Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Sword and The Shield

By: Christopher Andree, Vasilli Mitrokhin

 Narrated by : Robert Whitfield

Only historians and former secret service agents are likely to be enraptured by “The Sword and The Shield”.  The book is based on a detailed record kept by Vassilli Mitrokhin when he served as major and senior archivist for the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service. To a generalist, Mitrokhin’s detailed naming of names is mind numbing. 

Later chapters are more interesting than earlier chapters of “The Sword and The Shield” because they reveal details about motivation, interpretation, and consequence of spying during the cold war that have application to today’s American and Russian secret service.

What this and other recent histories imply to some is that international intelligence services rarely achieve objectives that are worth their costs. 

However, cost is of little concern to a national government that believes international intelligence service is critical to its survival. Modern Russia is as beholding to its intelligence service today as it was when Joseph Stalin ruled the U.S.S.R. It is suggested by the authors that Stalin successfully prepared for a hegemonic agreement (resisted by Churchill) at the end of WWII with the help of intelligence gathered by Russian spies about FDR’s secretly held intensions. There is little reason to believe Putin thinks any differently about secret intelligence on American Presidents with whom he deals. Putin, like Stalin, undoubtedly uses the Russian secret service to spy on personal beliefs and activities of America’s presidents, or as many suggest, imprison or murder Russian dissidents.

Based on current events and this book, an argument may be made that human and material cost of an American intelligence service is necessary because of Russia’s driven intent to remain a world power by any means necessary. In this era of nationalism, it seems unlikely Russia will ever become another union of independent eastern block nations. However, Russia intends to strengthen its position as a world power regardless of other nation’s concerns or interventions.

Despite Russia’s drive to maintain world power–to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s optimism “The arc of history and the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

Some argue we are entering a second cold war today. The questions is can we learn anything from secret service failures of the first cold war.  “The Sword and The Shield” details past successes and failures. The final chapter reflects on the power of intelligence service to influence the course of history. Today’s surveillance technology certainly magnifies the power of secret intelligence services. The question is–do today’s American and Russian secret services improve results or magnify mistakes?

Details of “The Sword and Shield” show paranoia, as well as realpolitik, led Stalin to create a network of spies. 

Stalin’s spy network’s duty is to reveal secrets held by the west and then bend public opinion to the will of Stalinist communism with the goal of expanding and controlling Socialist Republics within the U.S.S.R. 

The authors suggest Stalin’s paranoia leads him to believe all western nations and some leaders within the Soviet Bloc are in league to destroy or weaken his regime.  Churchill’s iron curtain speech confirms some elements of Stalin’s beliefs.  The authors note that classified foreign documents provided by Stalin’s network of spies is interpreted in ways that lead Stalin to imprison or murder many of his own citizens.  Stalin’s successful use of that information is evident in the brutality of his regime and his survival until death from a presumed heart attack.

The Stalinist Soviet Union perseveres at the expense of many innocent people. The author’s infer U.S.S.R. citizens appear to respect Stalin but fear imprisonment or murder by their paranoid leader. One wonders if Putin’s regime drinks from the same poisonous cup.

Andree/Mitrokhin’s history of the U.S.S.R.’s acquisition of the atom bomb reveals Americans and Brits who willingly provide classified documents that give Joseph Stalin plans for development of an atomic bomb.  The totalitarian Stalinist’ State steals English and American secrets by seducing scientists like Klaus Fuchs with propaganda that distorts and glorifies Stalinist communism.  If political persuasion did not work, Stalinist’ money is offered to both American and British scientists, political officials, and citizens to acquire government, science, personal, and social secrets. 

In listening to “The Sword and The Shield” it seems western economies are at the forefront of most initial scientific discoveries because of relative human freedom.  No amount of secret surveillance defeats human nature whether one lives in a democratic or totalitarian state.  Every nation has dissidents willing to betray their countries.

Putin once said on a “60 Minutes” interview–what he admired most about America is its innovation without seeming to understand that the heart of innovation is freedom

On the democratic side, Americans like the Rosenberg’s, and Aldrich Ames, became tools of the U.S.S.R. The Rosenberg’s reveal American nuclear research secrets, and Aldrich Ames offers the names of CIA agents to the U.S.S.R.   In England, Klaus Fuchs, Ray Mawbey, and the Cambridge Five (including Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald McClain, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross) feed critical science and intelligence information to the KGB.  During WWII, a Latin-American double agent, Juan Garcia, uses false reports to mislead Germany on the D Day invasion by Allied forces.

On the totalitarian side, the co-author of this book betrays his own country by revealing the names of the U.S.S.R’s secret service actors and their nefarious activities.  Mitrokhin also notes the betrayal of Russian electronic engineer, Adolph Tolkachev, who reveals secret military capabilities of the U.S.S.R. to the CIA.    

Adolf Tolkachev (1927-1986, CIA agent working in the U.S.S.R.)

This history of the KGB shows the dissemination of science is a force unto itself.   No amount of secret service effort is shown by Mitrokhin to protect or retard the advance of world-wide scientific research and understanding. Motives for spies range from patriotism to greed. 

Some scientist’s betray their country’s science discoveries for what they believe is a greater good, others betray their country to be paid thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars.

“The Sword and The Shield” shows how both patriots and enemies of the state are equal partners in trading scientific discoveries for either money, power, or prestige.  There is the obvious lure of money as evidenced by Ray Mawby who is paid 100 to 400 English pounds for details about English Parliament’ gossip.  For money, over a nine-year period, Aldrich Ames is paid nearly $3,000,000 by the Soviet Union for disclosing hundreds of American CIA agents.  For power and prestige, “The Sword and The Shield” notes Kim Philby coveted the title of general in the Soviet Union when he escaped England’s arrest for espionage. (Interestingly, Philby is denied the title or the pension that would have gone with it when he arrived in the Soviet Union.  Philby died 25 years after defecting to the Soviet Union.  Some say he became a disillusioned communist.)

It is more difficult to understand Klaus Fuch’s motivation.  He eschewed Russian money.  He was a nuclear scientist who seems to have preferred working in obscurity.  One presumes he believed in Stalin’s communist propaganda or divulged critical information on the atom bomb to serve what he believed was a “greater good”. 

Fuch’s may have revealed the secrets of the atom bomb to preserve balance of power, with the presumption that no rational human being would start a nuclear war.

Much of the last section of this long book recounts the history of Soviet Union’ secret service use of propaganda and misinformation to create turmoil in countries that are opposed to authoritarian communist beliefs.  Russian effort at influencing other countries domestic affairs with misinformation and lies is recounted in detail by “The Sword and The Shield”.  Attempts to destroy personal reputations, exploit democracy’s failures, and influence domestic elections during the cold war are detailed.  America’s recent elections suggest that policy is used by Russian secret intelligence today.

Alexander Litvinenko (Former Russian Intelligence agent accuses Vladmir Putin of ordering his assassination.)

Litvinenko died in London weeks after drinking tea that was later found to have been laced with the deadly radioactive compound polonium-210.

In completion of this tome about the KGB, some will be left with the thought that nothing much has changed.  The U.S.S.R. has become Russia, but its leader appears to use the same tactics as Stalin in punishing dissidents.  Accusations of murder and false imprisonment by Russia’s spy network continue to be reported in the western press.   Western countries continue to employ secret service organizations to undermine non-aligned authoritarian nations.  America, like Russia, has been accused of using torture, false imprisonment, and murder to further its political agenda.  What “The Sword and The Shield” ends with is a kind of warning. 

The dismantling of the U.S.S.R. has left few binding organizational consistencies in governance of its reformation as a nation-state.  The one system of governance that has survived the reformation is the Russian secret service.  It is no surprise that the longest serving government leader since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. is a former KGB trained officer.  Continuity and identity of a modern Russian state lies in its continued use of covert intelligence to retain its status as a world power.  The fear accompanying that realization is that secret service thought, action, and consequence is monumentally expanded and improved with the advance of surveillance technology. 

Rodney King (1965-2012, died at 57 from accidental drowning.)

Some wonder like Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police in 1992—when he said: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”.  The answer lies somewhere in the cloud of surveillance technology. 

As history is revealed in “The Sword and The Shield”, secret services imprison and murder the innocent as well as the guilty. With surveillance technology, the power of the sword is exponentially more dangerous.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: