The name Valentin Markin first showed up on the radar of the U.S. authorities in June 1939, when the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky was interviewed by a representative of the US Department of State. Here is the beginning of a fascinatingly garbled account given by Krivitsky, as it appears in FBI files:
“Valentine Markin, who was known to Krivitsky as Oskar, a man under 30, was killed in New York in a speak-easy early in 1933. He was a Soviet agent who came to the United States in the summer of 1932 for a short trip and came back again in the fall. He transferred the Soviet Secret Service to the G.P.U….” 1
Another source of American knowledge about Markin was Whittaker Chambers, who described him in his famous 1952 autobiography, Witness, as his Russian controller, Herman. Chambers’s Herman was “a short, sturdy figure “with “soft, brown pitiless eyes” and “a bass voice of startling resonance.” He was also described as a man of “three particular passions – intrigue, the piano and Germany” – which made him “a professional Germanofile.” According to Chambers’s hearsay report, “Herman had arrived without any credentials and simply announced that he had been sent to take charge of the whole underground.” 2
No photograph of Valentin Markin has thus far been discovered, so we cannot see if Chambers’s description really fit. We know little about Markin’s early years; however, some milestones are certain. He was born in the city of Grozny in 1903 and studied at a school of commerce. In 1920 he joined the Russian Young Communists organization (the RCSM, commonly known as the Comsomol) and from that year until 1922 took part in Comsomol work in the Soviet Kabardino-Balkar Republic in the Caucasus. In 1922 and 1923, Markin studied at the Ya. M. Sverdlov Communist University in Moscow, and in 1923 he joined the Communist Party (RCP (b)). From 1923 to 1925, Markin was the secretary of a Communist Party cell at a textile factory in the city of Vyatka — and later at the printing office of the Workers Newspaper (“Rabochaja gazeta”) in Moscow. At that time, he was elected deputy of the Moscow City Council (then called a “Soviet”).
In 1926 Markin joined Soviet military intelligence (then known as the Fourth Directorate of the staff of the RKKA) and worked on assignments in Germany from then until the end of 1929. From 1930 to 1932, he was a graduate student at the Institute of World Economy and International Politics in Moscow. Simultaneously, he was head of the propaganda department at the Executive Committee of the Communist Youth International (known as KIM) – the youth arm of the Comintern).
In 1932 Markin joined the OGPU foreign intelligence (INO) and was sent to the United States as an “illegal” resident, under the assumed name of Arthur Walter, with the code name Davis. In some Russian publications of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Markin is described as chief resident of a “joint residency of the military and political intelligence,” which was reportedly organized in 1932 following a series of failures which Soviet military intelligence had suffered in the United States. 3 However, thus far, no documentary proof of this allegation has been discovered, and it appears that its source goes back to Walter Krivitsky.
In a few stories from the semi-official history of Russian foreign intelligence, Valentin Markin appears as the head of an “illegal” station of OGPU foreign intelligence operating out of New York. Markin is circumstantially credited with establishing the first “illegal” residency of foreign intelligence in the United States, as well as with recruiting a number of valuable sources of political information. It appears that Markin’s residency was built on the so-called “pole” system, that is, it relied upon an agent-group leader who ran several sources himself and reported to the resident. In Markin’s time, one such “pole” was an agent called “Leo” (later “10th“), who in real life was the freelance journalist and former Communist Ludwig Lore. Lore claimed he had sources at the Department of State: an important source at the department head level, who was assigned the code names “Willie” and later “11th“, and another source at the same agency who appeared under the code names “Daniel” and later “12th.” Years later, Soviet operatives would ascertain that “Leo”/Lore had lied to them about the identities of both his proclaimed sources. During Markin’s tenure, however, Lore provided many copies of State Department cables, as well as records of sensitive meetings. Moscow Headquarters considered his input so important that it resolved that “with this agent ["Leo"] and his contacts there is no reason for any further penetration into the Department of State, either on the ‘legal’, or the ‘illegal’ lines.” 4 Stalin himself considered this input “top cream” – and made it the only US-sourced intelligence input from the 1930s that he assigned to his Private Papers.
Besides sources at the Department of State, Lore reportedly had among his assets: a former German consul in New York, code named “James”; a source called “Albert” at “a New York police agency;”; a source called “Gregor” for economic information; and an individual code- named “Charlie.” Lore and his sources worked for money. 5
Despite his great success in espionage, Markin had bad drinking habits, and in late August, 1934 he was discovered at the Luxor Baths on 46th Street in New York City with a wound in his forehead. In 1947 the FBI would learn from a confidential informant that Arthur Walter (the name Markin lived under in the USA) had explained that “a taxi in which he had been riding had been hit by a truck.” The FBI learned that this accident had taken place after several hours of drinking. According to the confidential FBI informant, “Walter” died at a hospital, having contracted pneumonia after a successful surgery. 6
- Walter G. Krivitsky interview by a representative of U.S. Department of State — June 28, 1939, in Walter G. Krivitsky FBI File No. 100-11146, Part 2 of 4, Section 2, PDF p. 20. ↩
- Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1952, p. 313. ↩
- A.I. Kolpakidi, D.P. Prokhorov, Imperija GRU: Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi voennoi razvedki, Moskva: Olma-Press, 1999 (A.I. Kolpakidi, D.P. Prochorov, The Empire of the GRU: Essays on the History of Russian Military Intelligence, Moscow: Olma-Press, 1999. ↩
- J.N. Kobjakov. Bumazhnaja fabrika. – Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, tom 3, 1933-1941. Moskva: Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenija, 2003, ss.191-199. (J.N. Kobyakov. The Paper Mill: Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, vol. 3, 1933-1941. Moscow: International Relations, 2003, pp. 191-199. ↩
- The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – The Stalin Era, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, New York: Random House, 1999, pp. 34-37. ↩
- Report of SA William J. McCarthy, New York, May 5, 1947, in FBI Ludwig Lore file, PDF p. 4. Courtesy of Jeff Kisseloff. ↩