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Standard Operating Procedure

The weekly organ of the CPI(M), People’s Democracy, September 2005, declaims, ‘‘The Mitrokhin balloon of lies has been well b...

The weekly organ of the CPI(M), People’s Democracy, September 2005, declaims, ‘‘The Mitrokhin balloon of lies has been well burst recently. The statement of the secretary of the Bengal unit of the CPI(M), Anil Biswas on September 21 may well perhaps be the last nail on the coffin of the ‘archival misdemeanour’. Anil Biswas told the media at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan that ‘after having procured the so-called Mitrokhin archives and poring over it, we find no reference of the kind alleged or otherwise, to the late Promode Dasgupta’.’’

There are just two short chapters in this book about India. On the very second page of the very first of these, we read, ‘‘As KGB operations in India expanded during the 1950s and 1960s, the Centre (that is, the KGB headquarters in Moscow) seems to have discovered the extent of IB’s previous penetration of the CPI. According to a KGB report, an investigation into Promode Das Gupta, who became secretary of the Bengal Communist Party in 1959, concluded that he had been recruited by the IB in 1947. Further significant IB penetrations were discovered in the Kerala and Madras parties…’’

Did the ‘‘poring over’’ not reach even the second page? But this is standard procedure for Marxists — lie outright!

In the full confidence that no one will look up the original material.

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The second, adopted this time round by the Congress too, is to just dismiss revelations. Extracts from The Mitrokhin Archive had but to appear in the press, and they, and their favoured commentators pronounced, ‘‘No evidence…,’’ ‘‘Fiction…,’’ ‘‘An author in search of lies.’’ And simultaneously, ‘‘There is nothing new…. These things have been well known for long!’’ Well known for long, but require new proof!

The third device also has been on display this time round: paste motives on all concerned. A favourite of Marxists, it has been deployed even by ‘‘intelligence experts’’ this time. One of them writes that the book has three aims. The first, he says, is ‘‘To discredit the present Russian leadership.’’ Presumably this is accomplished by indirection: as Putin is known to have been in the KGB, as it is well known that he has appointed his former colleagues from the KGB to vital posts across Russia, pointing to what the KGB used to be doing, tarnishes ‘‘the present Russian leadership’’. Second, our expert says, the purpose of the Mitrokhin account is ‘‘to drive a wedge between the present leaderships of Russia and India.’’ And, third, the British secret service has always been hostile to leaders of the Labour Party in the UK, this has been a plot to discredit the Labour Government and leaders of Britain.

Assume all this to be true, does it amount to a reason for India not to examine what the disclosures spell for our national security and governance? The fourth device is to smear whoever has brought out facts that are inconvenient. ‘‘A former low-grade clerk of the KGB archives,’’ they write about Mitrokhin, he was not the head of KGB archives. Assume that to be true: low-grade clerks are as useful sources of information as heads of departments! Mitrokhin was an incompetent officer, they say — if he had been any good at field work, he would not have been assigned to a backroom tending old records. But the point is whether, having been relegated to backrooms, he had access to thoe tell-tale records. Just one who ‘‘stole’’ those ‘‘clandestinely obtained’’ documents, they say. But does that suggest that the records he transcribed were genuine and valuable or does that establish that they were fakes?!


As it isn’t just Vasili Mitrokhin who was involved in this project, the British professor, Christopher Andrew who collaborated in writing and editing the volumes also comes in for the standard treatment. The professor, we are told, ‘‘was alleged to have been embedded in the intelligence agencies.’’ He becomes ‘‘the ever-obliging Christopher Andrew.’’ The CPI(M) mouthpiece, People’s Democracy, is even more elaborate: ‘‘No wonder, these scions (those running the ‘corporate media’ here in India) have now picked up the Soviet defector’s ramblings, which have been put together in a fashion in a book by an English author who is not only not known for his scholarship but also just not known in the academe as a practicing historian.’’ That phrase is literally standard issue.

When ‘‘Why?,’’ does not work, ask, ‘‘Why now?’’ That is the standard device since Lenin’s time! And this time too we have had it in full display: Mitrokhin defected in 1992, why is this book being released now, in 2005? demands one of these tele-Communists. In fact, the six cases full of notes that were brought over were examined threadbare for years, and the first volume was printed in 1999! But again, standard.

In truth, there never is a right time to talk the truth about them! Communist journals in India used to be full of glowing accounts about the industrial excellence of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, about the achievements of Ceausescu and his Romania, about the unequalled might of the Soviet Union; about how unemployment had been abolished, how ills that plagued capitalist societies — divorce, crime — were non-existent in Communist countries. If before 1989 you questioned the claims, you were denounced, ‘‘Do you think one-third of humanity is wrong, and you alone are right?’’ And after 1989, when the entire Soviet bloc collapsed?


True to form, this time also we read in the CPI(M)’s mouthpiece, People’s Democracy, ‘‘The principal reason why this cheap thriller (the phrase for the Mitrokhin record) is being played out in the corporate media now more than ever is not difficult to guess. The recent resurgence of the communists, socialists, and the Left across the globe has certainly made the imperialists press the panic button…. In India, the presence and growth of the CPI(M) has long since been a worry for the ruling classes and their friends and patrons out in the West. The corporate media has, as a willing handmaiden, been periodically albeit regularly feeding out stories maligning the Party and its leadership.’’

Facts about Mitrokhin’s records:

To gauge the worth of these denunciations, recall that Vasili Mitrokhin defected in 1992. Between 1992 and 1999, his notes were subjected to minute and most careful examination by various levels of the British Government. They scrutinized the information, they examined who to engage as co-author, they weighed how the material ought to be published. Questions such as these were considered by senior civil servants, intelligence agencies, by an interdepartmental committee, by Ministers, by two Prime Ministers. The way the material was handled was subsequently debated in the House of Commons and was examined threadbare by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament. The Committee was tasked in October 1999 to examine whether it had been handled well. The Parliamentary Committee submitted a detailed report in June 2000. This report was debated extensively.

The first volume of the present work was published in 1999. No one in India made the kinds of allegations that are being hurled now. While we are being fed insinuations to belittle Mitrokhin; while we are being fed the line, for instance, that the entire project has been a conspiracy of British intelligence agencies to discredit British Labour Party leaders, this is what Jack Straw, then Home Secretary and currently the Foreign Secretary of the Labour Government – to tarnish whom we are being told this plot has been engineered — said about Mitrokhin. He told the House of Commons on 21 October, 1999,

‘‘….I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman says about Mr. Mitrokhin’s courage. It required huge courage to do what he did. I do not doubt that a great many other people working in the KGB during that long period were pretty disgusted with the work that they were asked to engage in, but very few of them had the courage and tenacity to work, as Mr. Mitrokhin did, to record the huge amount of what was passing across his desk and then to make himself known to intelligence agents in Moscow and have himself and his family brought out at considerable risk. I pay tribute to his courage and acknowledge the benefits that the whole of the West has received as a result of his disclosures’’

Similarly, the Parliamentary Committee observed, ‘‘The Committee, during the course of the inquiry, had the opportunity to meet Vasili Mitrokhin. The Committee believes that he is a man of remarkable commitment and courage, who risked imprisonment or death in his determination that the truth should be told about the real nature of the KGB and their activities, which he believed were betraying the interests of his own country and people. He succeeded in this and we wish to record our admiration for his achievement….’’ But in India, ‘‘a former low-grade clerk,’’ one who ‘‘stole documents,’’ one who was so incompetent that he had to be consigned to a backroom dusting archives….


Similarly, while in India the account has been dismissed as ‘‘vague’’, ‘‘complete fabrication,’’ ‘‘fiction’’, ‘‘a spy thriller,’’ Britain’s Parliamentary Committee had this to say about the value of the material that Mitrokhin had brought over, and on which the Mitrokhin-Andrew volumes are based, ‘‘We are aware that the Western intelligence communities are extremely grateful for Mr Mitrokhin’s material, which has shown the degree to which the KGB influenced and penetrated official organizations. Historians also find The Mitrokhin Archive of tremendous value, as it gives a real insight into the KGB’s work and the persecution of dissidents.’’

But in India, to use Lenin’s phrase, ‘‘a shroud of angry words to cover inconvenient facts’’! The one question we should be asking, is not being asked: Indian and British intelligence agencies have had close relations; was the material offered to us, as it was offered to other agencies? What did we do about it?


Instead, all sorts of red-herrings are being thrown in the way. Why was this unknown professor, why was this person who was ‘‘alleged to have been embedded in intelligence agencies,’’ why was he of all persons chosen as co-author? It just so happens that this question too was examined by the UK Parliamentary Committee. It concluded that in Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, just the right man had been chosen for the project. Andrews had previously worked on the Gordievsky books. He had been security cleared and had signed the Official Secrets Act, the Committee noted. ‘‘The Committee regards Professor Andrews as a distinguished academic who has specialized in the espionage field,’’ the report stated. ‘‘He was a good choice to undertake this work.’’ But in India….

(To be concluded)


First published on: 17-10-2005 at 01:35:05 am
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