Unintelligent Counterintelligence : DEADLY ILLUSIONS: The KGB Orlov Dossier--Stalin’s Master Spy, <i> By John Costello and Oleg Tsarev (Crown Publishers: $25; 512 pp.)</i>

<i> Knightley is the author of "The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the 20th Century" (Norton)</i>

One of the authors of this book, John Costello, is a British historian; the other, Oleg Tsarev, is a former KGB officer who is now a consultant for the press department of the Russian Intelligence Service (RIS). All Tsarev’s research material was first cleared by his superior officers. Costello then ran it through the CIA and the FBI. So what we really have here is a collaboration between the intelligence agencies of the two Cold War super powers.

It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that this is a very disappointing book.

Do not read it if you are expecting to learn the names of unexposed Soviet spies because, “ . . . the Russian Intelligence Service, in common with the practice of the CIA and the FBI not to disclose hitherto unsuspected agents, has decided not to identify them.” As a sop, we are given their code-names--Professor, Bar, Nachfolger--and hints on numbers: 17 recruited in Britain by one KGB officer alone; 60 worldwide.


What we are left with, in the words of the dust-jacket blurb, is the “astonishing secrets of the career of Alexander Orlov,” the KGB general who fled Spain to escape a Stalin assassination squad and lived in the United States until his death in 1973. The principal secret, say the authors, is that while Orlov has been regarded in the West as the highest-ranking Soviet intelligence defector, he never really told the Americans any important intelligence secrets and remained a dedicated Communist to the end of his days.

This is hardly a secret and not even news. In “The Storm Petrels,” a book published 26 years ago by Collins, the British author Gordon Brook-Shepherd tells Orlov’s story and quotes an American official, “Orlov remained a professional to the end of his days and only revealed what he wanted to reveal. . . . There were some secrets he took to the grave with him. . . .” Brook-Shepherd concludes that Orlov “never entirely ceased to be a KGB general.” An admirable perception from an author who did not have access to the KGB archives.

What lesser secrets do Costello and Tsarev reveal? Moscow sent a KGB officer to the United States to try to persuade Orlov to return to the Soviet Union. This has already been told in Brook-Shepherd’s book. Orlov was the eminence grise of the Cambridge network--Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and others yet unexposed--one of Moscow’s most successful espionage rings. So did he recruit Philby, the man who penetrated the British Secret Intelligence Service, the CIA and the FBI?

Well, not quite. That was the remarkable Czech, Arnold Deutsch, who seems to have signed up the best and brightest at Oxford and Cambridge and may well have done the same in American universities had not the Germans torpedoed his ship on its way there in 1942. But, say the authors, although Orlov may not have initiated the approach to Philby, “his KGB dossiers show that he supervised and was ultimately responsible for directing Philby’s recruitment.” What about Burgess and Maclean? Deutsch again, on Philby’s recommendation.

The authors devote a chapter to Orlov’s work in Spain, giving the details of his operation to remove the Republican government’s gold reserves to Moscow--already told by Brook-Shepherd. But their account of Orlov’s nasty role in the murder of Stalin’s enemies during the Spanish Civil War is cast into doubt by their apparent belief that Andre Marty, the French commander of the International Brigades, was a victim of these purges and “vanished mysteriously in Spain that summer.” In fact, Marty was a Communist hatchet man who admitted to 500 executions and he lived on until 1955.

Mistakes like this extend into intelligence areas where one would expect specialist authors to be better informed. They say that the American spies, the Cohens, also known as the Krogers, now “live in quiet retirement” in Moscow. Surely, Tsarev, as press consultant to the Russian Intelligence Service, should have known that Helen Kroger died last year.

Good material is thrown away. In 1939 Burgess reported that British government policy was to work with Germany wherever possible and ultimately against the Soviet Union. Britain felt it could easily win a war against Hitler, therefore it had no need to conclude a defensive pact with the Soviet Union, and although it was conducting negotiations with Moscow, “the opinion is that we have never intended to conclude a serious military pact” with the Russians. If Burgess’s report is accurate, then this gives a new dimension to the subsequent Nazi-Soviet pact. Yet the authors devote less than a page to this.

On the other hand we have many boring pages about German political groups in the mid-1930s, a sort of “Who’s Who” among the Fascists, the anti-Fascists, the Social Democrats, trade unionists, underground groups, Communists and Soviet espionage rigs, including a guide to who was related to whom--"Libertas, the granddaughter of Count Oldenburg und Hertfeld, who had been a close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II"--and who was sleeping with whom--"Kuckhoff was in touch with Goebbels’s embittered ex-wife, who had become Geldor’s mistress.”

The authors have have been badly let down by their editor. We are told twice on one page that Orlov went to the United States in 1932 to get a genuine American passport, but then we have to wait a further 22 pages to learn how he did it. We are told three times on one page that the volume of Maclean’s espionage material threatened to overwhelm his controller and then, for good measure, the amount of material is mentioned again 20 pages later.

The book is riddled with the cliches of espionage writing. “Hard-nosed” FBI investigators “beat an official path” to Orlov. They put aside “the kid gloves” and subject him to “relentless questioning” like “bulls at a gate.” Orlov yields information “with the painful slowness of extracting deeply rooted teeth.” This has the FBI men “frothing with frustration,” and Orlov, “a master of deception” feeling “deeply resentful"--twice in the one paragraph. Orlov was thus a passive accomplice to the mechanisms of the Cold War espionage “into whose works he might have cast a very large spanner.”

There are hints that other books are to follow. One hopes they will be better than this unfortunate debut.