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Subject: Cryptome, Romeo Spy autobiography

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Date: Sat, 28 Aug 2010 23:41:20 +0100
Subject: Cryptome, Romeo Spy autobiography

From: Mike Smith

To: John Young
Cc: John Alexander Symonds

Dear John,

I attach the true life story of John Alexander Symonds (known as the KGB Romeo Spy) for you to publish on Cryptome. John said he much admires the work you have done with Cryptome over the years and he wanted you to be the first to hear about the publication of his book today.

With an introduction by leading intelligence expert Nigel West, this is the first time that John has published such a comprehensive description of how he came to work for the KGB, his missions across the globe, and his eventual return to Britain to tell his story.

All John asks, is could you please include a link back to his website:

so that anybody who wants to contact him can send him a message.

Kind regards,
Michael John Smith


This is a Final Draft


John Alexander Symonds

With an Introduction

Nigel West


I Encounter in Morocco

II Bulgaria

III Moscow

IV India

V Australia

VI London

VII Mitrokhin



ACC Assistant Commissioner, Crime

ASIO Australian Security Intelligence Organization

BfV Federal German Security Service

BND Federal German Intelligence Service

BOSS South African Bureau of State Security

CIA Central Intelligence Agency

CID Criminal Investigation Division

CPGB Communis Party of Great Britain

DAC Deputy Assistant Commissioner

DCI Detective Chief Inspector

DCS Detective Chief Superintendent

DI Detective Inspector

DPP Director of Public Prosecutions

DS Detective Sergeant

FCD First Chief Directorate

FRG Federal Republic of German

GCHQ Government Communications Headquarters

GDR German Democratic Republic

GRU Soviet Military Intelligence Service

HVA East German Intelligence Service

JIC Joint Intelligence Committee

KDS Bulgarian Security Service

KGB Soviet Intelligence Service

MI5 British Security Service

NKVD Soviet Intelligence Service

NSA American National Security Agency

OPS Obscene Publications Squad

PUS Permanent Under-Secretary

REME Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers

SCD Second Chief Directorate

SHAPE Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

SIS British Secret Intelligence Service

StB Czech Intelligence Service

SVR Russian Federation Intelligence Service

YCL Young Communist League


In the middle of March 1992 an elderly, shabbily-dressed Russian carrying a battered suitcase walked into the British Embassy in the Latvian capital of Riga and asked to see a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was insistent, and eventually he was shown into an interview room, usually used by visa applicants, where he was spoken to by a young woman who was to serve him with a cup of tea, and transform her career over the next few minutes. The woman did not introduce herself as a diplomat, and was actually the embassy’s secretary. Although the man wanted to speak to an intelligence officer, there was no SIS officer, and no local station commander. That station might have consisted of an officer and an SIS secretary, two intelligence professionals at the front line during the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, representing a clandestine organisation, headed at its headquarters in London by Sir Colin McColl, but SIS had not been operational in the newly independent republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia since before the Second World War. The British embassy was accommodated in the International Trade Centre, a building that had previously housed the Communist Party’s central committee, and the staff consisted of the Russian-speaking ambassador, Christopher Samuel, his first secretary, Mike Bates, one secretary, and Steve and Margaret Mitchell, a husband and wife team from the Stockholm embassy who acted as the embassy’s secretary and the archivist. The embassy had been opened the previous October, when it had consisted of Samuel’s hotel room, a satellite phone, a bag of money under his bed and a Union Jack on his door. In a similar, simultaneous exercise, Michael Peat had been sent to Vilnius and Bob Low to Tallin.

The elderly Russian, who had arrived on the overnight train from Moscow, spoke no English, but explained that his name was Major Vasili Mitrokhin, formerly of the KGB. He said he was aged sixty-nine, and had joined the KGB in 1948. Reaching into his bag, under a pile of what appeared to be dirty laundry and the remains of several meals, he removed a removed a pair of school exercise books. Inside, written in neat Cyrillic script, was a sample of what was to become one of the greatest intelligence coups of the era. Although this strange offering had failed to impress the CIA Chief of Station across town at the American Embassy, the person Mitrokhin took to be his British counterpart was astounded, not just by the content, but by her visitor’s extraordinary tale. He claimed that from late 1956 until his retirement in 1984 he had been in charge of the KGB’s archives at the First Chief Directorate’s headquarters at Yasenevo, on the Moscow ring road. For the previous twenty-five years, since the premature conclusion of his only overseas assignment, to Israel, he had supervised the tens of thousands of files that had been accumulated by the world’s largest and most feared intelligence agency, and had taken the opportunity to read many of the most interesting ones. Astonishingly, he had spent twelve of those years, and much of his retirement, reconstructing his own version of what he regarded as the most significant dossiers, documenting Stalin’s crimes, Khrushchev’s follies, Brezhnev’s blunders and the many misdeeds committed in the name of Soviet Communism. For most of his career, he said, he had been disenchanted with the Soviet system, had listened to western radio broadcasts and read dissident literature. In 1972, when he was made responsible for checking the First Chief Directorate files being transferred from the old headquarters in the Lubyanka, to the KGB’s modern building on the outskirts of Moscow, he embarked on what amounted to the construction of an illicit history of the Soviet Union’s most secret operations.
Could the material be genuine? Was this strange, shambling figure a Walter Mitty fantasist? Why had he been turned away by the CIA? Would it have been possible for the KGB’s security to have been breached in such an amateurish way? Mitrokhin asserted that he had simply copied the original files and walked out of the heavily-guarded KGB compound with his hand-written notes stuffed into his socks. He had then rewritten a detailed account of the files from his scraps of paper into exercise books and other convenient binders which he had hidden in a milk churn concealed under his country dacha. In return for political asylum for himself and his family he was willing to offer his entire collection, amounting to a full six cases of documents. Furthermore, he was willing to collaborate with SIS so the material could be properly interpreted and eventually published, and he promised to return on 9 April with more samples of his handiwork. On that date he was met by a delegation of SIS officers who examined some two thousand sheets of his archive and scrutinized his Party membership card and his KGB retirement certificate. Acknowledging the authenticity of what he had shown them, a further appointment was made two months’ hence to meet the man now codenamed GUNNER by SIS, and on 11 June he returned to Riga carrying a rucksack containing yet more material.
GUNNER’s documents looked sensational, but why had he been rejected by the CIA? This remains something of a mystery, if not an embarrassment at the CIA’s headquarters, but the then chief of the Soviet/Eastern Europe Division, Milton Bearden, has acknowledged that he was besieged with offers from potential defectors in the months following the Soviet collapse, and as each authentic source was receiving an average of a million dollars, and he was receiving one worthwhile offer every forty days, the Directorate of Operations was simply running out of money and failed to take the shambling old man sufficiently seriously. Bearden had been assigned to language training in preparation for his appointment as Chief of Station in Bonn, with John MacGaffin as his replacement, and Tom Twetton had just become Deputy Director for Operations. Somehow, in the confusion at Langley and maybe a screw-up in Riga where Ints Silins was the US Ambassador, Mitrokhin had been rejected. Whatever the excuse, Paul Redmond, the CIA’s chief of counter-intelligence, was later to agree that the CIA had missed a golden opportunity, leaving him to SIS’s tender mercies.
Mitrokhin was to undergo further interviews in England early in September 1992, when he spent almost a month in the country under SIS’s protection, staying at safe-houses. When he returned to Moscow on 13 October he did so for the last time and less than a month later, on 7 November, he accompanied his family to Latvia and was issued with British passports enabling them to fly to London.
The details of how Mitrokhin subsequently made a second journey to Riga, accompanied by his wife and son, remain classified, as do the circumstances in which an SIS officer later visited his empty dacha outside Moscow and recovered his secret hoard of papers and carried them undetected to the local SIS station, headed by John Scarlett at the British Embassy. Now codenamed JESSANT, no official announcement was made of Mitrokhin’s defection, and in the chaos of 1992 his disappearance from the Russian capital probably went unnoticed. His existence in the archives had been a solitary existence, and he was unpopular with his colleagues, considered an awkward stickler for regulations, unwilling to speed up bureaucratic procedures when offered the customary bottle of vodka as an inducement. However, in the months that followed, numerous counter-intelligence operations were mounted across the globe, each resulting in a stunning success. Near Belfauz, Switzerland, booby-trapped caches of weapons and covert radio equipment were dug up in the forest; In Tampa, Florida, retired US Army Colonel George Trofimoff was approached by FBI special agents posing as Russian intelligence officers, to whom he admitted in a secretly videotaped meeting lasting six hours that he had spied for the Soviets for twenty-five years since his recruitment in Nuremberg in1969; In Australia a senior ASIO analyst was identified as a long-term source for the KGB, but he was not arrested; In a motel in Virginia a former National Security Agency cryptographer, codenamed DAN by the KGB, was detained and charged with espionage. No public statements were issued, but in Moscow the KGB’s successor organisation, the SVR, began to count the accumulating losses. Well-established assets in every corner of the world were being ‘wrapped-up’ in a series of operations that amounted to a colossal intelligence disaster of unprecedented proportions. George Trofimoff, codenamed ANTEY, MARKIZ and KONSUL in Mitrokhin’s files, resulted in the imprisonment of the most senior American army officer ever to be charged with espionage.
In London, Mitrokhin’s arrival and resettlement was but part of a project that was to have lasting consequences. After so many years confined to Moscow he found it hard to adapt to life in England, and to the detriment of his health he concentrated on supervising the transfer of his precious archive onto a massive computer database. As each new case was revealed, SIS despatched a suitably sanitized summary to the appropriate allied security or intelligence agency to exploit, seeking in return only an assurance that the secret source of the information should not be disclosed. On only one occasion, the prosecution of the NSA analyst Robert Lipka in 1997, was there a request that Mitrokhin travel to Philadelphia to testify in person to the origin and authenticity of his dossier, but in the end the spy’s plea of guilty to a single charge of espionage obviated the need for him to appear as a witness. Lipka was sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment in September 1997, completely baffled as to how the FBI had tracked him down after a gap of twenty-three years.
One of SIS’s many satisfied customers was the British Security Service, MI5, which was provided with tantalising glimpses into how the KGB had operated in Britain over more than six decades. Where mere suspicions had been marked on personal files, Mitrokhin confirmed guilt of espionage; when an MI5 investigation had been shelved for lack of progress, Mitrokhin supplied additional leads. And in the case of Melita Norwood, a life-long Communist believed to have once operated as a spy, Mitrokhin revealed that she was HOLA and had been in contact with KGB’s illegal rezident in London until January 1961. Born in London in 1912 of an immigrant Latvian bookbinder named Sirnis, Melita had been a member of the CPGB and had been linked to Percy Glading in 1938 when the former CPGB National Organiser was imprisoned for espionage. Her name, and her family’s address in Hampstead were found in a notebook owned by Glading at the time of his arrest, when he was charged with stealing secrets from the Woolwich Arsenal, but MI5 had not pursued the clue. Later she had joined the headquarters of the British Non-Ferrous Metals Association in Euston as a typist for one of its directors, G.J. Bailey, and this had given her access to nuclear secrets as the organisation was a component of the Anglo-American project to develop an atomic bomb, which the NKVD had dubbed Operation ENORMOZ. In 1964 she had been tentatively identified as the spy codenamed TINA who had been mentioned in a single VENONA message from Moscow dated 16 September 1945. According to the text transmitted to the rezident in London, ‘her documentary material on ENORMOZ is of great interest and represents a valuable contribution to the development of the work in this field’. However, the addressee, Konstantin Kukin, had been directed to ‘instruct her not to discuss her work with us with her husband and not to say anything to him about the nature of the documentary material which is being obtained by her’. Thus MI5 established in 1964, when the text was finally decrypted, that Mrs Norwood had been an active spy in September 1945, and had been ordered not to confide in her husband, a Communist school-teacher, about her espionage. Surprisingly, despite this evidence that she had engaged in betraying atomic secrets, MI5 chose not to take any action, and did not even bother to interview her, on the grounds that she had remained a hardened CPGB member and therefore was unlikely to cooperate with any interrogation.
No criminal prosecutions resulted in England as a consequence of Mitrokhin’s disclosures, but in the counter-intelligence world inhabited by molehunters and surveillance experts there are other, equally important advantages to be achieved. Most controversially, one such objective, supervised by John Scarlett, who by then had been expelled from Moscow, was to publish a historical account of Mitrokhin’s collection, and this was accomplished in September 1999 with the help of the Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew. Their joint effort, entitled The Sword and the Shield in the United States, was released amid international publicity, with much of the attention focusing on two spies particular. One was the elderly Melita Norwood, by then a grandmother living in a London suburb, and the other was SCOT, a former Scotland Yard detective, John Symonds, described as ‘the most remarkable British agent identified by Mitrokhin outside the field of S & T’. Symonds may not have had a talent for science and technology, but he possessed other skills that he had made available to the KGB for more than eight years.
The drama behind the exposure of these two masterspies is itself worthy of an entire study in itself, and MI5’s complacency was to be the source of considerable criticism when Mitrokhin’s material was made public, but MI5 had not discovered until June 1999 that a BBC journalist, David Rose, had been researching an unrelated television documentary entitled The Spying Game in which he intended to include an interview with Mrs Norwood. He filmed this secretly in August when he had called at her home in Bexleyheath, Kent, although quite how Rose learned that Melita Norwood had been a spy remains unclear, but the likelihood is that he was told about the case while he was being briefed for his film. In any event, with the certainty that Mrs Norwood was to feature In Rose’s broadcast, the decision was taken at the very last moment to insert her real name, and that of John Symonds, in the pages of The Mitrokhin Archive, thereby attracting considerable media coverage when The Times serialized the book in early September 1999.
The revelation contained in Mitrokhin’s files that John Symonds had operated as a KGB agent codenamed SCOT proved hugely embarrassing for the Security Service because the ex-policeman and army officer had long ago volunteered a confession that had been rejected as being too fanciful to be true. Having disappeared when charged with corruption in 1972, Symonds had spent the next few years working for the KGB, and when he finally returned to Britain in April 1980, having travelled across the world on various different passports, he surrendered to the authorities and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, having been found guilty at the Old Bailey on two charges of corruption. Although Symonds had offered MI5 a potentially vital counter-intelligence breakthrough, detailing many of the operations he had participated in under the KGB’s direction, he had been rebuffed because his story was considered too incredible to be believed. It was only after his release from Ford open prison, and Mitrokhin’s defection, that MI5 realised what an opportunity it had passed up. Far from being a dreamer and hoaxer, Symonds had been entrusted with a series of sensitive operations by his KGB controllers, and was considered in Moscow to have performed his tasks well.
Even after Mitrokhin’s confirmation of Symonds’ covert role as a KGB spy, the Security Service could not bring itself to accept his renewed, generous offer of cooperation, so doubtless the pages that follow will be read with as much interest by the molehunters of Thames House as by other readers. What led Symonds to collaborate with the KGB in the Moroccan capital of Rabat? How many western secretaries with access to classified information did he seduce while entrapping the unwary at Bulgarian beach resorts? What is the truth behind his allegations of corruption in the Metropolitan Police? Who were his targets among the unmarried women working at the British Embassy in Moscow? Why did his German girlfriend agree to betray secrets to the KGB? Did he really recommend that a Special Branch bodyguard responsible for protecting the KGB defector Oleg Lyalin could be bribed?
What follows is a story that no novelist or thriller-writer could have invented. It is the career of a disappointed soldier, an idealistic police officer, a desperate fugitive and manipulative spy. It is also the story of Nellie Genkova, a beautiful Bulgarian language teacher who remained loyal to a man she knew as John Arthur Phillips, supposedly a Communist Party official who spent much of the year travelling the world. Incredible, certainly, but also absolutely true.

Nigel West

August 2010

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