Iron Felix Dzershinski, first head of the Cheka, forerunner of the KGB.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Sword & the Shield

The cigar aficionado above is Felix Dzershinsky (1877-1926), the founder of the Cheka, which morphed into the OGPU and the NKVD before finally settling down and ending its life as the KGB. Vasily Mitrokhin worked in the archives of the KGB, and kept voluminous notes. His notes, himself, and his family were exfiltrated from Russia in the early ‘90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He eventually hooked up with Christopher Andrew, a British historian of intelligence, and his notes formed the basis of this book and The World Was Going Our Way. The book is long, and densely printed, with almost a hundred pages of notes. I won’t bore you with all of the details, so I’ll hit some of the high points.

Probably because of Mitrokhin’s own career, which was largely post-war, the primary focus of the book is on the period from 1945 to 1991, and the primary villain is not Dzershinsky or Beria, but Andropov. Andropov has the distinction of being the longest serving head of the KGB, and the only one to reach the top rung of the Soviet Union. The book is long, and densely printed. Readers who are not fans of Russian literature and history may have trouble with many of the names. Next up, a change of pace, Steve Wozniak’s book iWoz.