New East Digital Archive

Archive of KGB documents open to the public in Cambridge

Archive of KGB documents open to the public in Cambridge

9 July 2014
Text Nadia Beard

A collection of handwritten copies of KGB documents ranging from the early days of the Soviet Union to its collapse is now open to the public in an archive centre in Cambridge. The Mitrokhin Archives – a compilation of documents which were copied in secret by KGB archivist Major Vasili Mitrokhin in the 1970s and 1980s – were smuggled into Britain with Mitrokhin when he defected from Russia in the early 1990s. Stored at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, the documents were thoroughly vetted by staff at MI5 before being allowed into the public domain.

The files contain hundreds of pages dedicated to the KGB’s claims over its “agents, controllers and cultivations” during the Cold War in Britain, as well as detailed accounts of foreign intelligence operations and Soviet-era foreign policy. The information provided by Mitrokhin has been described by the FBI as “the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source”.

The archives give the public access to detailed profiles of a number of major political and religious figures kept by the Russian secret service, including a highly critical report on Pope John Paul II, who the KGB described as “a dangerous anti-communist”.

Professor Christopher Andrew, the only historian given access to Mitrokhin’s archive before now, described Mitrokhin’s method for concealing the stolen information: “Initially he smuggled his daily notes out on small scraps of paper hidden in his shoes. After a few months, he began to take them out in his jacket pockets then buried them every weekend at the family dacha in the countryside near Moscow.”

The 19 boxes, which contain thousands of papers, also exposed the identity of the KGB’s longest serving agent, Melita Norwood, a British communist party member who passed information to the KGB from her London office at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, where nuclear and other scientific research took place.

Source: Churchill Archive Centre