The young girl is beautiful, and the Shah, receiving Iranian students during a visit to Paris, cannot but notice her. The man who heads the office for Iranian students abroad pushes the girl forward, and sings her praises to pin the Shah down in front of her.
Love at first sight? Perhaps , perhaps not. But a few months later the student girl with a charming smile marries the Shah, in a One Thousand and One Night ceremony, to become Empress Farah Pahlavi.
What neither the Shah nor Farah knew at the time, however, was that their “chance encounter” had been carefully planned by the Soviet secret service, the KGB, through one of their “assets”, an Iranian diplomat named Jahangir Tafazoli, who headed the Iranian students’ office at the time.
The reason the KGB wanted Farah as a bride for the Shah was that one of her “close relatives”, recruited by the KGB while a student in Paris, had claimed that the future Empress had “strong Communist sympathies.”
This is one of the sensational revelations contained in “The Mitrokhin Archive II”. The book is based on KGB documents stolen by Vasili Mitrokhin, a Soviet intelligence analyst who defected to the British in 1992. For more than 30 years Mitrokhin had the task of classifying KGB documents. After a few years, however, he formed a habit of keeping copies for himself, hiding them in his dacha near Moscow.
The first volume of the Mitrokhin Archive, described by the CIA as “the biggest ever hoard of secret documents from the USSR”, was published a decade ago and dealt with KGB activities in the West. It caused a sensation by exposing a large number of KGB agents, including high officials and fashionable intellectuals in Europe and North America.
This second volume deals with the KGB’s operations in the Third World, especially the Middle East, and also contains plenty of revelations.
We learn that Wadi Haddad, the iconic figure of Palestinian resistance, had been on the KGB payroll almost from the start and would carry no operations without Moscow’s green-light. Haddad’s recruitment was so important that Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief, personally wrote to Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, to relay the news.
The KGB also recruited a brother of President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria, giving him the codename of “MUNZER”, along with Sami Sharaf, one of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s closest aides. Another valuable “asset” was Hani al-Hassan, a Palestinian leader whom Yasser Arafat regarded as his “most trustworthy colleague”. A full-time KGB agent, codenamed GIDAR was planted next to al-Hassan.
Mitrokhin reveals that the attack on the Munich Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed was, contrary to common belief, ordered by Yasser Arafat himself and orchestrated by Hani al-Hassan and not supposedly “rogue elements” among the Palestinians.
Also working for the KGB was “a close relative” of Amir Abbas Hoveyda who served as Prime Minister of Iran for 12 years.
The KGB’s biggest successes were in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. In most cases, would-be agents were tempted by money and women. Those who agreed to serve the KGB for purely ideological reasons were members of the Communist parties in the region. Some Communist leaders, like Syria’s Khaled Bakdash and Nureddin Kianuri of the Iranian Tudeh (Masses) Party, were on the regular KGB payroll. Others like Aziz Muhammad of Iraq received occasional lump sums while South Yemeni Communist leaders made money through business contracts with the USSR and its allies.
One fascinating part of the book deals with Iraq’s deposed despot Saddam Hussein. Initially, Saddam was backed by the British.
He, however, worshipped Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, and tried to imitate his life. That enabled the KGB to woo Saddam away from the British, persuading him to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Moscow and providing the Soviet Navy with mooring rights in the port of Um-Qasar at the head of the Persian Gulf.
One man who played a key role in all this was Yevgueni Primakov, the KGB’s longest-serving agent in the Arab world.
The book contains too many revelations to mention in a review.
Its real value lies in two facts.
The first is that the documents show that by the mid- 1970s the USSR had won the part of the Cold War waged in the “developing world.” Of the Arab countries only Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Morocco had managed to remain “clean” of KGB penetration at the highest levels. Pro-Soviet regimes were in power in all but nine of the 77 countries of the “nonaligned movement.”
And, yet, the Soviet leadership was at a loss as what to do with its victory, especially in the wake of the United States humiliating retreat from Vietnam in 1975.
The tide began to turn against the Soviets thanks to one man: Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat who decided to switch to the American camp at a time that the Soviet side seemed to be winning. Sadat’s switch triggered a movement that didn’t stop, even when his closest regional ally, the Shah, was overthrown by a coalition of Islamists and KGB-financed Communists.
The second fact to note is the contempt that senior Soviet leaders, especially Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister for 25 years, had for the developing nations.
To Gromyko only one power mattered: the United States. All other nations, especially the “Third World” ones, were pawns in a global chess played between Washington and Moscow. As a result Soviet policy in the Third World, including the creation and management of dozens of Communist parties, was left to the KGB.
The KGB played a rough game, using every dirty trick imaginable.
It passed false information to the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini to ensure the arrest and execution of dozens of Iranian army and air force officers suspected of pro-American sympathies. The KGB was also responsible for fabricated documents showing that Sadeq Qutbzadeh, once Khomeini’s closest aide, had been plotting to kill him as part of a CIA plan. The false information was passed to Khomeini through two channels: Hani al-Hassan, the PLO man in Tehran, and Shamsuddin Amir-Ala’i, Khomeini’s ambassador to Paris who had also been on the KGB payroll for years.
Some of the KGB’s dirty tricks had more tragic consequences. False information planted in Damascus persuaded the Ba’ath regime to execute upwards of 200 officers. And in Iraq, Saddam Hussein killed an unknown number of people partly because of fake KGB information identifying them as British or American agents.
In all this the CIA, despite a budget 100 times higher than the KGB’s, was worse than useless. The British secret service, known as SIS, however, is cited with admiration by Mitrokhin. While the KGB was busy with dirty tricks in post-revolution Tehran, the British were busy recruiting Vladimir Kuzishkin, the KGB’s own head in the Iranian capital!
Oh, by the way, Farah soon disappointed the KGB by turning out to be “a passionate royalist.” Mitrokhin’s documents show that Farah’s supposed pro-Communist sympathies in Paris had been nothing but juvenile aberrations.