All posts by Mark Hackard

BA in Russian Language (Georgetown University), MA in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies (Stanford University). I study the intersection of political culture, religion and strategic issues, which I approach from a traditionalist-conservative position. Some of my major intellectual influences are Joseph de Maistre, Juan Donoso Cortes, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Rene Guenon and Fr. Seraphim Rose. I translate classic Russian political and religious texts.

Operation Anadyr: Missile Maskirovka

When Moscow launched the ambitious Operation Anadyr, the deployment of missiles and an army division to Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Cuba in the spring of 1962, the KGB played no minor role in its execution. KGB military counterintelligence (Third Directorate) was responsible for ensuring the secrecy of the movement of Soviet forces, from Odessa and the icy port of Murmansk to the Caribbean tropics. The operation would become a textbook example of Soviet maskirovka (denial and deception). Historian Aleksandr Sever recounts:


Military counterintelligence officers not only had to catch spies, but also secure the integrity of military secrets in “special conditions.” As an example we can name the operation to shift Soviet forces to Cuba.

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The Great CIA Molehunt

KGB Lt. Gen. Vitaly Grigorevich Pavlov (1914-2005), a senior veteran of the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence), gives his view on the “revelations” of Soviet defectors, particularly Anatoly Golitsyn, and the subsequent molehunt that paralyzed the CIA in the 1960s.


The requirements of tradecraft are necessary to carry out not only during specific operations, but also in the course of life, including ordinary life, for a man serving in intelligence. It is my deep conviction that such organization of foreign intelligence work is not only desirable, but the only possible option. And may traitors such as Anatoly Golitsyn, Stanislav Levchenko, and the like not try to attempt to prove that they “know everything.” I can assure you: in over fifty years working in foreign intelligence I learned much, but not everything about its activities. About other units of the former KGB with whom I jointly operated, I know very little concrete, not to speak of great secrets.

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Through KGB Eyes: Washington, DC

In his memoirs, KGB First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) Colonel Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Sokolov gives his impressions of five years, from 1966-1971, serving in the FCD’s Line KR (Counterintelligence) in the KGB’s Washington residency. Culture shock and tradecraft come together as Sokolov just barely tolerates American cuisine, gets his ears blown out at a Beatles concert, and evades the FBI’s surveillance teams.


That summer in Washington was unusually hot. The temperature during the day went up to 40 degrees Celsius and higher, something that had occurred only 100 years ago. Along with that, as characteristic of Washington, the humidity remained high.

The weather wholly corresponded to the requirements of the KGB medical commission we underwent before our departure to America for work in conditions of a “hot and humid climate.” Dressed in a fashionable black Finnish half-cotton suit not available to all Soviet citizens, white nylon shirt and tie, and Czech “oak” loafers, I felt in the best case like I had a wig on, but confidently and with dignity I stepped onto the land of the Main Adversary for the first time.

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KGB Spetsnaz & World War III

On the drizzly autumn Friday of November 11th, 1983, US President Ronald Reagan would have no time for his customary Oval Office nap. Besides delivering a speech that morning to the American Legion in honor of Veterans Day, Reagan then filled the rest of his schedule taking part in a NATO nuclear war exercise under the designation Able Archer. The president found the subject matter fascinating but frightening; despite his firebrand speeches, he also hoped the Soviets understood they had nothing to fear from America. His hope was in vain.

In Moscow, General Secretary Yuri Andropov saw Reagan’s role in Able Archer, underscored by America’s recent invasion of Grenada and a worldwide security alert of US forces, as the cover for a nuclear first strike. Escorted early after a freezing sunrise along with chief of the General Staff Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov to the Politburo’s subterranean command bunker by his elite KGB troops, with crushing sadness and dread Andropov transmitted his directive, a desperate attempt to minimize the looming devastation his country faced.

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Spy Snatchers: KGB Alpha Group

Spetsnaz Group “Alpha” was founded in 1974 on the orders of KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. As this article by KGB veteran Lt. Col. Igor Atamenenko makes clear, Alpha was not only a secretive anti-terror force, but also the high-class muscle used in the KGB’s counterintelligence operations against foreign intelligence services. 


Even the KGB’s overseers from the CPSU Central Committee’s department of administrative organs were not informed of the true purpose of the Group “A,” Lubyanka’s super-secret unit that attained wide publicity under the name of Alpha only after the events of August 1991 in Moscow. For them it was just one of the structures within the KGB, and many operations executed by its officers also remain a closely-guarded secret to this day, continuing to to carry the stamp “Top Secret” and “Of Special Importance.”

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Vympel: The KGB’s Sword Abroad

Vympel, the KGB’s spetsnaz group for overseas action, was a unit forged, in the words of its initiator KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov, “without equal.” The following text outlines Vympel’s founding, the unit’s training process, and its general operational history.

The idea for founding a commando unit for the KGB belongs to the chief of Directorate S (Illegals) Yuri Drozdov, one of the men who directed the storm of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin’s palace. Returning from Moscow, he went to KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov and presented him with a plan to create a special-purpose group for carrying out operations during the “special period” – in short, a commando unit.

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Interview with a Soviet Spymaster

KGB Maj. Gen. Yuri Ivanovich Drozdov is known as a “living legend” of Soviet intelligence. Having himself operated under German identities, Drozdov worked as the KGB resident in China and the United States before eventually becoming the head of Directorate S, the famed Illegals, where he also founded the special commando unit Vympel. The following interview was conducted in September of 2010 on the occasion of his 85th birthday.


Yuri Ivanovich, first of all, thank you for sending your new book Operation President: From Cold War to Reset. I came to congratulate you on your 85th birthday, and as before, you’re at work.

My wife is still trying to convince me: “Enough, quit.” And I constantly answer the truth: if I leave, I’ll die. As previously I’m directing the independent consulting and marketing agency Namakon. And I write books.

Serious ones, concerning history, politics, Russia’s strategic development. But nonetheless I’d like to speak with you…

About intelligence I’ve told everything that’s allowed. Or almost everything.

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Inside The KGB’s Intelligence School

KGB Lt. Gen. Leonid Vladimirovich Shebarshin (1935-2012) was an experienced specialist on South Asia and Iran and would become the last chief of the Soviet KGB’s First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) in 1989. In his memoirs, Shebarshin recalls his time training at the KGB’s 101st Intelligence School in 1962. 


101 – That was the name of the intelligence school subsequently transformed into the KGB’s Yuri Andropov Red Banner Institute.

For the first time in my life I was quartered in a dormitory. In the two-story wooden house of pre-war construction, the walls were starting to become dilapidated, in places the floors would bend, but it was warm and cozy in the winter, and in the spring lilac branches would brush against the windows.

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Philby and the Betrayal of the West

In the twilight arena of international espionage, one name more than any other evokes an image of patient, masterful treachery, the insidious presence of the enemy in one’s own inner sanctum. No matter the country they serve, generations of intelligence and counterintelligence trainees have been expected to know this name well: Philby. For half a century now, Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby (1912-1988) remains both in espionage history and popular literature the quintessential mole, the deep-penetration agent who buried his way to the top of British intelligence to provide Soviet Russia with the Crown’s most guarded secrets. The shock of Philby’s treason reverberated throughout the British establishment, while in retrospective the affair tells us more about the social, cultural, and spiritual depravity of an entire ruling elite than just the sordid exploits of a spy.

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The Tsar’s Man in Tehran

The tragic and untimely death of Russian poet, playwright and diplomat Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov (1795-1828) in Tehran was just one episode in a geopolitical duel, the Great Game, as Russia and Great Britain maneuvered for position in Central Asia throughout the 19th century. This official account from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), authored by A.N. Itskov, tells a story of diplomacy, espionage, and murder in Persia. Translated by Mark Hackard.

For the first third of the 19th century, Russia was engaged in bloody wars with Persia (1804-1813 and 1826-1828). Consequently Russia emerged victorious, and Persia was forced to recognize Russia’s annexation of Georgia, Dagestan, Northern Azerbaijan, and also the Yerevan and Nakhichevan khanates. In elaboration of the conditions of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, which legally formalized the results of the two wars and became the basis of relations between the two lands up to October of 1917, a most active participant was the diplomatic counsel under the Commander of the Russian Army of the Caucasus Ivan Paskevich, Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov. Griboyedov had already worked in the Russian embassy in Persia between the two wars and had learned well the situation in the country. And when he journeyed to the camp of Abbas Mirza, the son of the Shah and commander of the Persian Army, to resolve political questions, at the same time he studied the state of the army and detected its low morale. Griboyedov also “probed” Abbas Mirza’s adjutant, Haji Mahmud Aga, regarding the latter’s possible future use as an agent, and was practically able to receive his consent on cooperating[i].

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