An abundance of original documents detailing Soviet spying and sabotage plots were released Monday by the Churchill Archive at Cambridge University after being held in secret for two decades.
The files, which were smuggled out of Russia in 1992 by KGB senior official-turned-defector Vasili Mitrokhin, describe plots involving sabotage, booby traps, and undercover agents in the West. If this story sounds familiar, that's because it's the real-life basis for the Soviet spies in FX's The Americans. The Associated Press reports that the documents detail "one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history."
Mitrokhin, a senior archivist at the KGB's foreign intelligence headquarters, made secret copies of files for more than a decade. After his collection was rejected by the U.S. embassy, Mitrokhin took his collection to the British embassy following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. He spent the remainder of his life under a false name and police protection in Britain until his death in 2004.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Mitrokhin's files exposed the identities of roughly 1,000 KGB agents in America over several decades. Among those listed are agents who were sent to then-Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Prague Spring pro-democracy uprising, as well as those who targeted Karol Wojtyla — later Pope John Paul II — and his followers for his "extremely anti-Communist views."
Nineteen boxes of the Russian-language files, typed by Mitrokhin, are available to researchers at the Churchill Archive, but Mitrokhin's original handwritten notes will remain classified.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.