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Soviet Espionage Under the Cover of Diplomacy


EXPERT TESTING – Immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine last month, the US government expelled 13 Russian diplomats working at the United Nations. It does so on the pretext that they are Russian intelligence officers or agents working under diplomatic cover. We don’t know the details of their alleged activities, but we do know one thing for sure: The Kremlin has a long history of using the United Nations (UN) for espionage.

During the Cold War, Soviet intelligence infiltrated and overthrew important parts of the UN. Sometimes these activities occurred in the public domain, when Western governments expelled Soviet ‘diplomats’. Contrary to what we might assume, such expulsions are not only grandiose but have in fact returned counterintelligence benefits to Western national security.

From the very first days of its establishment, the Soviet government considered the UN as a platform to convey its message to the world. The Soviet government was a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which granted them veto powers, which they frequently used.

Between 1945 and 1983, the Soviet government issued 115 vetoes, as opposed to 38 vetoes by the US government and 20 by the UK. Under the terms of the Yalta agreement reached between the Soviet government and the Western powers in 1945, the two Soviet Socialist Republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia (present-day Belarus), were members of the Soviet Union. United Nations. This actually gave the Soviet Union three votes versus one vote for the US government.

These aspects of the Soviet Union’s open foreign policy at the UN were well known. Its covert activities are less there. They were revealed in a declassified British foreign office filing in September 2021, titled “Russian intelligence agencies operate under the cover of the United Nations“. Thick, orange-covered brochure, stamped “Confidential,” with strict handling instructions. Reading it makes today’s U.S. government evictions all the more bearable.

Records reveal that during the 1970s, Soviet intelligence agencies, the KGB and GRU, thoroughly infiltrated the UN in New York and Geneva. Their officers used diplomatic cover for espionage. In fact, as the records make clear, the KGB controls important parts of the UN’s administrative apparatus. This happened as the Soviet government was said to be enjoying a thaw in Cold War relations with the West, during a period of sinking.

The most sensational revelation of the Soviet infiltration of the United Nations occurred in 1978. That year, the Deputy Minister, Arkady Shevchenko, a Soviet citizen, defected before the US authorities – the highest-ranking Soviet official. used to do so. Shevchenko soon public disclosure that he was a KGB officer.


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Shevchenko was previously recruited by the CIA, which convinced him to continue – bravely – as an agent at the UN. After defecting and giving extensive testimony, he revealed to the world that the Soviet intelligence presence at the UN had gone into depth. The Soviet regime cheated when it went bad. His intelligence can be attested by other sources, which to this day the Kremlin wants to keep secret.

Shevchenko revealed that half of Soviet citizens who worked at the United Nations headquarters in New York and at its offices in Geneva were either intelligence officers or assigned intelligence-related tasks. clearly. By acquiring positions in the United Nations Secretariat, the Soviet government effectively obtained information about the member states’ civil servants working there. For example, the head of personnel at the UN in Geneva is a KGB officer.

The Soviet government also virtually secured the position of Director of Policy Coordination at the Office of Human Services in New York. The Soviet Intelligence Command (‘Center’) instructed their secret officers at the UN that their success would be measured by the intelligence they gathered, the secrets they assessed. stealing, not their ostensibly work for the UN. This is against UN rules, which require citizens seconded there to work for the United Nations, not their home government.

The usurpation of UN positions gave the KGB ample options for recruiting Western citizens as spy agents or influencers. A case in point occurred the same year as Shevchenko’s defection in 1978.

In May of that year, FBI arrested and successfully prosecuted two Soviet citizens working in the UN Secretariat for espionage. They are caught trying to steal American anti-submarine warfare secrets from an agent they believe they have recruited in the US navy, but in fact their source is, a double agent. , secretly working for the FBI. Their special agents arrested Soviet officials at a shopping mall in New Jersey, when they tried to retrieve a micro-video of defense secrets that their Navy “agent” had dropped. in a barrel of orange juice. They had no diplomatic immunity, so they were arrested, but a third Soviet citizen picked up at the scene did, allowing him not to face punishment for what he did. .

The nature of Soviet espionage at the UN was further revealed when a Soviet military intelligence officer (GRU) working at the Soviet Union’s UN mission in Geneva, Vladimir Rezun, defected to the United States. British newspaper in July 1978. His duties, as he was later publicly revealed under the alias. Viktor Suvorov, is to steal scientific and technical secrets from Western powers, especially the United States. His hunting ground is the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Soviet intelligence also infiltrated other branches of the United Nations, such as the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and also World Health Organization (WHO). Shevchenko revealed that the UN Public Information Bureau was overthrown to become the mouthpiece for Soviet propaganda.

What about Western governments, we might ask? Did they not do so, using the UN as a diplomatic cover for their espionage? The answer is definitely yes. Documentary evidence is hard to come by, but it would be foolish to assume otherwise. Spy spy. Pass it.


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However, consider for a moment the size of the Soviet presence at the UN, and you’ll sense the quantitative difference between the ways the two sides in the Cold War used (and apparently abused) the Soviet Union. UN.

The Kremlin has a contingent of intelligence officers posing as diplomats there. In November 1984, the Soviet Union had 126 UN-accredited diplomats in New York. This compares with 59 for the US mission and just 20 for the UK mission. As a newly released British foreign office filing states, most of these Soviet officials were “engaged in intelligence work”. In 1980, the Swiss government estimated that of the 650 Soviet officials residing in Switzerland, at least 200 were involved in espionage.

During the Cold War, both sides expelled diplomats suspected of, or established, as intelligence officers. We can assume that such expulsions are gimmicks, tit-for-tat displays between the two world superpowers and their allies. They were, but they also served a purpose. In the world of espionage, sometimes a blunt tool like expulsion is needed. By expelling Soviet intelligence officers, Western governments stripped away their recruiting base and espionage structure in the West.

In September 1971, the British government expelled 105 ‘Soviet diplomats’ from Britain by what they called, FEET ACTIVITIES, perhaps a sly hint to drive them away. This was the largest deportation of the Cold War era. By that year, the number of Soviet officials in London had grown to nearly 1,000, including those admitted to the Soviet embassy, ​​the country’s Trade Mission, as well as many of its “working wives” Soviet Union, a ploy that the Kremlin used to circumvent British restrictions on increasing the Soviet diplomatic presence in London. There were many Soviet officials in Britain that MI5 could not track.

Operation FOOT follows the defection of a KGB officer in the UK, Oleg Lyalin, who works in its sabotage division (Department V). Operating under the guise of the Soviet Trade Mission, Lyalin revealed to MI5 that his mission was to prepare for sabotage operations against Britain when the Third World War broke out – the hot war between the Soviets and the West. The British Foreign Secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, raised the issue of the enormous number of Soviet intelligence officers on British soil with his Soviet counterpart, Andrei Gromyko. Irrationally, the Soviet foreign minister replied: “The numbers you give cannot be true because the Soviet Union has no spies.” It was difficult for the British to know what to do with the Kremlin’s degree of obscurity.

Operation FOOT marked the turning point for British espionage during the Cold War. Previously classified Archive KGB revealed that for the first time, Britain became a difficult target for Soviet spy commanders. A former senior KGB officer, Oleg Kalugin, later claimed that FOOT dealt a blow to Soviet intelligence in Britain that it never recovered.

The Kremlin’s espionage activities at the UN did not stop at the end of the Cold War. The KGB’s successor service in Russia, SVR, continues its commercial activity. An SVR defector in the late 1990s, Sergei Tretyakov (known as ‘Comrade J), ​​defected to the CIA from Russia’s United Nations mission in New York, where he was believed to be close to the man. the head of the organization at the time, Sergei Lavrov.

Today, Western intelligence agencies hope to recruit disgruntled Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover in the West who will follow in the footsteps of their Soviet predecessors. surname. It’s not hard to imagine Russian foreign intelligence officers feeling frustrated and disgusted by Putin’s war in Ukraine – now they’re more than willing to share the secrets they know to stay on the right side of the calendar. history.

Hopefully Western case officers are busy with operations that we will one day read about in the declassified files. With even better luck, the West will be able to get modern-day equivalents like Vasili Mitrokhin, the KGB’s archivist. He was so appalled at the brutality of the Soviet regime that he smuggled a secret KGB archive (“Mitrokhin Archives”) to the West, with the help of MI6. Today, the West needs a similar Mitrokhin to expose Putin’s darkest intelligence secrets.


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