In January 1972, Operation Simon entered its final stage. A team from Service A, a key department in the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (which was responsible for collecting intelligence and special operations outside the USSR) traveled to Paris to gathered intelligence ahead of the operation.
Service A was responsible, among other things, for the operations against Zionist and Jewish organizations, an issue of utmost importance as far as the omnipotent KGB head, Yuri Andropov, was concerned.
In the Soviet intelligence’s glossary, Operation Simon meets the definition of “active measures.” Their practical meaning was “aimed at exerting useful influence on aspects of interest in the political life of a target country, including its foreign policy; the solution of international problems; misleading the adversary; undermining and weakening the adversary’s positions.”
Operation Simon included secretly infiltrating the World Jewish Congress (WJC) offices in Paris and copying internal material—mostly documentation on the members of the large international organization— in order to map its ties to other key Jewish organization.
The Russians’ surveillance of the headquarters, located in the heart of the City of Lights, revealed that the employees did not sense any danger. While the threat of global terrorism had already been raised at the time, no one in the WJC bothered to install an alarm system or have the offices guarded at night. A KGB team obtained a key to the front door from one of the employees and copied it.
And so, on February 12, a KGB operative arrived in Paris to carry out the mission. His nickname was Chub, which in Russian means “a Cossack’s forelock.” Soviet intelligence humor, apparently.
Chub easily infiltrated the building through the main entrance. He worked all night and photocopied a large number of documents. The loot was impressive: A list of the WJC’s 20,000 supporters in France, including their names, addresses and information on the donations each of them gave the organization, as well as the names of 3,000 subscribers in 55 countries of Information Juive – a newspaper for the French-speaking Jewish community.
Chub quickly passed on the material to the Soviet Union’s embassy in Paris and returned to Vienna the same day using a fake passport. The material reached the desk of General Nikolai Kosov Antonovich, who was in charge of Service A. The operation, it later transpired, was relatively easy but not risk-free. In any event, it suggested just how much Andropov wanted to sabotage Jewish organizations.
Operation Simon was merely a prelude to the real thing.
In the year that followed, KGB experts worked to analyze the material Chub had stolen, leading to the planning of a wide-scale operation. On January 4, 1973, Kosov presented the planned cluster of operations to his boss Andropov, who approved it the next day, and the operation was underway shortly thereafter.
The KGB created an entire series of sophisticated forgeries based on the stolen material and on the contact and member lists. The goal was to sow internal dissent and create a rift between the Jewish organizations, occupying them as much as possible with internal rows, while deepening the suspicion that they were stealing money from one another.
Service A created a new fictitious Jewish organization, Union of Young Zionists – a name which may have sounded familiar to some. The intelligence gathering and research done ahead of the operation revealed that there really was an organization by that name, which was active in Poland in the 1930s and 1940s.
The fictitious organization sent completely fabricated documents to addresses of members found in the documents that were stolen from the WJC headquarters. The fabricated documents framed WJC members of embezzling huge amounts of donations that were supposed to reach Israel and instead found their way into their own pockets.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) and its operational arm, the Jewish Agency, were also involved in the embezzlement, the fabricated documents suggested.
They further revealed a link between the WJC and radical Jewish organizations that at the time were seeking to spur anti-Semitic activity in Western nations to encourage immigration to Israel.
A man who worked in an executive role in the WJC in Paris during those years, and who I recently met there, told me: “It was clear to us that someone was meddling in our affairs. Suddenly, we began receiving feedback from numerous supporters, friends, and donors demanding answers, some using harsh words. They wanted to know what had happened to their donations. We realized we were subject to a serious campaign of disinformation. The rumors, the accusations, the stories about theft – all caused us great harm. There was a sharp drop in donations alongside an atmosphere of suspicion. Some suspected the French intelligence, while others suspected the Russians, but the majority really thought it was a competing organization trying to take our place. Those were very unpleasant days.”
Did you file a complaint with the police?
“I was not involved in matters of security, but I don’t think we did. The embarrassment caused by such a thing, that someone would put so much effort in creating a web of lies about us, or the embarrassment that would be caused by us even investigating the accusations in the letters, was so great that the people in charge decided to shelve the matter.”
In October 1973, the KGB used information it obtained in Operation Simon to spread another libel: It created another front organization, this time a French pro-Israel organization, which was allegedly involved in the murder of a relative of then-French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. The murder, according to the non-existent organization, was in retaliation for the French president’s persecution of a group of Jewish financiers and because of his policy, which was hostile towards Israel.
“The Moscow center was obsessed with the ‘Zionist subversion’ against the Soviet Union,” Prof. Christopher Andrew, the historian of the British intelligence community, told me.
“To the point that they failed to understand how ridiculous it was to try to link the murder to Israel and to Zionism and that there was no chance people would believe this story. Although this libel probably did not cause any damage, and was anyway very far from Moscow’s original objective of taking ‘active steps’ against world Jewry and Zionism, they still saw the entire prank as a great success and were very proud of it.”
A danger to world peace
Chapter one of “The KGB’s Middle East Files,” a special series of articles which brings to light information mined from thousands of KGB documents smuggled to the West in the early 1990s, recounted the story of how Vasili Mitrokhin used his senior position as the spy agency’s deputy chief archivist to copy the top secret documents—with the Soviets being none the wiser.
These documents helped expose some 1,000 KGB agents across the world and uncover countless covert spy operations. In addition, two books were published about them by Prof. Christopher Andrew in cooperation with Mitrokhin himself. Nevertheless, only part of the information they contain actually made it to Israel. In fact, much in this vast trove of information about the KGB’s operations in the Jewish state and its attitude towards world Jewry and Zionism remains secret.
The Mitrokhin documents have recently been moved to Churchill College in Cambridge. Over the past six months, we’ve been working on sifting through them, translating them, and cross-referencing the material with other available information and sources.
In the first part of the series, we published a list of agents who were handled in Israel, according to the Mitrokhin documents, including names of Knesset members, media personalities, senior engineers in sensitive projects and top IDF officers.
The second part of our series of articles about the Mitrokhin documents revealed the secret ties between the KGB and the Palestinian terror organizations.
In the third part of the series, the Mitrokhin documents reveal that Operation Simon and the operations derived from it were just one battle of the war waged by the KGB against the world Jewry and the Zionist Movement. While domestically, the Second Chief Directorate, which was in charge of internal security, fought against the “refuseniks”—the movement of Jewish emigration from the USSR, the First Chief Directorate was busy fighting a years-long war, with plenty of manpower and unlimited funds, against all the major Jewish organizations in the world.
The KGB and politburo heads saw the Zionist and Jewish movements as a clear, immediate and real danger to world peace and to the integrity of the Soviet empire—“a danger which is only second to the main enemy, the United States.” And as farfetched as this may sound, they really believed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and were certain that the Jews were capable of anything.
Beyond the historical interest in stories about the KGB’s war on world Jewry, it’s important to note that Russia is currently controlled by the agency’s graduates. In light of the Russians’ smear operations, lies, and imaginative and unethical rifts, the suspicions that Moscow tried to influence the recent US elections or to bring down the West’s Internet servers are definitely understandable.
Yaakov Kedmi, who headed Nativ—an Israeli intelligence organization that maintained secret contact with Jews living in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and encouraged immigration to Israel— and is considered one of the senior experts in understanding the Soviet intelligence, told me that “the outlook of the leadership in the USSR and of the KGB was based on the notion that world Jewry was an extremely serious danger. They believed that its operations center was in the US and that it controlled the State of Israel from there, as well as controlling the American economy and financial system and the world’s trade and finance system.”
In 1992, upon the Soviet empire’s downfall, Nativ launched a secret operation to obtain access to contacts in the former Soviet Union, getting hold of tens of thousands of documents from nations that were once behind the Iron Curtain.
“We were able to learn just how well the KGB knew Israel and what was happening there, as well as the importance the organization ascribed to the Zionist movement and world Jewry,” says Kedmi. “The agency saw them as a key enemy, if not the main enemy. The harsh anti-Jewish approach was shaped by Andropov more than anyone. The first reason for this approach was personal: Andropov was not one-quarter Jewish, one-third Jewish or half Jewish. He was Jewish, period. I heard it from senior KGB people. Andropov knew that the party’s leadership was well aware of that, and some of them were infected with anti-Semitic racist attitudes. In order to prove that he was uninfluenced by his Jewish descent, and that he was genuinely pure when it came to that matter, he took the most radical line.”
Israel’s close ties with the United States only exacerbated the matter. “The Russians knew very well that David Ben-Gurion had a clear American inclination, and that as far as he was concerned, Israel should do everything to be part of the Western bloc and sign a defense alliance with the US. They saw how the Americans excused Israel for starting the Six-Day War, forgave it for the creation of the nuclear reactor in Dimona and ignored it, helped Israel with weapons and supplies during the October 1973 war, etc. They discovered how strong the Jewish influence was in US election campaigns. In their conversations with non-Jewish senior American officials, they repeatedly heard complaints about one official or another who was unable to do something because the Jews got in his way.
“As far as the Russians were concerned, the US-Israel relationship was a natural symbiosis in the Western imperialism, which was working against them. One is a continuation of the other. The questions of who wags whose tail and how the tail controls the dog were purely semantic in their eyes.”
Caution: Matzah delivery
True to his paranoid behavior, Andropov ordered the KGB to put great efforts in monitoring the ties between Soviet Jews and world Jewry. Even a matzah delivery from Jewish organizations abroad to their brethren in the USSR seemed like a very dangerous subversive act.
Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian oppositionist who spent many years in KGB interrogations and in prison, returned to the Soviet Union as a historian in the early 1990s and managed to photocopy many documents in the Kremlin archive. He discovered there a transcription of a top secret report Andropov had submitted to the politburo in March 1975, in which he said: “The delivery of these packages (of matzah) clearly intensifies the negative processes the Jewish population in the USSR is undergoing, strengthens their nationalist feelings and their support of emigration (to the West). The KGB believes the matzah arriving from abroad must be confiscated immediately.”
The organization allotted technological resources and a lot of manpower to monitoring phone calls between local Jews and Jews in the rest of the world. When it the Soviet Jews started complaining about the discrimination against them and presenting the USSR in a negative light, the KGB went to great lengths to cut off the phone communications between the “nationalist Jews” in the USSR and the “foreign elements supporting them”—in other words, Zionist organizations in the world.
In June 1975, Andropov informed the politburo heads with great satisfaction that the organization had succeeded in preventing or disconnecting phone calls, although the Jews had tried to outsmart them by using non-Jewish names, using public phones or dialing directly instead of through switchboards. Andropov bragged that by clamping down on Soviet Jews’ phone calls abroad, the agency had caused “significant damage to Zionist organizations in the world.”
The KGB saw the US as the global center of Judaism, and therefore as a place to invest great efforts in. On the other hand, the US did all it could to prevent the KGB from operating in its territory. Nevertheless, quite a few operations were carried out in the US as well, in a bid to muddy the local Jewish community’s name and create a conflict between the Jews and other monitories.
For example, the KGB chose the Jewish Defense League (JDL), led by extreme right-wing activist Rabbi Meir Kahane, to help them unknowingly with this “active measure.” The JDL has tried to carry out attacks against Soviet targets, in protest of the USSR’s attitude towards Jews, which made it a target for the Russians. The KGB conducted intensive intelligence gathering activities on the JDL, its operation methods and the language it used to claim responsibility.
According to the Mitrokhin documents, in September 1969, and then again several months later, the KGB sent threatening letters on behalf of the JDL to several representatives of Arab states in the United Nations, threatening to carry out terror attacks against the Arab diplomats in revenge for Palestinian acts of terror against Israel and Jews.
The objective was for the letters to spark a lot of anger, not just among the Arabs, but also among UN leaders and the US law enforcement authorities, as this was happening on their soil. Indeed, in response to the letters, the UN turned to the Israeli diplomatic mission and called for action against the JDL, while the FBI stepped up its operations against the group.
But the highlight of this activity was an attempt to drive a wedge between the Jews and the blacks in America. On July 25, 1971, Anatoli Kireev, who was in charge of operations in the US, ordered the KGB branch in New York to launch Operation Pandora. As part of the operation, a series of explosive devices were planted in African-American neighborhoods in New York and in one “black” college. After their detonation—which did not cause significant damage—the KGB’s operatives claimed responsibility on behalf of the JDL. Pamphlets distributed in “black” areas described the “crimes” allegedly committed by the JDL and called for revenge. In addition, the KGB handed out pamphlets on behalf of the Party of National Rebirth, a group of alleged white nationalists, calling on Americans to save America from the Jews.
Some say that the KGB’s operations against the JDL were the last straw as far as Kahane was concerned and the pressure put on him and his movement by the FBI became too much for him. So in September 1971 he left the US and immigrated to Israel.
“The way the KGB saw it,” says Yaakov Kedmi, “getting involved with the JDL and the black community in order to create bloody conflicts was a very natural thing. The truth is that the Jews helped the black leadership in the US immensely.
“The JDL acted against the USSR. As far as the Soviets were concerned, it was like killing two birds with one stone—both taking revenge on the JDL and making it responsible for the attacks on the blacks, and severing the ties between the Jews and the blacks in order to encourage the black revolt against the main government in Washington,” Kedmi adds.
Delaying Jews’ emigration
According to the Mitrokhin documents, in 1975 the KGB branch in New York was deeply involved in helping Russian and Arab diplomats gather votes for the UN General Assembly resolution that determined that “Zionism is racism.”
In 1976, Andropov initiated a series of secret measures, which the KGB would lead among the global diplomatic community, to push for the appointment of a special committee to investigate Zionism, similar to the UN committee against apartheid. The Arab states, led by then-Syrian President Hafez Assad, eventually decided not to promote the committee.
From the mid-1970s, the USSR toughened its policy on Jewish emigration to Israel. There were several reasons for the stricter policy: First of all, Andropov grew stronger and began serving as a full member of the politburo.
Secondly, in 1975, the American Congress approved an amendment to the US-USSR trade act (the Jackson–Vanik amendment), which stipulated improvements in the USSR’s policy on human rights issues as a condition for a possible easing of American-imposed trade restrictions on the USSR. Suspicious as always, KGS officials were certain that world Jewry was behind the amendment, and so the Soviet Union’s human rights policy didn’t change and restrictions on Jews weren’t eased.
A third reason was the Soviet Jews’ struggle to immigrate to Israel, which also included subversive operations by Jewish elements against the Soviets and the Americans using immigration permits to taunt the USSR.
“The KGB realized that there was one key element behind this international campaign (to help Jews leave the USSR and immigrate to Israel)—the Nativ liaison bureau,” says Kedmi, who started as Nativ’s operations office and later became the head of the organization.
What did you do to make them so angry?
“Who did we not approach and who did we not turn against them—from famous writers to intellectuals, politicians, ambassadors, and actors. They were surprised to learn that a leader in one of the Central American countries, who was actually one of the Communist leaders in that country, had shamelessly pressured the Soviet ambassador to allow the Jews to leave. They suddenly discovered a strong organization using their exact same methods against them, and it drove them crazy.”
Andropov’s response was indeed powerful. Part of the KGB’s work plan for 1976 was dedicated to a series of operations aimed at creating a conflict between Jewish government opponents who had left the USSR and other opponents, mainly Ukrainians who had left during World War II. A special effort was dedicated to the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (NTS) organization, one of the main anti-Communist movements, in a bid to create a rift between the veteran members, who were mostly non-Jews, and convince them that the Jewish members were attempting to expel them.
According to the Mitrokhin documents, considerable efforts were made in 1977 to defame Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, allegedly on behalf of former Soviet Jews, after he had issued a series of harsh declarations against the Kremlin’s policy.
In 1978, following a decision by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to take “measures to expose the reactionary essence of world Zionism and the anti-Soviet Zionist activity,” the KGB and the association of Soviet jurists prepared “the white paper of Zionism”—a horrible lampoon including serious lies.
Through the KGB’s secret channels, the book was distributed in 32 countries, handed to the leaderships of the Communist parties in the US, Canada and other countries, and distributed among parliament members, ministers and social activists from different countries, as well as representatives of international organizations, libraries and higher education institutions.
The book includes, for example, the story of a former Soviet citizen named Abramov. On April 24, 1978, all shook up, she knocked on the doors of the Soviet embassy in Vienna and said that she had immigrated to Israel two years earlier with her son Oleg. Like the “absolute majority” of new immigrants from the USSR, the Abramov family also sought to return to the old homeland. It turned out, however, as Abramov testified, that “agents of a special security service, specializing in keeping the immigrants in Israel, pressured us day and night.”
Her son Oleg eventually received a passport, but was murdered a week before the flight back home. “They wanted to murder me and my daughter as well,” she said. “A day before we left, we were badly beaten by them. At midnight, we escaped to the airport so that no one would see us. In the morning, we flew to Vienna.”
Soviet Jewry’s battle against state authorities, and the buzz it created thanks to Jewish organizations, did not leave the USSR government indifferent. It knew very well that the country’s image suffered a serious blow in the global public opinion.
KGB officials were convinced that this problematic reality, like almost every other problem, could be changed through “active measures” that would improve the USSR’s image as a country that actually treats its Jewish community well. The organization launched a series of operations, with the biggest one being against Lord Baron Immanuel Jakobovits, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and one of the most important intellectuals and leaders of British Jewry of all times, in addition to his immense contribution in the fields of ethics, morals and medicine.
Jakobovits fought a lot for Soviet Jews and demanded that the country’s authorities “not just ‘let my people go’ but ‘let my people live’”—in other words, that they significantly improve Soviet Jewry’s religious and human rights.
The rabbi had asked numerous times for permission to come and see for himself how the Jews were living beyond the Iron Curtain, and he was surely surprised when the approval finally came in November 1975. This unusual development, which was perceived as a good sign as to the USSR government’s attitude towards Jews, was even reported by the Jerusalem Post with a big headline. No one imagined that behind the charitable move was a sophisticated KGB plan, and that the rabbi had become the target of an “active measures” operation against him.
The KGB put together a group of agents and operatives—the Mitrokhin documents detail the names and code names of 11 of them—who would be the ones to meet the rabbi and present him with an utterly distorted picture of the Jews’ situation.
“Primarily, it’s important to get information about the plans of Rabbi Jakobovits and his delegation,” the Operation Order read.
In order to do so, the rabbi and his secretary were placed under close surveillance, and one of the undercover operatives even befriended him. The Jews that met with the rabbi were strictly filtered by the KGB. Some were active agents and some were associated with the government one way or another. The agents presented the delegation with the achievements of Jewish writers and cultural figures in developing Jewish culture and art in the USSR.
KGB agents with senior positions in the religious Jewish community were ordered to present community life in a positive light, “to talk about celebrating holidays and observing Shabbat at the synagogue, and to show the delegation a film about the birthday celebration for Rabbi Levin, the former rabbi of the Moscow synagogue.”
There were other meetings with Jews who reported how good their life was and how they had no intention, even if they were given the option, of emigrating from the USSR.
To further bolster the positive impression, the authorities “accepted” the rabbi’s request and allowed him to meet with Christian clerics, who were also KGB agents and who supported the accounts about the freedom of ritual and religion he had heard earlier.
The operation was deemed a great success. The rabbi returned from the USSR, and although he had also held meetings with oppositionists and aliyah activists, the propaganda planted in his head deeply affected him. In interviews to the media, he said that the situation in the USSR was not that bad, that no more than 100,000 Jews wanted to leave, and that the focus should be less on the refuseniks’ struggles and more on improving the community’s situation in general. Even years after his visit, when he wrote his memoirs, he refused to acknowledge the fact that he had fallen victim to a sophisticated KGB trick.
Jews under surveillance
According to the Mitrokhin documents, however, not everyone in the Soviet leadership considered Zionism a great danger, or a danger at all. There were those in the politburo who argued that Andropov’s obsession “is making us look stupid.”
In September 1978, when Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko visited the White House, he was surprised to be reprimanded by President Jimmy Carter over a person whose name he was unfamiliar with—Anatoly Sharansky. He later changed his name to Natan Sharansky and went on to become a minister in the Israeli government and in 2009 was appointed the Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.
Andropov had ordered to arrest Sharansky and was personally involved in hunting him down. The persecution continued until Sharansky was tried for treason, espionage and incitement and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
After his meeting with the American president, in a conversation with Soviet ambassador in Washington Anatoli Dobrynin, Gromyko referred to Andropov’s obsession with Sharansky as “absurd.”
But as far as Andropov was concerned, it was not absurd at all. In May 1979, he approved a special plan of operation against the international efforts in support of Sharansky. Andropov was especially concerned by a moratorium pledge for the protection of Yuri Orlov (a human rights activist and scientist in Russia) and Sharansky, which was signed by 2,400 American scientists and experts calling on American and Western scientists not to cooperate with Soviet counterparts until the two were released.
The Operation Order, which can be found in the Mitrokhin archive, is long and complicated, and includes dozens of operation sections, such as defaming the moratorium’s organizers in the Western press; bribing American scientists to withdraw their support; creating a film named “Lie and Hate,” which would present Sharansky as a CIA agent; and distributing a proclamation on behalf of scientists, politicians and social activists from West Germany, Italy and other European countries, which would condemn the boycott of scientists and defend the scientific ties between the West and the USSR.
In the first half of the 1980s, the refusenik movement—the most prominent aliyah activists—and the aliyah movement from the USSR reached their lowest point. KGB head Andropov and his successors happily informed the politburo—in a report which was partially correct at the time—that they had managed to suppress those movements, and that the Jews who were still active were under continuous surveillance by the agency and were unable to operate. Andropov reported, for example, in May 1981, that the KGB had managed to uncover plans for and prevent a meeting in a forest near Moscow both to commemorate the Holocaust and to protest authorities’ refusal to grant Jews exit permits.
Since the early 1980s, as Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev grew physically and mentally weaker, Andropov’s influence grew stronger. He was appointed to replace him upon his death in 1982, and served as the premier of the Soviet Union until 1984.
During that period, the country’s relations with the US reached an unprecedented low and the tensions were the highest since the Cuban missile crisis. These tensions led to US President Ronald Reagan’s famous speech, in which he referred to the USSR as the “evil empire,” and increased the friction between the countries to the point of the threat of war. These tensions greatly affected the KGB, which saw the situation as another product of the Zionist plot—which dominates the American leadership’s state of mind—to undermine the stability of the Soviet bloc. As a result, the KGB expanded its activity against Zionism.
According to the Mitrokhin documents, on December 25, 1981, the party ordered to “improve the intelligence activity against the subversion of the world’s Zionist centers.”
Several months later, the heads of all arms of the KGB met in Leningrad for a conference on Zionism. The conference’s speeches stressed the “extensive subversive activity of the Zionist centers around the world and their infiltration into decision-making centers in different countries,” and claimed that “the Zionist organizations are affecting some countries’ foreign policy and aggravating conflicts around the world.” The conference further stressed that “there is not a single negative incident in socialist countries that Zionists are not involved in.”
The Jews in the USSR, they argued, “are more inclined to betray the country, to wage a battle against the Soviet regime, to immigrate to a different country, to collect intelligence on the USSR and to hand it over to enemies.”
Following the conference, in the summer of 1982, they issued a “work plan for fighting Zionism” until 1986. Vladimir Kryuchkov, who was appointed head of the KGB in 1988, also stressed that “Zionism is the main threat to the USSR and to the Soviet bloc.”
The KGB’s work plans for the two following years were written in a similar manner. The KGB heads saw the Freemasonry movement as “part of the global Jewish conspiracy” as well, asserting that “the American industrial-military network is still dominated by Jews.”
According to the Mitrokhin documents, protocols of the first meetings chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev as the USSR leader in 1985 suggest that anti-Semitism did not skip his generation either. When the KGB presented its work plan against human rights activist Andrei Sakharov and claimed that he was “one-hundred percent” influenced by his Jewish wife, Yelena Bonner, Gorbachev said, probably jokingly: “Well, that’s what Zionism does to a person.”
Nevertheless, it was Gorbachev who released Sakharov from the house arrest he had been placed under, and later even opened the gates of the USSR for free Jewish emigration, which led to the arrival of about one million immigrants in Israel in the 1990s.