The Mitrokhin Archives – a collection of thousands of top-secret documents copied from the original and smuggled out of Russia by former KGB officer-turned-defector Major Vasiliy Mitrokhin – was opened to the public on Monday at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.

“There are only two places in the world where you’ll find material like this. One is the KBG archive – which is not open and very difficult to get into – and the other is here at Churchill College where Mr. Mitrokhin’s own typescript notes are today being opened for all the world to see,” said Professor Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge historian, who was given access to the files, and who co-authored two books on the Soviet intelligence system with Mr. Mitrokhin.

The second of the two books, The Mitrokhin Archives II: the KGB in the World by Professor Andrew and Mr. Motrokhin has chapters on India, in which they claim extensive infiltration of the KGB into government, political and media networks.

The book caused a political uproar in 2005 in India when it was published as it alleged among other things that several prominent communist and non-communist Indian leaders, including Indira Gandhi, were on the payroll of the KGB.

"The released material includes Vasiliy Mitrokhin's typescript volume on India: a volume that he compiled from his original manuscript notes while still in Russia after his retirement in 1984,” Allan Packard, Director of the Churchill Archive Centre told The Hindu.

“The very fact that there is a whole volume on India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma suggests that this was an area of importance to the KGB, and the detail is now available to researchers by appointment in the Churchill Archives Centre," he added.

Mr. Mitrokhin was a senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence archive between 1972 and 1984, and had access to hundreds of thousands of files from the global network of the KGB.

He secretly took handwritten notes of the material he was handling, which he would smuggle out of the office concealed in his clothing and bury in tins under his Dacha in Moscow.

His defection to the United Kingdom with his family and archive in 1992 was planned and engineered by the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.

Mr. Mitrokhin died in 2004.

According to Professor Andrew, the material throws light on “The inner workings of the KGB, its foreign intelligence operations and the foreign policy of Soviet-era Russia [and] gives unprecedented insight into the KGB’s activities throughout much of the Cold War.”

Among the 19 boxes and thousands of papers being opened to the public are KGB notes on Pope John Paul II, whose activities in Poland were closely monitored before his election to the Papacy; maps and details of secret Russian arms caches in Western Europe and the USA; and files on Melita Norwood, codenamed ‘Hola’, who was the KGB’s longest-serving UK agent, passing on classified information from her office at the British Non Ferrous Metals Research Association in Euston, North London, where nuclear and other scientific research took place.

Regardless of Mr. Mitrokhin’s commitment and industry, however, the fact that his archive is based on transcriptions of the original documents imposes limitations on the credibility of the material as a historical source. The documents he chose to transcribe were based on his own -- necessarily subjective -- notion of what was important. Secondly, transcription by hand can result in copying errors.

Nevertheless, the archives are poised to become an important and accessible new source for cold war intelligence studies.

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