Victor Sheymov, among Cold War’s most important KGB defectors, dies at 73

Victor SheymovVictor Ivanovich Sheymov, who is often referred to as one of the most important intelligence defectors of the Cold War, has reportedly died in the American state of Virginia. He was one of the most senior officials in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security (KGB) to ever defect to the West, and revealed important KGB secrets to the United States.

Sheymov was born in 1946 to a family of elite Soviet scientists. His father was an engineer and his mother a doctor specializing in cardiology. A gifted mathematician and student-athlete, Sheymov was recruited into the KGB almost as soon as he graduated from the elite Bauman Moscow State Technical University, where he majored in engineering. By his early 30s, Sheymov had risen to the rank of major under the KGB’s Eighth Chief Directorate, which handled secret communications systems. He oversaw a large unit that monitored the flow of information between the KGB’s headquarters and the agency’s operatives around the world. In later years, Sheymov was assigned code-breaking and counter-espionage tasks, and oversaw the preparation of daily classified briefings for the Politburo —the Communist Party’s highest policy-making body.

But in the 1970s Sheymov grew disillusioned with Soviet politics, and began to feel slighted by the infighting and incompetence inside the KGB. While visiting Poland on KGB business, he volunteered his services to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by walking into the US embassy in Warsaw. The CIA eventually gave him the cryptonym CKUTOPIA and, after verifying his senior status inside the KGB, exfiltrated him to the United States along with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. His was the first known instance of a successful CIA exfiltration of a defector from Soviet territory.

After spending several months being debriefed and polygraphed at a CIA safe house, Sheymov and his family were given new identities and US citizenship. But the defector decided to emerge from hiding in 1990, as the USSR was dissolving. In his book about his espionage work and defection, titled Tower of Secrets, Sheymov said he informed the CIA about the KGB’s unsuccessful plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and about the successful operation to assassinate Afghan President Hafizullah Amin in 1979. His insights were also instrumental in the decision of the US State Department to demolish the US embassy in Moscow, due to fears about the presence of listening devices planted inside the building’s walls by Soviet builders. The building was eventually replaced with another structure built by vetted American workers.

Sheymov was awarded the US Intelligence Medal and lived the rest of his life in America, where he headed a computer security company. He died on October 18 in Vienna, Virginia, but his death was not publicly reported until this week. Sheymov’s wife told reporters that he died from health complications arising from chronic pulmonary disease.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 December 2019 | Permalink

Australian police offer reward for information about murder of ex-KGB colonel

Gennadi BernovskiPolice in the Australian state of Queensland have offered a $250,000 (US $182,000) reward for information that can help solve the murder of a former Soviet KGB colonel 18 years ago. The victim, Gennadi Bernovski, worked in the domestic wing of the Soviet KGB, until his retirement, which coincided with the dissolution of the USSR. In 1996, he moved to Australia with his family and bought a house in Benowa Waters, a luxury suburb of Gold Coast, a city located south of Brisbane on the country’s east coast. But on the evening of July 24, 2000, Bernovski was shot to death outside his home by what witnesses said were two men in combat diver suits. They reportedly opened fire on Bernovski with a semi-automatic weapon, wounding him fatally in the stomach. He was dead within a few minutes. It is believed that the assailants sailed to Bernovski’s waterfront property on an inflatable boat, or swam there, having first sailed to the nearby seaside.

Since Bernovski’s murder, Australian authorities have refused to answer questions about how the former KGB colonel came to settle in the country, and whether he was given political asylum by the Australian government. They have also refused to answer questions relating to Bernovski’s citizenship at the time of his murder. Some reports have pointed out that he was an Australian citizen when he was murdered. Furthermore, little is known about his financial status or sources of income, though it is believed that he had access to “multiple bank accounts in Russia and Australia”. On Thursday, spokespersons for the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police Department refused to provide information on the investigators’ current working hypothesis about who might have been responsible for Bernovski’s murder. They were also asked whether some family members of the late former KGB officer continue to reside in Australia under assumed names, but declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of the Australian Attorney-General said that the new reward offer was aimed at “cracking a cold case”, which is a routine police practice for unsolved crimes. She did not comment, however, on media speculation that police sought to interview another Russian national, Oleg Kouzmine, who was living in Gold Coast during the time of Bernovski’s murder. According to reports, Kouzmine is now living in another country, which means that Australian authorities would need to seek the cooperation of a foreign law enforcement agency in order to gain access to him. However, the Attorney-General Department spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday that, “as a matter of longstanding practice, the Australian government does not confirm whether it has made a request for assistance to a foreign country in a criminal matter”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 November 2018 | Permalink

Book alleges 1980s British Labour Party leader was Soviet agent

Michael FootThe leadership of the Labour Party in Britain has reacted with disdain after a new book by a leading author and columnist claimed that Michael Foot, who led the Party in the early 1980s was paid agent of the Soviet KGB. Foot, a staunch and vocal representative of the postwar British left, was a member of parliament for over 40 years, eventually serving as leader of the House of Commons. He rose to the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party and in 1980 succeeded Jim Callahan as head of the Party. But he stepped down in 1983 in the aftermath of Labour’s largest electoral defeat in over half a century.

Two years later, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky, a colonel in the Soviet KGB, defected to Britain and disclosed that he had been a double spy for the British from 1974 until his defection. In 1995, Gordievsky chronicled his years as a KGB officer and his espionage for Britain in a memoir, entitled Next Stop Execution. The book was abridged and serialized in the London-based Times newspaper. In it, Gordievsky claimed that Foot had been a Soviet “agent of influence” and was codenamed “Agent BOOT” by the KGB. Foot proceeded to sue The Times for libel, after the paper published a leading article headlined “KGB: Michael Foot was our agent”. The Labour Party politician won the lawsuit and was awarded financial restitution from the paper.

This past week, however, the allegations about Foot’s connections with Soviet intelligence resurfaced with the publication of The Spy and the Traitor, a new book chronicling the life and exploits of Gordievsky. In the book, Times columnist and author Ben Macintyre alleges that Gordievsky’s 1995 allegations about Foot were accurate and that Gordievsky passed them on to British intelligence before openly defecting to Britain. According to Macintyre, Gordievsky briefed Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, a senior civil servant and cabinet secretary to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Lord Armstrong, a well-connected veteran of British politics, in turn communicated the information to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the summer of 1982, says Macintyre. The Times columnist alleges that MI6 received specific information from Lord Armstrong, according to which Foot had been in contact with the KGB for years and that he had been paid the equivalent of £37,000 ($49,000) in today’s money for his services. The spy agency eventually determined that Foot may not himself have been conscious that the Soviets were using him as an agent of influence. But MI6 officials viewed Gordievsky’s allegations significant enough to justify a warning given to Queen Elizabeth II, in case the Labour Party won the 1983 general election and Foot became Britain’s prime minister.

The latest allegations prompted a barrage of strong condemnations from current and former officials of the Labour Party. Its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who like Foot also comes from the left of the Party, denounced Macintyre for “smearing a dead man, who successfully defended himself [against the same allegations] when he was alive”. Labour’s deputy leader, John McDonnell, criticized The Times for “debasing [the] standards of journalism in this country. They used to be called the gutter press. Now they inhabit the sewers”, he said. Neil Kinnock, who succeeded Foot in the leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, said Macintyre’s allegations were “filthy” and described Foot as a “passionate and continual critic of the Soviet Union”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2018 | Permalink

Canada seeks to take away passports from children of Russian spies

Vavilov FoleyTwo Canadian brothers, whose Russian-born parents fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for spying on the United States for Moscow, are not entitled to Canadian citizenship, according to the government of Canada. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES, a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following the couple’s arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

But the two brothers, who had never been to Russia prior to their parents’ arrest in 2010, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to keep their Canadian citizenship, after the government of Canada refused to recognize their Canadian passports. The latter were annulled when it became clear that the Canadian passports of the brothers’ parents were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they say, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes, and insist that Canada is the only home they know.

Last year, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. According to the Appeals Court, the Vavilov could not be considered as having been born to employees of a foreign government, since his parents were not accredited diplomats, nor did they enjoy diplomatic privileges while living in Canada. Since that time, the two brothers have had their Canadian passports renewed and say they hope to be able to settle and work in Canada. But the Canadian government was given until September 20 of this year to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, and take the case to the Supreme Court.

Now the Canadian government has filed a new court submission, effectively challenging the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision. It its submission, the government claims that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”. Canada’s Supreme Court has said that it plans to hear the case before the end of the year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2018 | Permalink

Cold-War-era Soviet spy George Blake issues rare statement from Moscow

George BlakeOne of the Cold War’s most recognizable spy figures, George Blake, who escaped to the Soviet Union after betraying British intelligence, issued a rare statement last week, praising the successor agency to Soviet-era KGB. Blake was born George Behar in Rotterdam, Holland, to a Dutch mother and a British father. Having fought with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, he escaped to Britain, where he joined the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, in 1944. He was serving in a British diplomatic post in Korea in 1950, when he was captured by advancing North Korean troops and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. He was eventually freed, but, unbeknownst to MI6, had become a communist and come in contact with the Soviet KGB while in captivity. Blake remained in the service of the KGB as a defector-in-place until 1961, when he was arrested and tried for espionage.

After a mostly closed-door trial, Blake was sentenced to 42 years in prison, which at that time was the longest prison sentence ever imposed in Britain. However, he managed to escape in 1966, with the help of Irish republican prisoners in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison, where he was serving his sentence. With the help of Soviet intelligence, Blake made his way to France and from there to Germany and East Berlin, hiding inside a wooden box in the back of a delivery van. He eventually resurfaced in Moscow, where he has lived ever since, in a small, government-provided dacha (Russian cottage) located on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

Last Friday, Blake issued a statement on the eve of his 95th birthday. The statement was posted on the SVR’s official website and published by several Russian news agencies. The convicted spy said that he placed his hopes for the peace of mankind on the “men and women” of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service —the main institutional descendant of the Soviet KGB. Blake praised the SVR’s officers as “heroes” who are engaged in “a true battle between good and evil” at a time when “the danger of nuclear war and the resulting self-destruction of humankind” is a real threat. The spy added that the prospect of nuclear annihilation has been “put on the agenda by irresponsible politicians”, in what Russian news agencies interpreted as a comment that was directed against United States President Donald Trump.

The end of Blake’s statement is followed by a second statement, written by the Director of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin. Naryshkin, who was appointed to his current post by Russian President Vladimir Putin a year ago, congratulates Blake on his 95th birthday and calls him a “reliable old comrade” and “a man of great wisdom”. Blake is “a proficient teacher”, says  Naryshkin, who has been a longtime role model for the officers of the SVR.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2017 | Permalink

Secret documents passed to the KGB by Kim Philby displayed in Moscow

Kim PhilbyThe life of Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most recognizable espionage figures, is the subject of a new exhibition that opened last week in Moscow. Items displayed at the exhibition include secret documents stolen by Philby and passed to his Soviet handlers during his three decades in the service of Soviet intelligence. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War.

Now a new exhibition in Moscow has put on display some of Philby’s personal belongings, as well as a fraction of the many classified documents he passed on to his Soviet handlers during his 30 years of espionage. Entitled “Kim Philby: His Intelligence Work and Personal Life”, the exhibition is organized by the Russian Historical Society. The majority of the new documents appear to date from 1944, by which time Philby had been working for the NKVD for over a decade. Some of the documents are cables sent by Italian, Japanese or German diplomats prior to and during World War II, which were intercepted by British intelligence. Copies of some of these intercepts, which Philby passed to Moscow, are displayed in the exhibition. One document clearly bears the English-language warning: “Top Secret. To be kept under lock and key: never to be removed from this office”. Another document appears to be part of a report that Philby produced after teaching a seminar for KGB intelligence officers about how to operate in the West. It is dated 1982, by which time Philby had been living in Russia for nearly two decades.

Philby died in the Soviet capital in 1988, aged 76, and was survived by his fourth wife, Rufina Ivanovna Pukhova, whom he met after he defected to the USSR. Pukhova attended the opening of the exhibition in Moscow last week, as did over a dozen of Philby’s students at the former KGB. Russian media reported that the director and several officials of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the KGB’s successor agencies, were also present during the official opening of the exhibition.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 September 2017 | Permalink

Sons of exposed Russian deep-cover spies want their Canadian citizenship back

FoleyThe sons of a Russian couple, who fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for espionage in the United States, are seeking to reinstate their Canadian citizenship, which was annulled when their parents were found to be Russian spies. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES —a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following their arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

The two boys were at the family’s home in suburban Cambridge, MA, on Sunday, June 27, 2010, when FBI agents conducted coordinated raids across New England, arresting their parents and eight more Russian ‘illegals’. The term is used to signify Russian non-official-cover operatives, namely intelligence officers who operate abroad without diplomatic cover and typically without connection to the country they spy for. It is now believed that Bezrukov and Vavilova were recruited as a couple in the 1980s by the KGB’s Department S, which operated the agency’s ‘illegals’ program.

But the two brothers, who were born in Canada, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to have their Canadian citizenship reinstated. The latter was rescinded when it became clear that their parents’ Canadian passports were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they told Canada’s newsmagazine Maclean’s in August, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes.

This past June, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. Now the government has until September 20 to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court. If it does not, or if it upholds the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, it is thought that Alex’s brother, Tim, will also have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

But the case may be further-complicated by allegations made by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that Tim was aware of his parents’ espionage activities when they were arrested by the FBI. The CSIS claims that the two Russian spies had groomed Tim to enter the intelligence profession, and that the then-20-year-old had given an oath of allegiance to the SVR —the KGB’s post-Cold-War successor agency. But Tim Vavilov denies he was groomed or “sworn-in” by the Russians, and argues that he has never been presented with evidence of this allegation, even though his parents’ home in Massachusetts was bugged by the FBI for nearly a decade.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2017 | Permalink