soviet military intelligence."
In 1925 Krivitsky met Paul Wohl in Berlin. It was the beginning of a long friendship. According to Gary Kern: "Paul Wohl was a Jewish intellectual specializing in political, economic and historical affairs... He grew up in a family with long-established international ties and studied history, economics and law at several universities, graduating from Berlin and Breslau... After graduation, he lectured, did research, published articles and found white-collar work in government and private institutions... By 1925 he had authored two learned tomes in German, one on Russian financial institutions and the other on Russian and German legal treaties.... Wohl was the kind of young man who pored over books of statistics and sat on committees and boards, yet he also enjoyed mountain climbing, swimming and skiing. Politically, he considered himself a conservative, even a militant conservative, guided by the Lutheran Protestant faith."
Wohl later revealed that "all I knew of him then was that he was an important emissary of the Bolsheviks". He was in fact a NKVD agent. Although he considered himself to be a conservative, he freely associated with people on the left like Krivitsky. This partly due to their shared hatred of fascism. As a German Jew he had every reason to be concerned about the growth in support for anti-Semitic politicians such as Adolf Hitler and Eric Ludendorff.
Gary Kern believes that Krivitsky used Wohl in his spying activities: "Krivitsky developed Wohl as an agent of influence and personal aide, working closely with him at times, then not seeing him for weeks or months at a stretch. Wohl did not think of himself as a Soviet agent and objected strenuously to the designation when the matter came up later... As an associate who did not supply classified materials to Soviet intelligence, but did serve as a courier and liaison for Krivitsky, among other things."
Over the next couple of years Krivitsky taught classes on espionage at the military academy. During this period he met Antonina Porfirieva. She joined military intelligence and in 1925 worked for the Fourth Department at the Soviet embassy in Vienna. At the time she was described as being "tall, fair and strikingly blond". They married on 15th May 1926. Krivitsky had to travel all over Europe and had difficulty obtaining permission for his wife to go with him. Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004): "intelligence work, and indeed private life, would be complicated for the Krivitsky by the fact that she was legal and he was illegal. During the first years of their marriage, they were forced to live separately when abroad, Walter in hotels and Tonia near the embassy in Vienna, each with a cover spouse who also worked for military intelligence. They had to avoid being seen together. Their conjugal conjugations were clandestine."
In 1929 Joseph Stalin asked Yan Berzin, the chief of the Red Army's Fourth Bureau (military intelligence) to develop a plan to obtain foreign currency and to undermine capitalism. They selected a team of expert forgers led by a German engraver who had been manufacturing false passprts for the Comintern in Berlin. He produced plates for the $100 United States Federal Reserve banknote that not only reproduced perfectly the portrait of Benjamin Franklin, but placed an individual serial number on each bill. The bills were printed on excellent paper and flawless to the naked eye. Krivitsky was involved in this conspiracy that involved printing counterfeit $100 bills and using them in Europe, Asia and America to buy what the Soviet Union needed as part of the Five Year Plan with the clean currency. One way that Krivitsky did this was to buy chips with them in a casino, play a while and lose a bit, then cash in the chips remaining for good bills.
Alexander Orlov was another NKVD agent who was involved in this plot. He argued that no more than a million dollars could have been passed before the authorities would discovery the fraud. He later told a Senate Committee twenty-eight years later that Stalin insisted that the agents went ahead with the plan because he was "ninety per cent a criminal and ten per cent a politician." The conspiracy was discovered when one agent, Franz Fischer, had passed $19,000 at the Sass & Martini Bank in Berlin. One reason for the discovery was that the U.S. Treasury issued new $100 notes that were slightly smaller than the forgeries.
In 1931 Yan Berzin awarded Krivitsky the Order of the Red Banner for "exploits in battle, outstanding personal initiative and boundless dedication to the interests of the proletariat, demonstrated in exceptionally difficult and dangerous circumstances." The decoration was signed by Mikhail Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Union. His biographer, Gary Kern, claims that the "award brought not only glory and status within the Special Services, but normally included material benefits, such as the title to an apartment in Moscow, free for life and transmittable to off-spring."
As well as working for Military Intelligence, Krivitsky also did work for NKVD. According to Viktor Suvorov, of the two intelligence agencies, the military was the most secretive, being virtually unknown to the public both inside and outside the country. Each of the agencies considered itself the more elite of the two. Elsa Poretsky has claimed that the NKVD was "very short of able people, was jealous of the Fourth and never let a chance go by to undermine its prestige. They were also very keen on recruiting people away from the military and watched with great interest all the internal difficulties of their rival."
In July 1933 Kritvitsky was transferred to Rotterdam as director of intelligence with liaison responsibilities for other European countries. According to Krivitsky he was now "Chief of the Soviet Military Intelligence for Western Europe". This time he was able to travel and live with his wife. By this stage the NKVD had realised that marriage makes a good cover for illicit activities. The couple moved to a townhouse at 32 Celebesstraat, The Hague. Krivitsky took the identity of Dr. Martin Lessner, who sold art books.
Krivitsky's main objective was to build spy networks in Europe. His agents organized groups of dedicated Communists prepared to assist the Soviet Union if war broke out. The plan was for these units to disrupt communications, wreck machinery and blow up munitions depots. Krivitsky also recruited journalists, politicians, artists and government officials. Some he paid with money, others were willing to work for free as they believed in communism. Probably his most important agent was Pierre Cot, the Air Minister, in the government of Léon Blum.
Krivitsky later claimed that Military Intelligence never stole classified documents outright, but borrowed them long enough to photograph them and then returned them to their original places. All its officers and most of its agents were trained in the use of a Lecia camera. According to Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004): "For remote locations, they used a little suitcase containing all the necessary equipment. Krivitsky wrote his reports by hand, photographed them and sent the undeveloped film to Moscow through the embassy. The rolls of film containing the purloined material went the same way. The service had mailing canisters for film that would self-destruct if opened improperly, but these were used only in emergency or war situations."
Krivitsky recruited Hans Brusse as part of his network. Officially he worked for Krivitsky as "chauffeur and aide, doing everything from carrying boxes and fixing appliances to taking photographs and driving a motorboat... covertly Brusse handled special assignments, especially those requiring criminal skills." Paul Wohl claimed that he was also an "expert locksmith".
One of Krivitsky's most important agents was Henri Pieck. An artist, he posed as a Dutch businessman in Leipzig who often visited London where he met with Ernest Holloway Oldham, who headed the department that distributed coded diplomatic telegrams at the Foreign Office. According to John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, the authors of Deadly Illusions (1993): "Because of British secrecy, the significance of the Oldham case has remained undisclosed and underestimated. The truth, as revealed by NKVD, files is that Oldham was not just a code clerk but a cypher expert who developed codes and was therefore able to provide Moscow with a great deal of information on security and secret traffic systems."
Oldham's codename was ARNO. His wife, Lucy Oldham, was also part of the network (codename MADAM). Oldham was paid $1,000 a month for the information he provided to the Soviet Union. It is believed that Oldham was the first Soviet spy recruited in Britain. Richard Deacon has argued: "There is evidence that Oldham did more harm to the USA and Canada than to Britain by providing the names of prospective agents in key positions in those countries. It is thought that he obtained some of these names from a mysterious female agent named Leonore. One of the Soviet contacts was a Russian oilman named Feldman who operated in Britain under the name of Voldarsky and who later started a Soviet network to spy on the USA from Canada."
According to Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004), Oldham in the 1930s displayed behaviour that was "a riot of drunkenness, alcohol-related sickness, professional sloppiness, wife beating, unaccountable spending and insubordination." This led to him being suspected of being a German spy. "He fell under suspicion of espionage when a codebook could not be found in a safe to which he had access. Then a batch of telegrams disappeared. Warned to observe standard procedures, he steadfastly refused and was forced to retire in September 1932, without pension."
Ernest Holloway Oldham was found dead in in Kensington on 29th September, 1933. The following day The Times reported: "Kensington police are trying to trace the identity of a man aged about thirty-five, who was found dead in a gas-filled kitchen at 31 Pembroke Gardens, Kensington... the shirt bore the initials EHO." According to Richard Deacon: "After that there was absolute silence in the press, both national and local - no mention of an inquest, no obituary, no indication of the man's identity." His death certificate showed that he died from "coal gas poisoning" and a verdict of suicide "while of unsound mind" was recorded. Another agent, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, later admitted that the NKVD was worried that Oldham would be interrogated by MI5 and that he would reveal details of the London spy network and confessed that "our wonderful source (Oldham)... was killed by us."
In 1935 Henri Pieck was involved in the recruitment of John Herbert King, who also worked at the Foreign Office. According to Gary Kern King was approached by Pieck: "Captain John Herbert King was a clerk without a pension or decent prospects for the future. Over beer with Pieck, he expressed himself as a disgruntled Irishman, a victim of English discrimination, under appreciated and underpaid. He had a son who deserved the best things in life and an American mistress whose tastes were not inexpensive. Pieck sympathized. He and his wife took King and his mistress on a paid vacation to Spain and made King hunger for the pleasures of high society."
King's codename was MAG. During the first year King routinely delivered a package after work to a photographic studio at 34 Buckingham Gate, not far from the Foreign Office in Whitehall, and picked it up on his way to work the next morning. The studio was rented by Pieck's business partner, Conrad Parlanti, who thought it had something to do with interior decorating. Donald Maclean (code-named WAISE) who joined the Foreign Office in October 1935, and became part of the same spy network. King was able to provide a verbatim account of a meeting that Lord Halifax had with Adolf Hitler in 1936. This was then passed on to Joseph Stalin. The man who oversaw the operation in Moscow was Dmitri Bystrolyotov. He recorded that "MAG works with clockwork precision."
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Krivitsky immediately sent two of his agents into the country. Two days later he received a message from headquarters: "Extend your operations immediately to cover Spanish civil war. Mobilize all available agents and facilities for prompt creation of a system to purchase and transport arms to Spain. A special agent is being dispatched to Paris to aid you in this work. He will report to you there and work under your supervision."
Krivitsky also went to Spain. He joined with Alexander Orlov, the Soviet Politburo adviser to the Popular Front government. 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. General Yan Berzin was also in Spain as chief military advisor to the Republican Army.
Krivitsky later wrote in I Was Stalin's Agent (1939): "Stalin's intervention in Spain had one primary aim - and this was common knowledge among us who served him - namely, to include Spain in the sphere of the Kremlin's influence... The world believed that Stalin's actions were in some way connected with world revolution. But this is not true. The problem of world revolution had long before that ceased to be real to Stalin... He was also moved however, by the need of some answer to the foreign friends of the Soviet Union who would be disaffected by the great purge. His failure to defend the Spanish Republic, combined with the shock of the great purge, might have lost him their support."
Joseph Stalin encouraged the formation of volunteer fighting battalions from abroad. These eventually became known as the International Brigades. As Gary Kern pointed out: "To start the ball rolling, he ordered that 500-600 foreign Communists living as refugees in the USSR, personae non grata in their own countries, be rounded up and sent to fight in Spain. This action not only rid him of a long-term irritant, but also laid the foundation for the International Brigades. The Comintern, which officially promulgated the policy of non-intervention, was enlisted to process young men in foreign countries wishing to join the Brigades. The word went out that the various Communist parties would facilitate their transport to Spain; in each CP a Comintern representative directed the program."
Alexander 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."
According to the authors of Deadly Illusions (1993) in March 1937 General Yan 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 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".
Krivitsky admitted: "Already in December 1936, the terror was sweeping Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. The OGPU had its own special prisons. Its units carried out assassinations and kidnappings. It filled hidden dungeons and made flying raids. It functioned, of course, independent of the Loyalist government. The Ministry of Justice had no authority over the OGPU, which was an empire within an empire. It was a power before which even some of the highest officers in the Caballero government trembled. The Soviet Union seemed to have a grip on Loyalist Spain, as if it were already a Soviet possession."
Antony Beevor, the author of The Spanish Civil War (1982), has argued: "The persistent trouble in the Brigades also stemmed from the fact that the volunteers, to whom no length of service had ever been mentioned, assumed that they were free to leave after a certain time. Their passports had been taken away on enlistment. Krivitsky claimed that these were sent to Moscow by diplomatic bag for use by NKVD agents abroad. Brigade leaders who became so alarmed by the stories of unrest filtering home imposed increasingly stringent measures of discipline. Letters were censored and anyone who criticized the competence of the Party leadership faced prison camps, or even firing squads. Leave was often cancelled, and some volunteers who, without authorization, took a few of the days owing to them, were shot for desertion when they returned to their unit. The feeling of being trapped by an organization with which they had lost sympathy made a few volunteers even cross the lines to the Nationalists. Others tried such unoriginal devices as putting a bullet through their own foot when cleaning a rifle (10 volunteers were executed for self-inflicted wounds)."
Walter Krivitsky, confirmed the story about the use of passports: "Several times while I was in Moscow in the spring of 1937, I saw this mail in the offices of the Foreign Division of the OGPU. One day a batch of about a hundred passports arrived, half of them American. They belonged to dead soldiers. That was a great haul, a cause for celebration. The passports of the dead, after some weeks of inquiry into the family histories of their original owners, are easily adapted to their new bearers, the OGPU agents."
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.
A law was also passed that stated that the crime of defection was a capital offence. The relatives of defectors were also to be punished by confiscation of property and five to ten years in confinement. If the defector divulged state secrets or collaborated in any way with a foreign state, his crime was considered all the more unacceptable and his relatives, whether or not they knew of his actions, could be executed.
By the summer of 1937, over forty intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union. Krivitsky realised that his life was in danger. Alexander Orlov, who was based in Spain, had a meeting with fellow NKVD officer, 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. General Yan Berzin, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, Boris Bazarov and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, were also recalled. Maly, Bazarov, Antonov-Ovseenko and Berzen were all executed.
Krivitsky's old friend, Ignaz Reiss, was beginning to have great doubts about the truth of the Show Trials. His wife, Elsa Poretsky, had visited Moscow in early 1937. She noted that: "The Soviet citizen does not rejoice in the splendor, he does not marvel at the blood trials, he hunches down deeper, hoping only perhaps to escape ruin. Before every Party member the dread of the purge. Over every Party member and non-Party member the lash of Stalin. Lack of initiative it's called, then lack of vigilance - counter-revolution, sabotage, Trotskyism. Terrified to death, the Soviet man hastens to sign resolutions. He swallows everything, says yea to everything. He has become a clod. He knows no sympathy, no solidarity. He knows only fear."
Ignaz Reiss met with Krivitsky and suggested that they should both defect in protest as a united demonstration against the purge of leading Bolsheviks. Krivitsky rejected the idea. He suggested that the Spanish Civil War would probably revive the old revolutionary spirit, empower the Comintern and ultimately drive Stalin from power. Krivitsky also made the point that that there was no one to whom they could turn. Going over to Western intelligence services would betray their ideals, while approaching Leon Trotsky and his group would only confirm Soviet propaganda, and besides, the Trotskists would probably not trust them.
Krivitsky was recalled to Moscow. He later commented that he took the opportunity to "find out at firsthand what was going on in the Soviet Union". Krivitsky wrote that Joseph Stalin had lost the support of most of the Soviet Union: "Not only the immense mass of the peasants, but the majority of the army, including its best generals, a majority of the commissars, 90 percent of the directors of factories, 90 percent of the Party machine, were in more or less extreme degree opposed to Stalin's dictatorship."
Krivitsky met up with Ignaz Reiss in Rotterdam on 29th May, 1937. He told Reiss that Moscow was a "madhouse" and that Nikolai Yezhov was "insane". Krivitsky agreed with Reiss that the Soviet Union had "devolved into a Fascist state" but refused to defect. Krivitsky later explained: "The Soviet Union is still the sole hope of the workers of the world. Stalin may be wrong. Stalins will come and go, but the Soviet Union will remain. It is our duty to stick to our post." Reiss disagreed with Krivitsky and said if that was his view he would go it alone. Elsa Poretsky also began to doubt the loyalty of Krivitsky. She began to wonder why he had been allowed to leave Moscow. She told her husband: "No one leaves the Soviet Union unless the NKVD can use him."
In July 1937 Ignaz Reiss was warned that if he did not go back to the Soviet Union at once he would be "treated as a traitor and punished accordingly". Reiss responded by sending 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. "Up to this moment I marched alongside you. Now I will not take another step. Our paths diverge! He who now keeps quiet becomes Stalin's accomplice, betrays the working class, betrays socialism. I have been fighting for socialism since my twentieth year. Now on the threshold of my fortieth I do not want to live off the favours of a Yezhov. I have sixteen years of illegal work behind me. That is not little, but I have enough strength left to begin everything all over again to save socialism. ... No, I cannot stand it any longer. I take my freedom of action. I return to Lenin, to his doctrine, to his acts." These letters were addressed to Joseph Stalin and Abram Slutsky.
Mikhail Shpiegelglass told Krivitsky that Ignaz Reiss had gone over to the Trotskyists and described him meeting Henricus Sneevliet in Amsterdam. Krivitsky assumed from this information that Stalin had a spy within Sneevliet's group. Krivitsky correctly guessed that this was Mark Zborowski. Krivitsky and another NKVD agent, Theodore Maly, tried to contact Reiss. Recently released NKVD files show that Shpiegelglass ordered Maly to take an iron and beat Reiss to death in his hotel room. Maly refused to carry out this order and criticised Shpiegelglass in his report to Moscow.
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, went for supper outside of town. They left the restaurant and set off on foot. A car pulled up bearing two NKVD agents, Francois Rossi and Etienne Martignat. One was driving, the other - holding a machine-gun. Reiss was shot seven times in the head and five times in the body. The assassins fled, not bothering to check out of the hotel in Lausanne. They abandoned the car in Berne. The police found a box of chocolates, laced with strychnine, in the hotel room. It is believed these were intended for Elsa and her son Roman.
Abram Slutsky now grew very suspicious of Krivitsky and insisted that he turned over his spy-ring to Mikhail Shpiegelglass. This included his second in command, Hans Brusse. Soon afterwards, Brusse made contact with Krivitsky and told him that Shpiegelglass had ordered him to kill Elsa Poretsky and her son. Krivitsky advised him to accept the mission, but to sabotage the operation. Krivitsky also suggested that Brusse should gradually withdraw from working for the NKVD. According to Krivitsky's account in I Was Stalin's Agent (1939), Brusse agreed to this strategy.
After the assassination of Ignaz Reiss, Krivitsky discovered that Theodore Maly, who had refused to kill him, was recalled and executed. He now decided to defect to Canada. Once settled abroad he would collaborate with Paul Wohl on the literary projects they had so often discussed. In addition to writing about economic and historical subjects, he would be free to comment on developments in the Soviet Union. Wohl agreed to the proposal. He told Krivitsky that he was an exceptional man with rare intelligence and rare experience. He assured him that there was no doubt that together they could succeed.
Wohl agreed to help Krivitsky defect. To help him disappear he rented a villa for him in Hyères, a small town in France on the Mediterranean Sea. On 6th October, 1937, Wohl arranged for a car to collect Krivitsky, Antonina Porfirieva and their son and to take them to Dijon. From there they took a train to their new hideout on the Côte d'Azur. As soon as he discovered that Krivitsky had fled, Mikhail Shpiegelglass told Nikolai Yezhov what had happened. After he received the report, Yezhov sent back the command to assassinate Krivitsky and his family.
Later that month Krivitsky wrote to Elsa Poretsky and told her what he had done and to express concerns that the NKVD had a spy close to her friend, Henricus Sneevliet. "Dear Elsa, I have broken with the Firm and am here with my family. After a while I will find the way to you, but right now I beg you not to tell anyone, not even your closest friends, who this letter is from... Listen well, Elsa, your life and that of your child are in danger. You must be very careful. Tell Sneevliet that in his immediate vicinity informers are at work, apparently also in Paris among the people with whom he has to deal. He should be very attentive to your and your child's welfare. We both are completely with you in your grief and embrace you." He gave the letter to Gerard Rosenthal, who took it to Sneevliet who passed it onto Poretsky.
On 7th November, 1937, Krivitsky returned to Paris where Paul Wohl arranged for him to meet Lev Sedov, the son of Leon Trotsky, and the leader of the Left Opposition in France an editor of the Bulletin of the Opposition. Sedov put him in touch with Fedor Dan, who had a good relationship with Leon Blum, the leader of the French Socialist Party and a member of the Popular Front government. Although it took several weeks, Krivitsky received French papers and if needed, a police guard.
Krivitsky also arranged a meeting with Hans Brusse who he hoped to persuade him to defect. Brusse refused declaring that he had come to the meeting "in the name of the organization". He then pulled out a copy of Krivitsky's letter to Elsa. Krivitsky was deeply shocked, but denied having written the letter. He suspected that he knew he was lying. Brusse pleaded with Krivitsky to return to his work as a Soviet spy.
On 11th November, 1937, Krivitsky had a meeting with Elsa Poretsky, Henricus Sneevliet, Pierre Naville and Gerard Rosenthal. Poretsky later recalled in Our Own People (1969) that Krivitsky said to her: "I come to warn you that you and your child are in grave danger. I came in the hope that I could be of some help." She replied: "Your warning comes too late. Had you done this in time Ignaz would be alive now, here with us... If you had joined him, as you said you would and as he expected, he would be alive and you would be in a different position." Krivitsky, visibly shocked by her response, said: "Of all that has happened to me this is the hardest blow."
Krivitsky then told the group that Brusse had showed him the letter that he had sent to Poretsky. He asked Rosenthal if he had showed the letter to anyone before giving it to Sneevliet. He admitted that he had asked Victor Serge to post the letter. He later admitted to Sneevliet that he had also shown it to Mark Zborowski. Krivitsky knew that one of these people had given a copy of the letter to Brusse, who had remained loyal to the NKVD.
Krivitsky believed the spy was either Serge or Zborowski. On 20th November, 1937, Krivitsky arranged to meet Serge on the Square Port-Royal. Serge later recalled in his book, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1951) that Krivitsky was a "thin little man with premature wrinkles and nervous eyes". According to Serge, Krivitsky told him that he remained loyal to the Soviet Union, since "the historic mission of this state was far more important than its crimes, and besides he himself did not believe that any opposition could succeed".
Serge commented that "Krivitsky was afraid of lighted streets. Each time that he put his hand into his overcoat pocket to reach for a cigarette, I followed his movements very attentively and put my own hand in my pocket." Krivitsky told Serge: "I am risking assassination at any moment and you still don't trust me, do you?" Serge admitted that was true. "And we would both agree to die for the same cause: isn't that so?" Serge replied: "Perhaps, all the same it would be as well to define just what this cause is."
Krivitsky also arranged a meeting with Fedor Dan. His wife later described what happened: "That evening it was completely impossible to have a coherent conversation. He couldn't keep still, jumped from one subject to another, spoke of his concern for the fate of his family... He became noticeably jittery, twice asked me to go down and see if there isn't anything suspicious, chain-smoked, looked out the window at the street from time to time, hiding somehow behind the curtains."
Krivitsky arranged for the French press to publish a statement condemning the policies of Joseph Stalin: "Remaining abroad, I hope to have the opportunity for my part to facilitate the rehabilitation of these tens of thousands of spies... who in reality were dedicated champions of the workers' cause, but were arrested, exiled, shot and murdered by the present masters of the regime... I know - and I have proof of it - that a reward has been placed on my head. I know that the GPU will stop at nothing to silence me, that dozens of people, ready for anything, following Yezhov's orders, chase at my heels to carry out this mission. And I consider it my duty of a revolutionary fighter to bring all this to the public attention of the international working class."
Krivitsky and Paul Wohl decided to try to move to the United States. Wohl who spoke English, would go ahead first, get settled and make arrangements for Krivitsky to follow. Wohl managed to become a foreign correspondent for a Czech newspaper. He obtained a U.S. visitor's visa valid for sixty days and traveled as a German refugee.
On 5th November 1938, Krivitsky, Antonina Porfirieva and their son, boarded the French liner Normandie, and set off for America. However, when they arrived at New York they were refused permission to enter the country. For the next few days they were kept on Ellis Island. With the help of David Shub, he was eventually allowed to stay at the apartment that Wohl had found for him at 600 West 140th Street. The two men immediately got to work writing articles on the Soviet Union. Shub also put the men in touch with journalist, Isaac Don Levine, who had good contacts with the American media.
Levine realised that this "slight, short and unimposing, though noteworthy for the striking contrast between his deep blue eyes, keen with intelligence" was a source of extraordinary material. He told Krivitsky that he could get him a lucrative deal for a series of articles. The first of these articles appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in April 1939. J. Edgar Hoover was very angry when he read the article. He was extremely annoyed that the American public had discovered in the article that Joseph Stalin was "sending NKVD agents into the United States as if the the FBI did not exist".
In early 1939 Eitel Wolf Dobert paid Krivitsky and Wohl a visit. Dolbert and his wife, Margarita Siniossoglou, were refugees from Nazi Germany. At first Krivitsky believed that Dobert was a NKVD agent who had been sent to kill him. According to David Dallin, Krivitsky had known Dobert when he was living in Germany: "Eitel Wolf Dobert was a young Nazi when Walter met him in Germany, but with pacifist leanings. He broke with Nazism, went to Paris and became Walter's secret agent, making many trips to Germany." However, eventually Krivitsky began to trust the couple and they spent a great deal of time together.
Krivitsky was also introduced to Whittaker Chambers, a former member of the American Communist Party but who was now working for Time Magazine. Chambers later recalled in Witness (1952): "I met Krivitsky with extreme reluctance. Long after my break with the Communist Party, I could not think of Communists or Communism without revulsion. I did not wish to meet even ex-Communists. Toward Russians, especially, I felt an organic antipathy. But one night, when I was at Levine's apartment in New York, Krivitsky telephoned that he was coming over. There presently walked into the room a tidy little man about five feet six with a somewhat lined gray face out of which peered pale blue eyes. They were professionally distrustful eyes, but oddly appealing and wistful, like a child whom life has forced to find out about the world, but who has never made his peace with it. By way of handshake, Krivitsky touched my hand. Then he sat down at the far end of the couch on which I also was sitting. His feet barely reached the floor. I turned to look at him. He did not look at me. He stared straight ahead."
Krivitsky's biographer, Gary Kern, claims that he was not at first impressed with Chambers: "Krivitsky saw Chambers as a big slob. From childhood, unhappy with his bulky body and shabby, hand-me-down clothes, he had made a point of dressing badly as a private protest against the fortunately born... Everything about Chambers was disorderly, except his mind." Isaac Don Levine had once described "Chambers as looking like a plumber's helper on a repair mission... His clothes were rumpled, his short figure chunky, his teeth unsightly and his gait lumbering."
Krivitsky said that the Kronstadt Uprising was the turning point. "But who else for a thousand miles around could know what we were talking about? Here and there, some fugitive in a dingy room would know. But, as Krivitsky and I looked each other over, it seemed to me that we were like two survivors from another age of the earth, like two dated dinosaurs, the last relics of the revolutionary world that had vanished in the Purge. Even in that vanished world, we had been a special breed - the underground activists. There were not many of our kind left alive who still spoke the language that had also gone down in the submergence. I said, yes, Kronstadt had been the turning point.... Kronstadt is a naval base a few miles west of Leningrad in the Gulf of Finland. From Kronstadt during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the sailors of the Baltic Fleet had steamed their cruisers to aid the Communists in capturing Petrograd. Their aid had been decisive. They were the sons of peasants. They embodied the primitive revolutionary upheaval of the Russian people. They were the symbol of its instinctive surge for freedom. And they were the first Communists to realize their mistake and the first to try to correct it. When they saw that Communism meant terror and tyranny, they called for the overthrow of the Communist Government and for a time imperiled it. They were bloodily destroyed or sent into Siberian slavery by Communist troops led in person by the Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, and by Marshal Tukhachevsky, one of whom was later assassinated, the other executed, by the regime they then saved."
The two men talked all night. Chambers recalled that Krivitsky said at one point: "Looked at concretely, there are no ex-Communists. There are only revolutionists and counter revolutionists." Chambers interpreted that these words "meant that, in the 20th century, all politics, national and international, is the politics of revolution - that, in sum, the forces of history in our time can be grasped only as the interaction of revolution and counterrevolution." Both men dismissed the importance of conservatives: "Is merely a conservative, resisting it out of habit and prejudice. He believed, as I believe, that fascism (whatever softening name the age of euphemism chooses to call it by) is inherent in every collectivist form, and that it can be fought only by the force of an intelligence, a faith, a courage, a self-sacrifice, which must equal the revolutionary spirit that, in coping with, it must in many ways come to resemble. No one knows so well as the ex-Communist the character of the conflict, and of the enemy, or shares so deeply the same power of faith and willingness to stake his life on his beliefs. For no other has seen so deeply into the total nature of the evil with which Communism threatens mankind. Counterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has." Just before he left Krivitsky said: "In our time, informing is a duty." Chambers agreed and at that point: "I knew that, if the opportunity offered, I would inform."
The articles in the Saturday Evening Post resulted in Krivitsky being considered an expert on the Soviet Union. On 2nd May, 1939, Maxim Litvinov, resigned as foreign minister and was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov. He was asked by a journalist on the Baltimore Sun, what he thought of the move. Krivitsky replied that he believed that Joseph Stalin had sacked Litvinov because he was a Jew and it meant he was about to do a deal with Adolf Hitler. "Stalin has been driven to the parting of roads in his foreign policy and had to choose between the Rome-Berlin axis and the Paris-London axis... Litvinov personified the policy which brought the Soviet government into the League of Nations which raised the slogan of collective security, which claimed to seek collaboration with democratic powers."
Krivitsky's articles led to attacks from The New Masses who claimed that he was not really a former Soviet agent: "You never set eyes on Stalin or Voroshilov... Those who know you well will snicker at the idea that your mind can absorb an iota of politics - the nights in Paris are said to be too long... You cannot even write. Isaac Don Levine, a lily in his own right, ghosted the articles... It is an open secret that Suzanne La Follette, Trotskyist stalwart, is lending a hand in preparing the material for a book."
Earl Browder, the head of the American Communist Party accused him of being a follower of Leon Trotsky and involved in a disinformation campaign against Joseph Stalin. Krivitsky replied by claiming that his sister was a Soviet spy: "I challenge Earl Browder to speak out on the subject of my identity. A sister of Browder worked under my orders with the knowledge of her brother as an agent of the Soviet military intelligence during 1936 and 1937... She operated under an American passport bearing the name of Jean Montgomery."
In the July 1939 edition of Soviet Russia Today, included an anonymous article on Krivitsky: "He has a bitter hostility to the Soviet Union, a savage hatred of the Spanish Republican government, a sneering contempt for democracy, and a close sympathy with the POUM and the Trotskyists, and an eagerness to declare the innocence of the accused in every Soviet treason trial. In short, W. G. Krivitsky, speaking in his own person, through the hand of Don Levine, is a counter-revolutionary, a Red-baiter and an enemy of democracy."
Krivitsky also received little support from the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of his advisors, Adolf Berle, commented, that as far as he was concerned Krivitsky was "a former chief of spy service who is turning state's evidence now that he has been thrown out". Krivitsky was now in danger of being deported. Isaac Don Levine introduced Krivitsky to Louis Waldman, a civil rights lawyer, leader of the American Labor Party and a strong opponent of the American Communist Party.
Waldman had read Krivitsky's articles in the Saturday Evening Post and used the material in his speeches against the dangerous influence of communists in America but said he "felt disinclined to place a halo on the head of a person simply because he had broken with the Communist dictatorship after years of blind and faithful service." Waldman agreed to become Krivitsky's lawyer. He told his new client that as deportation would mean physical danger to himself and his family, then "a presentation of these facts to our immigration authorities would prevent such action." In other words, the government would not send him back to the Soviet Union if he was likely to be killed.
Krivitsky received $4,750 for his first two articles for the Saturday Evening Post. Initially it was proposed that this money would be shared with Paul Wohl. However, Krivitsky's wife, Antonina Porfirieva, complained that Wohl had not repaid loans given to him while living in Europe. Wohl was so upset that he decided to leave their shared home at 600 West 140th Street. Krivitsky felt guilty about this dispute and without his wife knowing, gave him $600.
The two men were reunited and that summer moved to Carmel where they wrote a joint article, My Flight From Stalin. They also wrote a long article on the Comintern. Krivitsky and Wohl continued to argue and Wohl eventually moved back to New York City. Krivitsky now decided to write on his own and signed a book contract with Cass Canfield at Harper and Brothers. Krivitsky received an advance of $2,000 for what became I Was Stalin's Agent (1939).
Wohl decided to institute a lawsuit for unpaid services. He explained to Suzanne La Follette: "I wrote his European articles, culling them from his many twisted versions (they have been almost textually included in the articles which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post); for two years I subordinated all my projects to him, started on his advice work for which I was not suited, skipped work in which I could have succeeded and exposed myself joyfully to much worry by embracing his cause as if - as he used to say - everything we had and did were really in common. For two years Krivitsky always spoke of our plans, our projects. It lasted exactly until the day when he received the first substantial check from Isaac Don Levine. Then, suddenly, it was my plans, my projects. Krivitsky shared everything with me as long as he had nothing."
Krivitsky's payments to Wohl amounted to about $1,200. Wohl thought he deserved at least $5,000. He was mainly concerned with providing money for his 68 years old mother suffering from heart trouble. Krivitsky's lawyer, Louis Waldman, wanted to avoid bad publicity and persuaded Wohl to drop the suit and agree to a settlement. Wohl eventually accepted a figure of $1,000, to be paid in installments.
Krivitsky was eventually interviewed by the FBI on 27th July 1939. The interrogating agent was very interested in the activities of Emilo Klémer who the FBI believed had run a spy ring in America at the early 1930s. Krivitsky confirmed that Klémer had worked for NKVD but did not think he had been an active spy in the country. He also pointed out that Klémer had been a victim of the Great Purge. The FBI agent wrote in his report that Krivitsky's statement contradicted "facts previously developed in this investigation".
Krivitsky claimed that there were about 15 Soviet agents in New York City. He named Boris Bykov as the main agent in the country. He described him as: "A small person with very odd red-brown eyes, red hair and red eyebrows." The FBI was not convinced by Krivitsky's testimony: "Krivitsky accepts his own conclusions as facts and so relates them and that in reply to a question he would state his opinion as a fact, rather than admit a lack of definite knowledge." The FBI was also concerned that Krivitsky's lawyer, Louis Waldman, was a well-known socialist.
Krivitsky was associated with the Committee for Cultural Freedom that was established by Sidney Hook, John Dewey, Max Eastman, Edna Ferber, Eugene Lyons, John Dos Passos, Carlo Tresca and Suzanne La Follette in the summer of 1939. The group opposed the rising power of the totalitarian idea, which it saw "enthroned in Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan and Spain". They were attacked by the American Communist Party as being "reactionaries" trying to "split the democratic front" and "to pervert American anti-fascist sentiment to their own ends." It was argued: "With the aim of turning anti-fascist feeling against the Soviet Union they have encouraged the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike. By this strategy they hope to create dissension among the progressive forces whose united strength is a first necessity for the defeat of fascism."
It was announced that Krivitsky was to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUCA) chaired by Martin Dies. The editor of the New Masses wrote on 29th August 1938: "He (Krivitsky) entered the country under a dust cloud of intrigue and faking, engineered by his friends abroad. His testimony before the Dies Committee will be part of the same strategy. As an agent of Trotsky, and more dangerous because he is masked as a revolutionary, he will be a spokesman of international fascism. His entry into this country, his dubious status here, and his ministrations give progressives good reason vehemently to protest his activities and urge the U.S. Labor Department to prosecute further its case against him as a subject for deportation."
Krivitsky also provided an insight into Stalin's thinking. John V. Fleming, the author of The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War (2009) has pointed out that Krivitsky predicted the Nazi-Soviet Pact: "Krivitsky was sufficiently privy to the thinking within the Kremlin to be able to predict to his absolutely unbelieving auditors that Stalin was more interested in finding an accommodation with Hitler than in countering him in Spain or elsewhere.... Then, in late August, the Germans and the Russians jointly announced the pact that Krivitsky had predicted."
Krivitsky argued in The New Leader on 26th August, 1939: "Not only are the American people shocked, but far more the unhappy masses of Germany and Russia who have paid and will continue to pay for this triumph with their blood. Such master strokes are eloquent proof of the return by the totalitarian states to the darkest phases of secret diplomacy such as characterized the epoch of Absolutism... For the democratic world the importance of the pact lies in that it has finally ripped the mask from Stalin's face. I believe that in those countries where the free word still exists, the master stroke of diplomacy is the death stroke of Stalinism as an active force. I believe this because after nearly 20 years of service for the Soviet government, I am convinced that democracy; despite its present perilous position, is the sole path for progressive humanity."
On 3rd September, 1939, Isaac Don Levine met with Lord Lothian, the British ambassador to the United States. Levine told Lothian that Krivitsky had told him that Joseph Stalin had two agents working deep inside the British government. The first agent was "a Scotsman of very food family" working in the Foreign Office. It is now believed he was talking about Donald Maclean. The second spy was "King in the Foreign Office Communications Department" and he is "selling everything to Moscow". Levine added that a third spy, Ernest Holloway Oldham, had died a few years ago.
Lothian sent this information back to MI5. They knew that Oldham had been a spy and had been forced to resign in September 1932. The code clerk was identified as John Herbert King and he was arrested. Richard Deacon, the author of A History of the Russian Secret Service (1972) has pointed out that "when he was arrested a top-secret message was found in his possession: he was on his way to a tea-shop in Whitehall to meet his Russian contact.... And this in itself is curious, for why did not the authorities follow him to the tea-shop and arrest his contact as well? That would have been normal procedure."
On 25th September, 1939, King was interviewed by Colonel Valentine Vivian, head of Section V (counter-espionage) in SIS. At first he refused to confess. Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs wrote in his diary on 26th September, "I have no doubt he is guilty - curse him - but there is no absolute proof." King eventually cracked and confessed to being a Soviet spy. Colonel Vivian suspected that there were other spies in the Communication Department but failed to find enough evidence for prosecution. Two officials, however, were dismissed for "irregularities". Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, gave orders for all existing members of the department to be moved to other jobs and bring in fresh staff.
Krivitsky was invited to appear before Martin Dies and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on 11th October, 1939. The HUAC's mandate was to investigate Nazis, Fascists and Communists. President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to have doubts about the initial investigation. According to Dies, Roosevelt attempted to stop him from investigating communism. He claims that Roosevelt told him in November 1940: "I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country. In fact, I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia under Communism than under the tsars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government."
Dies asked Krivitsky if Soviet intelligence agencies cooperated with German and Italian agents and therefore faced with "a combined espionage problem?" Krivitsky admitted that even before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had been co-operating. He argued that an "exchange of military secrets and information, as well as other forms of collaboration, is indispensable to both Hitler and Stalin." After the session he provided additional information in closed chambers on Soviet agents working in the United States.
In the closed session Krivitsky explained that the American Communist Party was under the control of the Soviet Union. He pointed out that while in Moscow, two of the party's main leaders, Earl Browder and Robert Minor, had been treated well, because they were willing to endorse the policies of the Joseph Stalin. However, Noah London, who was labor editor of the Morgen Freiheit and one of the leaders of the leaders of the Jewish Federation of the Communist Party, before he moved to the Soviet Union. He eventually became deputy director of the oil industry. London was critical of the policies of Joseph Stalin. When this was discovered by the NKVD he was arrested and according to Krivitsky was sent to Siberia and was executed in 1937 and Mirel was sent to a woman's camp for "family members of traitors to the motherland."
According to Joseph Brown Matthews, who was an investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities: "Krivitsky told me that the OGPU was determined to assassinate Trotsky and himself." Krivitsky added: "If I am ever found dead and it appears to be suicide, please don't accept that belief. It will just appear to be a suicide. But it really will be murder. Trotsky is to be murdered and I am too. Please go to Mexico City and warn Trotsky." Matthews later recalled: "I went to Mexico City soon after this conversation, and saw Trotsky... I told Trotsky what the General had said." Trotsky apparently replied: "General Krivitsky is right. We are the two men the OGPU is sworn to kill."
Peter Gutzeit, a NKVD agent in the United States, asked Samuel Dickstein, a member of Congress, to obtain a copy of Krivitsky's testimony in the closed session of the HUAC. He was unable to do this and instead produced a vague summary of what he said. He also insisted that Krivitsky had presented no concrete evidence of espionage on its part in the United States. The NKVD agents, however, found Dickstein's report suspicious when they recognized that portions of it strongly resembled news accounts and Krivitsky's public speeches. Dickstein did agree to attack Krivitsky and he dismissed the hearings as ridiculous and described Krivitsky as "nothing but a phony". Other members disliked him because of his unwillingness to denounce his belief in socialism and Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin called for him to be deported.
Dickstein contacted James Houghteling, the commissioner of immigration at the Department of Labor (DOL) suggesting that Krivitsky should be removed from the country: "My attention has been called to the activities of a certain Russian General, alias Ginzberg, who entered the country as a temporary visitor, supposedly for the purpose of doing some academic research work at an American university... and instead of doing the research work he claimed he came here to do, he is traveling around the country making all kind of statements which as a visitor in this country he has no right to make."
In October 1939 Krivitsky was invited to participate in "The Challenge to Civilization" conference. Speakers included J. Edgar Hoover, Eleanor Roosevelt, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Dorothy Thompson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Henry Cabot Lodge, James F. Byrnes and Sidney Hook. The conference was carried on Radio WJZ and the NBC Blue Network and the speeches were published in a special supplement of the New York Herald Tribune.
Krivitsky argued in his talk, entitled, The Front from the Rhine to Formosa, on 26th October, that Nazis and Bolsheviks were united in "a joint attack upon two institutions - Versailles and the British Empire". Krivitsky pointed out that the German Army and the Red Army had secretly cooperated since 1922. Nazi Germany, with its superior technology, would take over all the European states up to the Soviet border (with a divided Poland), whereas Soviet Union would expand its spheres of influence eastward by backing the colonial peoples of Asia and Africa.
Krivitsky ended his talk with the comments: "As a cautious opportunist who seeks to remain on the safe side, Stalin will continue to bide his time fighting limited engagements in spheres where he cannot be opposed. Naturally he sees Hitler confronted with defeat he will attempt an about face. But the Soviet structure is, and will continue to become, so dependent upon Nazi Germany for support that in all probability the end of Hitler will mean the end of Stalin."
In November 1939, Harper and Brothers published Krivitsky's I Was Stalin's Agent in the United States, Britain, Sweden and Holland. Alexander Kerensky reviewed the book for the Saturday Review of Literature and argued: "Krivitsky's book... is a very serious political testimony and a courageous act of conscience. The author, without sparing himself, exposes all the anti-democratic maneuvers of the Bolsheviks, unmasks them, and tells the truth of the unprecedented conspiracy against the well-being of mankind."
One of the most powerful sections of the book was an account of Stalin's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. "Stalin's intervention in Spain had one primary aim... namely, to include Spain in the sphere of the Kremlin's influence... The world believed that Stalin's actions were in some way connected with world revolution. But this is not true. The problem of world revolution had long before that ceased to be real to Stalin... He was also moved however, by the need of some answer to the foreign friends of the Soviet Union who would be disaffected by the great purge. His failure to defend the Spanish Republic, combined with the shock of the great purge, might have lost him their support."
MI5 asked Isaac Don Levine if Krivitsky was willing to come to London to discuss Soviet agents working in Britain. Levine later recalled: "I impressed upon the embassy counselor that Krivitsky's service in Soviet military intelligence had been motivated by ideological, and not mercenary, considerations, that his ambition was to serve the Allies in the fight against Hitler and in this manner redeem himself for his services to Stalin, now Hitler's ally." Although he was mainly acting for ideological reasons it was reported back that "Krivitsky, as a Russian refugee, would probably like to be paid."
Krivitsky arrived in Liverpool on the Duchess of Richmond on 19th January, 1940. After meeting Major Stephen Alley he was taken to headquarters to be interviewed by Colonel Valentine Vivian and Brigadier Oswald Harker. The notes for the meeting was taken by Harker: "After a good deal of beating about the bush Krivitsky began to get down to facts and informed us that he was aware of the existence of an organization in the country for obtaining information. He was very anxious to point out that he himself was not responsible for the direction of activities against the UK, but was concerned wholly and solely during 1935, 1936 and 1937 with operations against Germany."
Harker pointed out: "Before telling us anything, he was anxious to know what action we would take on his information, as he was convinced that anything we did in the way of arrests, etc., would at once be attributed by the Soviet Government to his activities. He was further very anxious to know to what lengths we would go as regards using him personally. Colonel Vivian and I both assured him that we were not intending to use him in any sense of the word as a witness, and that anything he told us would be treated as regards its source with absolute confidence."
Krivitsky told Vivian and Harker that "an agent in the Foreign Office who had supplied them in the past with most detailed information of great value." Krivitsky identified the man as John Herbert King. Vivian then told him that they had used this information that was given to Lord Lothian last year to arrest King: "We told him... that the man had been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment... This rather took the wind out of his sails." Harker then showed Krivitsky a photograph of Henri Pieck and he confirmed that he was a Soviet agent who had been working with King. He also provided information on the spying activities of Ernest Holloway Oldham.
The following day Krivitsky was interviewed by Jane Archer. Krivitsky told her that the idea was "to grow up agents from the inside". Krivitsky added: "This method had a great disadvantage in that results might not be obtained for a number of years, but it was regularly used by Soviet Intelligence Services abroad. Krivitsky mentioned that the Fourth Department was prepared in some instances to wait for ten or fifteen years for results and in some cases paid the expenses of a university education for promising young men in the hope that they might eventually obtain diplomatic posts or other key positions in the service of the country of which they were nationals."
Krivitsky told Archer about the Soviet spy who was a "a Scotsman of good family, educated at Eton and Oxford, and an idealist who worked for the Russians without payment" from a "very good family". He added that he believed Theodore Maly and Arnold Deutsch ran the source. However, both men had returned to the Soviet Union. Krivitsky claimed that the agent who worked in the Foreign Office was "ideological". Verne W. Newton, the author of Cambridge Spies: Untold Story of Maclean, Philby and Burgess in America (1991), has argued that only six to eight university graduates passed the Foreign Office entrance exam each year and that it should have been possible for MI5 to discover the name of the agent, Donald Maclean.
Krivitsky also pointed out that Theodore Maly also ran a young English aristocrat, who was a journalist who had working for a British newspaper during the Spanish Civil War. This man was a friend of the agent in the Foreign Office. Maly apparently sent this agent to Spain with the orders to assassinate General Francisco Franco. Some experts such as Gary Kern have argued that the information given by Krivitsky should have led to the arrest of Maclean's friend, Kim Philby.
Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has defended Archer's reputation. "Her interrogation of the Russian defector Walter Krivitsky, early in 1940, was a model of its kind the first really professional debriefing of a Soviet intelligence officer on either side of the Atlantic. In November 1940, however, she was sacked after denouncing the incompetence of Kell's successor as director, Jasper Harker." Although Guy Liddell believed that Archer "had unfortunately gone too far" Oswald Harker was to blame because "but for his incompetence, the situation would never have arisen, and he had, moreover, over a period of many years, encouraged frank criticism from Jane Archer."
Gordon Brook-Shepherd, the author of The Storm Petrels: The Flight of the First Soviet Defectors (1977) has suggested that Krivitsky gave MI5 the names of almost one hundred Soviet agents operating throughout the world, sixty-one of whom were located in the United Kingdom or working against its interests elsewhere. "They included sprinklings of Poles, Indians, Czechs and other foreign nationalities. But sixteen of those suspected spies were British subjects, and the names on this part of Krivitsky's list included eight people active in politics and the trade unions, six in the civil service and two in journalism. Only about half of all the names produced by Krivitsky were new to the British authorities. The other half were already on watchlists."
Jane Archer reported that "Krivitsky believed that there is no reason why Stalin should not continue in power for a long time, using his present methods of purges to rid himself of the enemies. A defeat, however, from a foreign enemy can cause his downfall.... Krivitsky has a burning conviction that if any freedom is to continue to exist in Europe, and the Russian people freed from endless tyranny, Stalin must be overthrown. He feels it is his duty to humanity and the Russian people to fight against Stalin by any means in his power."
On his return to New York City Krivitsky found a small apartment at 36 West Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, moved in the family and enrolled his son in a local school. He took out citizenship papers, bought furniture for the apartment and applied for a New York driving license. His friend, David Shub, claimed that Krivitsky's greatest fear was for the safety of his wife and son: "Krivitsky was not worried about his own skin, which he had risked many times, but he was tormented by the thought of what might happen to those closest to him."
Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004), pointed out that he suffered from guilt about the things that he had done in the past: "Guilt for the agent he had personally executed without knowing for certain whether he was a traitor; guilt for the comrades he had caused to be executed or had impersonally processed at one stage in their doom; guilt for those he had not tried to save, knowing them innocent of the charges against them, not knowing that any attempt to defend them would only doom himself; guilt for the idealism he had recruited into the service, into the killing machine that eventually ground them up and spat them out as enemies of the people... And yet he was innocent too. All he had wanted was a better world, a world without inequality and oppression."
On 7th January, 1941, Paul Wohl contacted Suzanne La Follette and told her to inform Krivitsky that he had seen Hans Brusse in New York City. He added the comment: "I want him (Krivitsky) to remain alive to envy the fate of Medusa for having been allowed to die at the sight of her own image." Wohl later told the FBI that he had seen the tall Dutchman was wearing a European overcoat, grayish-green with raglan sleeves, and carrying a dark brown leather briefcase. When he heard the news, Krivitsky became convinced that Brusse was in the country to organize his assassination. Krivitsky told his lawyer, Louis Waldman: "Mr. Waldman, it is now finished. I am a dead man. Hans never misses."
Krivitsky went to see Angelica Balabanoff, the former secretary of the Comintern. Balabanoff found working with Lenin very difficult. According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "He (Lenin) tried in vain to accustom her to his single moral, or amoral, principle, that the means justifies the end, the end for the moment being the seizing, holding, and extension of power in width and depth. She watched with horror old socialists who had given their lives for "the cause" slandered, put back into the same jails the tsar had used, censored more ruthlessly and efficiently, silenced, destroyed." Balabanoff was especially upset by the way the rebelling sailors were dealt with at Kronstadt and in 1922 she left the Soviet Union. She eventually moved to the United States. Krivitsky told Balabanoff that "if you read in a newspaper that I committed suicide, you must know that I was suicided."
On Thursday 6th February, 1941, Krivitsky visited Eitel Wolf Dobert on his 90-acre farm in Barboursville, about 15 miles north of Charlottesville. The Doberts moved into a two-room log cabin and decided to raise chickens. Margarita later recalled: "My God, it was hard! We nearly starved. When we made $50 a month it was a great month." Krivitsky told Dobert he planned to buy a farm in Virginia.
Soon after arriving Krivitsky purchased a .38 caliber Colt automatic pistol and cartridges at the Charlottesville Hardware store. On his return to the farm he and Dobert began target practice. By 8th February he had run out of ammunition. Margarita Dobert later commented: "On Saturday he asked me to drive to town and buy 150 cartridges for the gun."
On Sunday 9th February, Krivitsky checked into the Bellevue Hotel in Washington at 5:49 p.m. He paid $2.50 in advance for the room and signed his name in the register as Walter Poref. The desk clerk, Joseph Donnelly, described him afterwards as nervous and trembling. At 6:30, he called down for a bottle of Vichy sparkling water. The bellboy considered him a typical foreigner - "quiet and solemn".
The young maid, Thelma Jackson, knocked on Krivitsky's room at 9.30. When she did not receive an answer she assumed the room was free for cleaning and inserted her passkey. She opened the door and discovered a man lying on the bed the wrong way round, with his head toward the foot. She noticed he had "blood all over his head". The police were called and Sergeant Dewey Guest diagnosed the case as an obvious suicide. Coroner MacDonald issued a certificate of suicide that afternoon.
Krivitsky left behind three suicide notes, each one in a different language known to him (English, German and Russian). Police handwriting expert, Ira Gullickson, was shown the notes found with the body and declared that they were without any question written by the man who signed the hotel register. Gullickson argued that the notes were written on different times, because they showed an increase in nervous tension.
The first letter, in English, was addressed to Louis Waldman: "Dear Mr. Waldman: My wife and my boy will need your help. Please do for them what you can. I went to Virginia because that there I can get a gun. If my friends should have trouble please Mr. Waldman help them, they are good people and they didn't know why I bought the gun. Many thanks."
The second suicide note, in German, was addressed to Suzanne La Follette: "Dear Suzanne: I believe you that you are good, and I am dying with the hope that you will help Tonia and my poor boy. You were a good friend." This letter raised several issues. It is true that in the early days of their relationship he did write in German because his English was poor. However, in recent letters, he had used English.
The third letter was to his wife, Antonina Porfirieva: "Dear Tonia and dear Alek. Very difficult and very much want to live but I can't live any longer. I love you my only ones. It's difficult for me to write but think about me and you will understand that I have to go. Don't tell Alek yet where his father has gone. I believe that in time you will explain since it will be good for him. Forgive difficult to write. Take care of him and be a good mother - as always be strong and never get angry at him. He is after all such a such a good and such a poor boy. Good people will help you but not enemies of the Soviet people. Great are my sins I think. I see you Tonia and Alek and embrace you."
Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) claims that two sentences in this letter cause certain problems: "Good people will help you but not enemies of the Soviet people. Great are my sins I think." He goes on to argue: "These two statements have the look of a political recantation and, as such, suggest either a mental breakdown or something dictated by the NKVD."
On hearing of Krivitsky's death, his lawyer, Louis Waldman, called a press conference and announced that he had been murdered by the NKVD and named the killer as Hans Brusse. (1) An NKVD agent (Hans Brusse) who had twice before tried to trap Krivitsky had appeared in New York City, where Krivitsky lived. (2) Krivitsky planned to buy a farm in Virginia, thus he intended to live. He had changed his name, applied for citizenship, bought a car. (3) The NKVD was expert in forgery and had samples of Krivitsky's hand in every language.
At the White House, Adolf Berle, President Roosevelt's advisor on national security wrote in his diary: "General Krivitsky was murdered in Washington today. This is an OGPU job. It means that the murder squad which operated so handily in Paris and in Berlin is now operating in New York and Washington." Joseph Brown Matthews, who was an investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, commented: "It's murder. I have no doubt of it." New York Times reported that Krivitsky had told them: "If they ever try to prove that I took my own life, don't believe them."
One of the most surprising aspects of the case was that rooms on both sides of Krivitsky had been occupied. So had the rooms across the hall. In the past, guests had often complained about noises in the room next to them because of the thinness of the walls. However, no one heard gunfire in the quiet early morning hours when the suicide had taken place. The gun found in Krivitsky's room did not have a silencer.
The Washington Post argued: "All in all, it would seem that the Washington police and coroner disposed of the case in rather summary fashion... The whole thing looks like a pretty careless piece of work." Frank Waldrop of The Washington Times-Herald ridiculed the police investigation: "Anybody'd rather be a second-guessing citizen than Chief of Police Ernest W. Brown, with such a staff of lunkheads to do the field work in homicide matters." However The Daily Worker disagreed: "The capitalist press is desperately trying to make a frame-up murder case out of what is clearly established in the suicide of General Walter Krivitsky."
Alexander Kerensky believed Hans Brusse had murdered Krivitsky: "Hans Brusse is the man. The most vicious murderer in all the Soviet. We know him. We know his methods. His favourite tactic is to drive a man to suicide by threatening to capture and torture his family. It has been done many times in many countries. I believe Krivitsky got a concrete warning recently that they would kill him or kidnap his family. That is their favourite plan of operation. Krivitsky had a burning mission to expose Stalin for what he is. And in my opinion he was not the type to commit suicide."
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." Martin Dies, Isaac Don Levine and Suzanne La Follette all believed Krivitsky was murdered.
However, Eitel Wolf Dobert, told reporters that Krivitsky seemed very worried and probably had committed suicide. He also thought that Krivitsky had written his suicide notes the last night that he stayed on his farm. Mark Zborowski, who was later exposed as a NKVD agent who had been involved in the death of Lev Sedov, also believed Krivitsky committed suicide. He told David Dallin: "He was a neurasthenic and a paranoiac, eternally in fear of assassination. He felt that he was a traitor. As a Communist, he did not have the right to do what he was doig. He had days of high spirits and days of dejection."
Paul Wohl also disagreed he had been murdered. He said: "When we lived together, he often talked of suicide." Wohl also dismissed the idea that Hans Brusse killed Krivitsky. He claimed that although he was a Soviet agent he was not the type "to be assigned to assassinations, but rather a technician". Gary Kern, the author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) has pointed out: "If Hans were so innocuous, one has to wonder, then why had Wohl sent his letter of warning to Krivitsky in the first place... And if he were not an assassin, but a technician, then what was he doing in America on a political assignment? And how did Wohl, a private citizen, know about any of these things?"
Jan Valtin, a former NKVD agent also took the view that Krivitsky was murdered. He said the NKVD liquidated people on foreign soil for three main reasons: "(1) To silence someone with secrets who might talk, has talked or will go on talking. (2) To eliminate someone who could be an asset to foreign intelligence services. (3) To wreak vengeance on someone who tried to break away from the Soviet Secret Service and thus to demonstrate an ability to prosecute defectors anywhere in the world, with the consequent chilling effect on potential defectors still in the service."
Another former agent, Hede Gumperz, also explained how they would have arranged his death. "The only possible lever they could have tried to use against him was his family - threatening to kill his wife and son, and promising to spare their lives only if he took his. But Krivitsky would have known with absolute certainty that, even if the threats were serious, the promises were not. After all, he himself, as a senior officer in the same service, had seen so many promises of clemency which had been made in the name of Stalin cynically broken the moment their aim was achieved."
Krivitsky's wife, Antonina Porfirieva, believed it was a forced suicide. The main clue came from his letter: "Very difficult and very much want to live but I can't live any longer. I love you my only ones. It's difficult for me to write but think about me and you will understand that I have to go." Antonina, who had worked for the NKVD and knew about the methods they used: "I am convinced that my husband was forced to write the notes he left behind... Walter had utter contempt for suicide and would have never killed himself willingly. They forced him to write those notes and then they forced him to kill himself. He made a deal with them to save me and our boy."
Louis Waldman campaigned for the FBI to treat the case as murder. "The issue is much deeper than the discovery of whether the general's death was the result of murder or suicide... When one considers that General Krivitsky was a witness, giving valuable information as to foreign espionage in our own country to a legislative committee, to the State Department, and to the FBI itself, then in my opinion, there is the clear duty of the FBI to track down those malevolent forces which were responsible for his death."
Waldman told the FBI that he had evidence that Hans Brusse was the killer. When the FBI reopen the case he went to the press with his evidence. Recently released documents show that in March 1941 a certain Lee Y. Chertok, a Russian living in the United States, claimed to have information on the killers of Krivitsky. J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo telling the FBI not to follow up this evidence: "The Bureau is not interested in determining whether Krivitsky was murdered or whether he committed suicide."
Gary Kern has attempted to examine all the FBI documents that referred to the death of Walter Krivitsky. He found a letter sent by Hoover to Allen Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency on 16th December, 1955 that included the following: "All data regarding Krivitsky's movements during the period immediately preceding his death and the identities of various persons associated in one way or another with him were furnished to the Central Intelligence Agency under date of June 12, 1952, by memorandum regarding... (long deleted passage) Eitel Wolf Dobert, with eleven investigative reports in the case entitled (deleted) and others."
On 19th June, 1956, James Angleton and Richard Helms had a meeting to discuss the death of Walter Krivitsky. Kern points out that all of their conversation is withheld from the public, in part for reasons of national security. "An appeal of this decision to the FBI brought the reply that the material in question was classified by the CIA and one should appeal to this agency. An appeal to the CIA brought the reply that the document was generated by the FBI and one should appeal to that agency. Thus the memo falls between two chairs, and the nation remains safe and secure."