The KGB papers - 'It seemed like the entire country was for sale'

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 25.09.05
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During Indira Gandhi’s first visit to the Soviet Union in 1953, the Second Chief Directorate surrounded her with male admirers; in an attempt to discredit S.K. Patil (top), KGB’s Yuri Modin circulated a forged letter from the US consul-general in Bombay to the American ambassador in New Delhi referring to Patil’s ‘political intrigues with the Pakistanis’ and to the large American subsidies supposedly given to him

Neither (Jawaharlal) Nehru nor the IB (Intelligence Bureau), however, realised how thoroughly the Indian embassy in Moscow was being penetrated by the KGB, using its usual varieties of the honey trap. The Indian diplomat PRO-KHOR was recruited, probably in the early 1950s, with the help of a female swallow, codenamed NEVEROVA, who presumably seduced him. The KGB was clearly pleased with the material which PRO-KHOR provided, which included on two occasions the embassy code book and reciphering tables, since in 1954 it increased his monthly payments from 1,000 to 4,000 rupees. Another Indian diplomat, RADAR, was recruited in 1956, also with the assistance of a swallow, who on this occasion claimed (probably falsely) to be pregnant. A third KGB swallow persuaded a cipher clerk in the Indian embassy, ARTUR, to go heavily into debt in order to make it easier to compromise him. He was recruited as an agent in 1957 after being trapped (probably in illegal currency dealing) by a KGB officer posing as a black-marketeer. As a result of these and other penetrations of the embassy, Soviet codebreakers were probably able to decrypt substantial numbers of Indian diplomatic communications.

As KGB operations in India expanded during the 1950s and 1960s, the Centre (headquarters of the KGB) seems to have discovered the extent of the IB’s previous penetration of the CPI... By the 1960s KGB penetration of the Indian intelligence community and other parts of its official bureaucracy had enabled it to turn the tables on the IB. After the KGB became the main conduit for both money and secret communications from Moscow, high-level IB penetration of the CPI became much more difficult. As in other Communist parties, this secret channel was known only to a small inner circle within the leadership. In 1959 the PCI (sic) General Secretary, Ajoy Gosh (sic), agreed with the Delhi residency on plans to found an import-export business for trade with the Soviet bloc, headed by a senior Party member codenamed DED, whose profits would be creamed off for party funds. Within little more than a decade its annual profits had grown to over 3 million rupees. The Soviet news agency Novosti provided further subsidies by routinely paying the CPI publishing house at a rate 50 per cent above its normal charges.

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The KGB’s first contact with Indira Gandhi had occurred during her first visit to the Soviet Union a few months after Stalin’s death in 1953. As well as keeping her under continuous surveillance, the Second Chief Directorate also surrounded her with handsome, attentive male admirers. Unaware of the orchestration of her welcome by the KGB, Indira was overwhelmed by the attentions lavished on her. Though she did not mention the male admirers in letters to her father, she wrote to him, “Everybody ? the Russians ? have been so sweet to me... I am being treated like everybody’s only daughter ? I shall be horribly spoilt by the time I leave. Nobody has ever been so nice to me.” Indira wrote of a holiday arranged for her on the Black Sea, “I don’t think I have had such a holiday for years.” Later in Leningrad, she told Nehru that she was “wallowing in luxury”. Two years later Indira accompanied her father on his first official visit to the Soviet Union. Like Nehru, she was visibly impressed by the apparent successes of Soviet planning and economic modernization exhibited to them in carefully stage-managed visits to Russian factories. During her trip, Khrushchev presented her with a mink coat which became one of the favourite items in her wardrobe ? despite the fact that a few years earlier she had criticized the female Indian ambassador in Moscow for accepting a similar gift.

Soviet attempts to cultivate Indira Gandhi during the 1950s were motivated far more by the desire to influence her father than by any awareness of her own political potential. Like both the Congress Syndicate and the CPI, Moscow still underestimated her when she became Prime Minister. During her early appearances in parliament, Mrs Gandhi seemed tongue-tied and unable to think on her feet. The insulting nickname coined by a socialist MP, ‘Dumb Doll’, began to stick. Moscow’s strategy during 1966 for the Indian elections in the following year was based on encouraging the CPI and the breakaway Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPM) to join together in a left-wing alliance to oppose Mrs Gandhi and the Congress government. As well as subsidizing the CPI and some other left-wing groups during the 1967 election campaign, the KGB also funded the campaigns of several agents and confidential contacts within Congress. The most senior agent identified in the files noted by Mitrokhin was a minister codenamed ABAD, who was regarded by the KGB as “extremely influential”.

During the election campaign, the KGB also made considerable use of active measures, many of them based on forged American documents produced by Service A. An agent in the information department of the US embassy in New Delhi, codenamed MIKHAIL, provided examples of documents and samples of signatures to assist in the production of convincing forgeries. Among the operations officers who publicized the forgeries produced for the 1967 election campaign was Yuri Modin, former controller of the Cambridge ‘Magnificent Five’. In an attempt to discredit S.K. Patil, one of the leading anti-Communists in the Congress Syndicate, Modin circulated a forged letter from the US consul-general in Bombay to the American ambassador in New Delhi referring to Patil’s “political intrigues with the Pakistanis” and to the large American subsidies supposedly given to him. Though Patil was one of the most senior Congress politicians defeated at the election, it remains difficult to assess how much his defeat owed to KGB active measures.

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Oleg Kalugin, who became head of FCD (First Chief ? Foreign Intelligence ? Directorate) Directorate K (Counter-Intelligence) in 1973, remembers India as ‘a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government’: “We had scores of sources throughout the Indian government ? in intelligence, counter-intelligence, the Defence and Foreign Ministries and the police. In 1978 Directorate K, whose responsibilities included the penetration of foreign intelligence and security agencies, was running, through Line KR in the Indian residencies, over thirty agents ? ten of whom were Indian intelligence officers. Kalugin recalls one occasion on which Andropov personally turned down an offer from an Indian minister to provide information in return for $50,000 on the grounds that the KGB was already well supplied with material from the Indian Foreign and Defence Ministries: “It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB ? and the CIA ? had deeply penetrated the Indian government. After a while neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realizing their enemy would know all about it the next day.”

The KGB, in Kalugin’s view, was more successful than the CIA, partly because of its skill in exploiting the corruption which became endemic under Indira Gandhi’s regime. As Inder Malhotra noted, though corruption was not new in India:

People expected Indira Gandhi’s party, committed to bringing socialism to the country, to be more honest and cleaner than the old undivided Congress. But this turned out to be a vain hope. On the contrary, compared with the amassing of wealth by some of her close associates, the misdeeds of the discarded Syndicate leaders, once looked upon as godfathers of corrupt Congressmen, began to appear trivial.

Suitcases full of banknotes were said to be routinely taken to the Prime Minister’s house. Former Syndicate member S.K. Patil is reported to have said that Mrs Gandhi did not even return the suitcases.

The Prime Minister is unlikely to have paid close attention to the dubious origins of some of the funds which went into Congress’s coffers. That was a matter which she left largely to her principal fundraiser, Lalit Narayan Mishra, who ? though she doubtless did not realize it ? also accepted Soviet money. On at least one occasion a secret gift of 2 million rupees from the Politburo to Congress (R) was personally delivered after midnight by the head of Line PR in New Delhi, Leonid Shebarshin. Another million rupees were given on the same occasion to a newspaper which supported Mrs Gandhi.

The spy who came in from the cold

Vasili Mitrokhin

The revelations about how the Russians allegedly consolidated their spying network in India, especially under Indira Gandhi, are apparently based on files amounting to 25,000 pages brought out by Vasili Nikitch Mitrokhin, a senior KGB archivist, when he defected to Britain in 1992.

The reader has to rely on accurate note taking by Mitrokhin, as well as place faith in Christopher Andrew, recognised as a leading historian on the KGB but not necessarily on India which he has yet to visit. Before the books were published, they were vetted by a British government security committee.

How come the KGB failed to detect one of their archivists was copying documents over a 10-year-period or that he hid them undetected under his own house? Why have his documents been made available? Since in the world of spies, nothing is ever as is made out to be, a wise approach is always to be sceptical. The explanation being given is as follows: Mitrokhin defected for the noblest of reasons. He decided that the Soviet system was utterly corrupt, especially after the invasion of Prague. Hence, he handed over six boxfuls of documents to Britain, insisting they be published so that the whole world could see just how rotten to the core the Soviet system was.

Mitrokhin, the son of a decorator, was born on March 3, 1922, in Yurasovo in Ryazan oblast (province), and died in Britain, aged 81, on January 23, 2004. He missed the deep forests of Russia and would go for long walks, especially after his wife, Nina, died in 1999.

While the Russians have tried to downplay Mitrokhin’s importance, Baroness Jay, then Leader of the House of Lords, told the upper chamber on June 13, 2000: “Mr Mitrokhin’s information is uniquely valuable. Its authenticity has been proved beyond doubt.”
Andrew, who is also president of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, does not seem unduly bothered by the threat to take him and his book to court. “Can it really be the case that the CPI is claiming it never took money from Moscow delivered by the KGB?” he wonders. “In that case the foreign scholars who’ve used the files of the CPSU International Department must have fallen for some terrible forgeries. Admittedly very few in foreign communist parties knew about the ‘Moscow gold’.”

What they said

“We survive
on people’s money. I have never smelt roubles”

A.B. Bardhan
CPI party general secretary, quoted in
The Times of India

“We have never taken any assistance from the KGB or any foreign organisation in the past, neither would we ever do that in future”

Anil Biswas
CPI(M) politburo member, quoted in yahoo.com

L.N. Mishra was never the treasurer of the party and those days money came in “bundles not suitcases”

R.K. Dhawan
Indira Gandhi’s former private secretary,
quoted in DNA

“It would be frivolous to see the entire stretch of the historic Indo-Soviet relations as the handiwork of a bunch of Soviet spies”

Jayanthi Natarajan
Congress party
spokesperson, quoted in The Times of India