KGB — The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents

Article Type: 
Book Review
Published Date: 
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

KGB — The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents by John Barron (Reader's Digest Press, 1974) is a classic KGB espionage saga set during the Cold War!

This is a seminal book and monumental  work on the history, the (then) current methods, organization, goals, of Soviet espionage — i.e.,  KGB foreign intelligence with its First Chief Directorate — and internal security operations — i.e., the Second Chief Directorate.(1)

The author, John D. Barron (1930-2005), was an American investigative journalist, a brilliant Reader's Digest writer and editor, and one of the foremost scholars of Soviet espionage during the Cold War. He also wrote Operation Solo: The FBI's KGB dust jacketMan in the Kremlin (Regnery, 1996). He was an American patriot.

This book detailed and exposed all the KGB officers posted across the world who were then known to the Western security services. The KBG counted with a disinformation campaign slandering Barron, calling him a fake and his book a fabricated Zionist conspiracy! The fact, as later admitted by KGB Officer Oleg Nechiporenko, is that Barron's publication in 1974 of KGB — The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents dealt a crushing blow to KGB operations throughout the world! During the decade of the 1970s, its publication was one of the few intelligence successes of the West against the Soviets.

The book is 462 pages, including 14 chapters, four major appendices, chapter notes, full bibliography, and an excellent index. It is fully illustrated with 16 pages of photos revealing the faces of many of the main protagonists and antagonists, as well as operational methods. The content is as follows:

The Introduction is by Soviet scholar, Robert Conquest. The author's Preface describes the interesting circumstances leading to the compilation of information and the publication of this book.  Chapter I —"Instrument of Power" describes the organization and function of the KGB Directorates and Departments and their operations around the globe. Chapter III — "Sword and the Shield," also the emblems of the KBG, relates a brief history of the Cheka, forerunner of the KGB, and leads to momentous events in the USSR in the 1960s. Chapter IV — "Behind the Guarded Gates" exposes the methods behind foreign and internal KGB operations that are further expounded in the descriptive chapter titles, Chapter V — "How to Run a Tyranny," Chapter VI —"Surveillance and Seduction," Chapter VIII — "Disinformation: Poisoning Public Opinion,"  Chapter IX — "The Art and Science of Espionage," and Chapter XIII — "The Dark Core,"  describing "wet affairs" (assassinations).

Of particular interest is a dialogue between a KGBKaarlo Tuomi instructor and his student, who is being prepared to be sent to America as a "KGB illegal" spy. The student is Kaarlo Tuomi (photo, right), who we will meet again in the description of Chapter II. The dialogue provides a window of how the KGB operated and how the Soviet intelligentsia (in the voice of the instructor), viewed America:

[Instructor:] " '...Occasionally we must perform unpleasant acts, even kidnapping and liquidation. But none of this is immoral. All acts that further history and socialism are moral acts.' There were aspects of America the teacher frankly admired. 'Over there if you want to go somewhere, you just get in a car, bus, train, or plane and go, and nobody asks any questions,' he informed Tuomi with wonder in his voice. 'The highway system is unbelievable, and they're about to spend billions more to improve it.' But 'capitalism has nothing to do with this, does it?' Tuomi asked jokingly.

" 'In a way it does,' the teacher replied seriously. 'Just as feudalism had a place in history, so did capitalism. But its time is past. The American economy owes its strength to three primary factors that have nothing to do with capitalism. First, the United States has immense natural resources. Second, its territory has escaped the devastation of war for nearly a century. Third, America was settled by the bravest and most industrious people of Europe. Americans today are descendants of good stock, and they remain industrious and tough. It would be folly to pretend otherwise.' " (page 271)

The appendices are particularly useful to scholars, and are still invaluable as mines of information for Western intelligence services. Appendix C, for example, "The Practice of Recruiting Americans in the USA and Other Countries" describes how Americans can be duped into espying for a foreign tyranny against freedom in their own country! Appendix D, "Soviet Citizens Engaged in Clandestine Operations Abroad" was particularly damaging for the Soviets, revealing the identity of hundreds of their active spies throughout the world.

Cuban defectorChapter VII — "Dangerous Little Brothers" exposes the methods of the superb, super secret, and still active Cuban DGI (foreign intelligence).(2) During the 1960s and 70s, Cuban DGI officers (Cuban defector, photo, left) working in conjunction with the KGB scored spectacular victories against the U.S. because of the aura of revolutionary mystique that appealed to students and professors in the "New Left." There is a narrative human interest story that illustrates the naiveté of a young female Western student who volunteered to work for the Cubans.

Chapter X — "Treasures from the Vault" describes the sordid treason and espionage committed by a depraved U.S. army sergeant, Robert Lee Johnson (photo, below), who repeatedly sold U.S. and NATO defense plans to the Soviets in the mid-1960s. An interesting observation regarding KGB recruitment of a Johnson accomplice is noted in this chapter, and it's worth quoting at lenght:Robert Lee Johnson

"Contrary to popular supposition, the KGB is not primarily interested in homosexuals because of their presumed susceptibility to blackmail. In its judgment, homosexuality often is accompanied by personality disorders that make the victim potentially unstable and vulnerable to adroit manipulation. It hunts the particular homosexual who, while more or less a functioning member of his society, is nevertheless subconsciously at war with it and himself. Compulsively driven into tortured relations that never gratify, he cannot escape awareness that he is different. Being different, he easily rationalizes that he is not morally bound by the mores, values, and allegiances that unite others in community or society. Moreover, he nurtures a dormant impulse to strike back at the society which he feels has conspired to make him a secret leper. To such a man, treason offers the weapon of retaliation. " (p. 207)

Chapter XI —"The Plot to Destroy Mexico" describes the efforts of the KGB to wreak chaos, overthrow the Mexican government, and convert Mexico into a Soviet satellite south of the U.S. border!
Anwar Sadat
Perhaps the two best chapters of the book (by themselves certainly worth the price of the book) are Chapters II and XII.  Chapter II — "Secrets of the Desert" recounts the dramatic story of Vladimir N. Sakharov, an intelligent and sensitive KGB officer stationed in the Middle East, who recognizing the oppression of liberty and the evil falsifications of communism, defected in situ and spied for the West. His information exposed the treasonous espionage ring led by Egyptian communist and KGB agent, Sami Sharaf, and prevented just in time the overthrow of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt (photo, left). President Sadat and Egypt then bolted from the Soviet camp and joined the side of freedom and the West.

Chapter XII — "The Spy Who Changed His Mind" is the poignant story of KGB Illegal agent Kaarlo R.Tuomi (mentioned previously). Tuomi was arrested as soon as he entered the U.S. and through the patient and gentle treatment of his FBI case officer was turned not only into a double agent, but like Vladimir Sakharov, transformed into a genuine, American hero and patriot.

The book is not only a historic classic of espionage during the Cold War, but an informative thriller. I recommend it to historians, as well as Cold War and espionage aficionados (3), and assign it 5 stars without reservation — and this is almost forty years after its publication! An absolutely outstanding nonfiction classic!


1) KGB — The Secret Work of the Soviet Secret Agents by John Barron. Reader's Digest Press (1974)

2) See  Brian Latell's book Castro's Secrets — The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine (2012) and my full review of it posted in Hacienda Publishing.

3) I recommend the following books (which I have given brief descriptions in Hacienda Publishing) continuing the KGB-Cold War espionage saga thread begun with this magnificent book: KGB — The Inside Story: Of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev by Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky (1990); The Sword and the Shield — The Mitrokhin Archives and the Secret History of the KGB by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (1999);
The World Was Going Our Way — The KGB and the Battle For the Third World (Newly Revised Secrets from The Mitrokhin Archives) by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (2005).

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is the author of Cuba in Revolution — Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002)

Copyright ©2012 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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Comments on this post

"Wet affairs"

Another chapter of the Cold War closes:

"Georgi Markov: Bulgaria closes umbrella killing probe"
BBC, Sept 12, 2013

"Bulgaria has closed its investigation into the infamous Cold War murder of dissident Georgi Markov in London after the statute of limitations in the case expired on Thursday, 35 years and 1 day after his death.

"The exiled writer was stabbed in the thigh in 1978 by the poisonous tip of an umbrella while he waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge. The poison was identified as ricin. The British inquiry into the killing remains open.

"A spokeswoman for the Bulgarian prosecutors' office told Reuters that 'we need to have a suspect for the crime arrested, charged or put on a search list' to overcome the statute of limitations.

"As of the moment, we have not established the perpetrator and [none] of the above actions are undertaken," Rumiana Arnaudova added.

Britain has no statute of limitations. The Metropolitan Police continues to investigate the death...


Recently it has been brought to my attention that William Manchester condemned "McCarthyism" because there was not enough evidence of widespread Soviet espionage to warrant fear of communism in the 1940s and 1950s. In truth Mr. Manchester was not privy to the Venona intercepts, but he was aware of the revelations of Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeh Bentley. He was a great historian, but still he was an establishment historian, he made mistakes even in his magnum opus, The Decline and Fall of the Third Reich. Obviously, Mr Manchester wanted to remain "respectable," where liberal opinions were concerned and his historical perspectives remained within the accepted limits of the opinion cartel molders of the progressive media and the academic establishment.

What was quoted to me were not uncovered historic facts but "opinions," expressed as to kowtow and maintain the acceptance and approval of the establishment to which he belonged. That opinion was expressed as to preserve his "respectability," unlike, for example, the historian John Toland, to whom "respectability" and acceptance by the opinion molders took a subordinate place to telling the whole truth for the sake of historical accuracy (e.g., FDR possible foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbour attack because of the decrypted Japanese codes and yet allowing others to take the blamed). But returning to Senator McCarthy's accusations, consider the facts:

Of 83 person who pleaded the Fifth Amendment during McCarthy's Permanent Subcommitte on Investigations, several were later identified by the National Security Agency (NSA), Venona decrypted intercepts, and the FBI, as communist spies working for the USSR. A partial list of those identified include:

Lauchlin Currie--- Fellow traveler along with Silvermaster (Board of Economic Warfare), communist spies, high ranking in the FDR administration took and send secrets to Moscow...

Nathan Gregory Silvermaster--- multiple Boards and Executive jobs in the FDR administration. He led a large network of communist spies that supplied the KGB with US government secrets right under FDR's nose...

Solomon Adler, U.S Treasury Department; later escaped to Red China and joined Mao Zedong!

And there were others even before McCarthy, hundreds of communist spies AND traitors in our government in the 1940s and 50s.

Here is another very abbreviated list:

Alger Hiss– at the same time, he was spying for the Soviets, Alger Hiss was serving as the Acting Secretary-General of the UN at its founding session in San Francisco in 1945!

Victor Perlo--- communist spy in FDR's War Production Board worked for Soviet intelligence, the KGB.

Harry Dexter White--- Assistant Treasury Secretary, communist spy and traitor. Died of heart attack the day of his Congressional Hearing...

Michael Straight, son of the founder of the New Republic magazine--- Communist spy in FDR's State Department

Judith Coplon, convicted of being a Soviet spy after she was caught with secret U.S. documents at a meeting with a Russian agent in 1949 but was later acquitted on technicalities... How we survived the Cold War with FDR and the communists traitors under his very nose is an act of Providence!

Senator Joseph McCarthy may have used perhaps the wrong methodology and created a climate of suspicion, but he was largely correct, and he has been pilloried ever since by people who should know better, but don't, or just parrot what they hear in the major networks and MSM!

How we survived the Cold War with the deep penetration of our government by communist traitors, particularly during the FDR's years and beyond, is an act of Providence!
This partial list illustrates that there were dozens of fifth columnists in the US government.

His methods, as I said, may have been wrong , but he was proven right years after his death. The Liberal media has never apologized and has never even intimated that he had been correct. The Liberal cliche of McCarthyism persisted, just as you have illustrated!

For other sources and the truth of Joseph McCarthy see:

2) Buckley, Jr., William F. and Bozell, L. Brent (1954, 1995 Printing). McCarthy & His Enemies, The Record And Its Meaning. Regnery Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-89526-472-2.

3) Drummey, James J. (May 11, 1987). The Real McCarthy Record. The New American.

4) Evans, Medford (1970). The Assassination of Joe McCarthy. Western Islands. ISBN 0-88279-217-2.

5) M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (Random House, Inc., 2007) ISBN 1-4000-8105-X

6) Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Venona files and a very long list:

Simply, Senator McCarthy was destroyed before his charges could be proved! All of this has been said before elsewhere at this website under other headings but, as thee great philosopher and polymath,Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), once wrote, "Truth has to be repeated constantly, because Error also is being preached all the time, and not just by a few, but by the multitude.  In the Press and Encyclopaedias, in Schools and Universities, everywhere Error holds sway, feeling happy and comfortable in the knowledge of having Majority on its side."