11. THE ORLOV FILE
Edward Gazur, Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General. (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002)
Review by John Howard Wilhelm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
There are three things of note about Alexander Orlov. First, he was in all probability the father of Soviet intelligence operations in Europe. Second, he was without doubt the highest ranking person in Soviet intelligence ever to defect to the West. And third, the question of who or what Orlov was remains highly controversial.
The author, a retired FBI agent and the last US official assigned to the defector, was very close to Orlov and helped him prepare his memoirs. In addition, he had good access to classified and unclassified US government sources. He wrote the book because he was greatly troubled by another book on Orlov, "Deadly Illusions" (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993) whose authors, John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, made the astounding claim that Orlov's defection was fraudulent.
I too was troubled by this book. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, I was acquainted with Orlov during his stay there. So I knew that the book contained inaccurate information and biased judgements. For example, Orlov never lectured to students at Ann Arbor, while the fact that Orlov never ceased to admire Trotsky as well as Lenin and Bukharin can hardly be taken as evidence that he continued to work for Stalin's NKVD. And Orlov lived in constant fear to the very end: when I visited him in Cleveland after his wife's death, I saw a rifle on the twin bed next to Orlov's, and he assured me that it was loaded. Was it the FBI or the CIA that he feared?
Unlike Costello and Tsarev, Gazur has written an honest work. Of course that does not guarantee that it is free of error. Moreover, by the author's own admission there were some things that he was still not at liberty to divulge. However, in the absence of Orlov's own memoirs, which have yet to be made available, Gazur is our most reliable source on Orlov. Should the memoirs be published, I hope that it will be in full and that our intelligence establishment will not prevent this. I can see no basis on national security grounds for continuing to keep anything about Orlov secret.
One of the book's three main themes is Orlov's role in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Orlov was an early practitioner of guerrilla warfare: this was one of the reasons he was sent to Spain. There he played a key role in the stealing of Spain's gold reserve for Stalin.
Another theme is Orlov's revelations about Stalin and his regime. His account of the Tukhachevsky affair -- Stalin's purge of the Red Army command in the late 1930s -- raises some important historical questions which have yet to be answered despite the partial opening of Soviet archives.
In 1953, an inside account by Orlov of the Stalinist terror appeared in Life Magazine and in his book "The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes" (New York: Random House). As I think a careful comparison of Orlov's book with Khrushchev's revelations in his secret speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 will suggest, Khrushchev may have made use of Orlov's book.
The third theme is Orlov's exile in the United States. Unfortunately, from Gazur's account it is not all that clear what Orlov did during his "research" appointment at the University of Michigan Law School other than write his "Handbook of Intelligence and Guerilla Warfare" (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1963). At this period Orlov was a veracious user of the vast amount of materials that the university acquired from the Soviet Union. I myself learned a great deal about developments in the USSR from discussions with Orlov and his wife Maria. But given how poorly the American intelligence community judged the Soviet economic and political situation, I doubt that they made much use of his skills as an analyst.
One issue still concerns me. What led a person of Orlov's character and intelligence into the service of such a regime as the Soviet one? Although Gazur gives a good picture of the kind of person that he (and I) encountered in Orlov in his American life, Orlov remains a puzzle to me. He faithfully served the regime during the horrors of collectivization and the persecution of non-party intellectuals in the early 1930s. He continued to serve the regime when the terror was turned again party members, and only broke with it when he himself was at risk of being drawn into the maelstrom. I do believe, judging from comments that Orlov made to me, that had he not had a wife and daughter to whom he was very devoted, he would have used one of the numerous opportunities he had to kill Stalin.