This post opens a series of e-dossiers containing miscellaneous documentation and oral history evidence on some of the people whose life stories appear in the Biographies section of this website. Since some – if not all – of this hitherto unknown or neglected evidence may contradict the post-Cold War historical consensus in the United States, I’ll limit my comments to introductions of the posted documentation – leaving it to the readers to judge by themselves.
Julij Nickolaevich Kobjakov (1937-2006), known in the United States as Julius Kobyakov, was KGB Major General who from 1957 to 1997 served with the KGB foreign intelligence and later Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) as one of its “American hands,” including two New York postings for a few years from 1965 and again from late 1970s to 1982. Later in Moscow he was for some time assistant chief and acting chief of the American department of his service. In the final years of his career, Kobyakov was part of a group of advisers to the SVR director and was one of the ‘public faces’ of the service.
In his retirement, Kobyakov worked as book translator and was writing a book he planned to publish. In 2003, two chapters – ‘Jacob Golos’ and ‘The Paper Mill’ were published as part of the 6-volume semi-official history of the Russian foreign intelligence. The first was the first ever story of Jacob Golos, the key asset of the Soviet foreign intelligence in the USA from 1930s to 1943, based on his Moscow operational file. The second was the first ever story of Soviet espionage career of Ludwig Lore (although, at the time, obscured under his cover names of ‘Leo‘ and ‘10th‘), a former American communist and left-wing journalist, who was a mercenary agent-group leader for the Soviet intelligence from 1933 to 1937. 1 Kobyakov also published a magazine story of Alexei Isidorovich Kulak, a foreign intelligence officer, who was a double agent recruited by the FBI under the cover name, ‘Fedora’, and a two-part magazine story of Vitaly Yurchenko, whose double defection made some stir in 1985 – both chapters based on Kobyakov’s personal experience with the two men and Western literature. 2 Kobyakov translated into Russian the memoirs of Alexander Barmine, a pre-WWII Soviet defector; Cold Warrior by Tom Mangold, the biography of CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, and a few other books.
I met Julius Kobyakov for the first time in early 2004, while researching for my future Russian documentary series on the history of Russian-US espionage wars of the 20th century, and was struck with his command of that complicated history and, particularly, his knowledge of the historical archives of his service. General Kobyakov explained that he had a keen interest in the history of operations in the United States, particularly from the 1930s – 1940s period, which he described at the time as “purely academic.”
In early 2000s, Kobyakov shared his grasp of history with US scholars and students: his posts appeared at H-NET and H-HOAC discussion networks. As I learned later, he was also in correspondence with a few western scholars, two of whom shared some of Kobyakov’s letters with me.
In a December 22, 2003 letter to Roger Sandilands, Professor of Economics at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK, Kobyakov shed some light on his archival experience and, particularly, on his reading of the KGB files on two US New Deal economists, Lauchlin Currie and Harry Dexter White.
… Back in the late 80s I did an extensive research on the archive materials related to our intelligence work in the U.S. in the 30s and the 40s. From the scientific/historical point of view that was virtual “terra incognita”, but my interest was not purely academic. At that time as the deputy head of the American department I was interested in utilizing whatever positive experience could be gained from studying those archives. At the top of my list were, naturally, cases of our “penetration” of the White House, the State, the Treasury, etc. In this connection I examined the files on Currie (PAGE) and White (LAWER/YURIST) and was disappointed.
There was nothing in the PAGE file to suggest that he had ever wittingly collaborated with the Soviet intelligence. The file itself was put together in the late 40s when the damage, wrought by defections of Bentley and Chambers, was being accessed.
In fact, Currie was no more than a sub-source (if my memory serves me right – in the orbit of Nathan Silvermaster). However, in the spirit of machismo, many people claimed that we had an “agent” in the White House. I believe, Akhmerov like anybody else was prone to that weakness. Hence, Gordievsky’s reference to his conversations with Akhmerov on that subject should be taken with a spade of salt.
Equally unimpressive was a file on White. There was no record that someone had pitched or otherwise recruited him and set the terms of his cooperation with the Soviet intelligence. There was nothing in the way of clandestine communications arrangements, etc. White for all practical purposes might be categorized as a sub-source, which not necessarily denigrates the quality and value of the information that was attributed to him.
But to categorize an individual as an agent or a spy we need to prove that he “wittingly” cooperated with the “foreign intelligence service”, and “fulfilled the tasks”, assigned to him. That’s how the Soviet intelligence defines its agents, and, I believe, that American intelligence works along the same lines.
Among the members of my profession there is a sacramental question: “Does he know that he is our agent?” There is very strong indication that neither Currie nor White knew that. … 3
- ‘Yakov Golos’, ‘Bumazhnaja fabrika’, Ocherki istorii rosiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, tom 3, 1933-1944, Moskva: “Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenija”, 2003, ss. 180-190, 191-199 (‘Jacob Golos’ and ‘The Paper Mill’, The Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, vol. 3, 1933-1944, Moscow: International Relations, 2003, pp. 180-190, 191-199. ↩
- Yulij Kobjakov, ‘Agent “Fedora”, Sovershenno Sekretno, №5, 2002 (‘Agent Fedora’, Top Secret, No. 5, 2002) http://www.sovsekretno.ru/magazines/article/821; ‘Jurodivyj’, Sovershenno Sekretno, №№ 10, 11, 2003 (‘God’s fool’, Top Secret, Nos. 10, 11, 2003) http://www.sovsekretno.ru/magazines/article/1090, http://www.sovsekretno.ru/magazines/article/1103 ↩
- From Julius Kobyakov to R.J. Sandilands, Monday, December 22, 2003, 1:01 PM, Subject: White & Currie, Courtesy of Roger Sandilands. ↩