Why didn't Oxford University Press properly vet discredited Soviet "defector" Boris Volodarsky?
This article originally appeared at John Helmer (Dances with Bears)
Reading a new 789-page history of a Soviet spy, Alexander Orlov, who defected to the US seventy-seven years ago with the equivalent of a million dollars in Cheka cash, and conned the CIA, FBI and several American publishers into giving him a second million, can’t be all work and no fun.
For one thing, the book reveals what a mendacious fool Ernest Hemingway was when he was in the Spanish Civil War composing novels, plays and journalism that made him rich then, famous still. For another, the book suggests that Kim Philby wasn’t half as far-sighted and clever as his British intelligence superiors were blind and stupid. And finally, in Oxford University Press’s (OUP) breakthrough contribution to recent Ukrainian history, the author – in Kiev just days before the February 2014 coup which toppled the president – received estimates of the famine death toll in Ukraine in 1932-33 from “the first non-biased chief of the Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny (SBU)”.
The author is Boris Volodarsky. That’s him in a London street holding an umbrella. As the author of a previous book on poisoning by the old KGB, and as a professed friend of the late Alexander Litvinenko, it’s likely his umbrella isn’t the poisoning model which was famously and fatally used on a Bulgarian broadcaster for the BBC on another London street in 1978.
It’s in the nature of espionage that books about it can’t be straightforward. The umbrella is the only self-evident article in the picture.
Volodarsky claims – on the rear flap of OUP’s dust jacket — to have been “drafted into the Soviet army as a GRU spetznaz officer (military intelligence, special operations) and later trained as an undercover intelligence operator, at a time in the 1980s when Soviet intelligence services were on alert to watch for US preparations for a surprise nuclear attack against the USSR.” How he got away “with the onset of glasnost and perestroika” – that’s before the end of the Soviet Union – he doesn’t say. In fact, there’s not a shred of evidence, inside or on the outside of his book, or in his publisher’s promos, that apart from being Russian Volodarsky is any more the genuine article than the man Orlov (aka Feldbin, Nikolsky, Nikolaev, Goldin), whose history he claims to have documented irrefutably for the first time.
Another source claims Volodarsky held the rank of “captain of the GRU Spetsnaz”. In some parts of the Red Army that might have been a position of such lowliness Volodarsky could have walked out of the USSR without any of his comrades barring the way, or getting clandestine help from the US or the UK. But Volodarsky is not on standard lists of Soviet, Russian or East European defectors. So walk away, legally, he appears to have done. From the sources he cites in his book, it also seems he hasn’t returned. Volodarsky is keeping secret how he did the former, why he doesn’t dare the latter.
Such unexplained secrecy about a man asking to be believed as a historian of Russian secret intelligence operations raises an obvious question: is the author of Stalin’s Agent: the Life and Death of Alexander Orlov, an agent himself? If so, for whom?
Volodarsky’s publisher ought to know if it counts itself honest for asking £30 for a copy of the truth. At the very least, the publisher ought to have investigated the manuscript for the liability of libel and lies. For a press with OUP’s claim to respectability, the latter can turn out to be more expensive than the former. Until OUP took the plunge with Stalin’s Agent, Volodarsky had published his claims at printers with no pretensions – and little to lose in the market.
Volodarsky lists two books in the flyleaf of his newest one. In 2009 he published The KGB’s Poison Factory, from Lenin to Litvinenko. President Vladimir Putin is made to illustrate the cover with a none too subliminal message. Promoters of this message are three publishing names listed on the inside – Frontline Books, Pen & Sword Books, and Zenith Books. The first two are specialists in military history; they are owned by the Barnsley Chronicle newspaper group of Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Zenith is a publisher and distributor of mostly military books, based in Minneapolis. It’s owned by the Quarto Publishing Group, which buys and sells specialist publishers on everything from drinking to horse-riding, boating, motoring and killing. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, Quarto has a market cap of £29.8 million. That’s 50% more than when the group issued The KGB’s Poison Factory.
At the front (of the book, that is) Volodarsky writes that Tennent Bagley “agreed to spend time and effort reading and correcting the text.” Alex Goldfarb, Paolo Guzzanti, Boris Berezovsky and his business partner, Badri Patarkatsishvili feature prominently. Be patient and read on — they appear again.
Nikolai Khokhlov (‘Whistler’): Self-Esteem with a Halo of 2005 , the first book Volodarsky told OUP he had published, cannot be found in Amazon’s current inventory of new and used books, or at the Book Depository. The only internet reference to its existence as a book identifies the publisher as Boris DeWall and his private publishing company, Borwall. There is only one DeWall in the UK, according to the standard searches; DeWall may not be his original name, and his Christian name may be a clue to whence he hails.
His eponymous company, Borwall Publishing (UK) Limited appears in UK company listings with disguised directors from an outfit specializing in front company operations. The address, suite number 16860, represents that its building at 72 New Bond Street, Mayfair, contains more rooms than is possible, even if the toilets are included. But that was between 1997 and 2000, after which Borwall Publishing’s registration was cancelled. Five years later, in 2005, the front company was resurrected to put Volodarsky’s maiden appearance in print.
Chaperoning this work were Bagley (below left) and Oleg Gordievsky (centre). Bagley told the OUP that he’s “former deputy chief of the CIA’s Soviet Bloc division”; Gordievsky is a well-known MI6 asset because he spied for MI6 from inside the KGB between 1974 and 1985, and then managed to escape to London, where he’s lived ever since. Gordievsky wrote the endorsing introduction to the Kohkhlov work. Kokhlov (right) defected from the KGB in 1954 and lived in the US until his death in 2007. TheWikipedia bio for Khokhlov, updated to September 2014, mentions several books about Khokhlov’s KGB career, none of them Volodarsky’s. The obituary for Khokhlov didn’t think Volodarsky’s effort was worth mentioning either.
Bagley’s career at the CIA as a handler of defectors is notorious because of his role in the affair of the supposed, then suspected KGB walk-in, Yury Nosenko. This is how theNew York Times cast Bagley in an obituary last year, after he died on February 20, 2014. His encomium for Volodarsky’s new book is dated 2013. Volodarsky signed off thanking Bagley — “tough intelligence operator, knowledgeable expert on Soviet intelligence history, and author of several important books on the KGB” – in May 2014. Volodarsky omitted to mention that Bagley was dead; Nosenko too.
Bagley’s judgement of Nosenko as a double agent, KGB provocateur and liar, helped end his CIA career. The Agency concluded that Nosenko was the genuine article, Tennent not. For more, click on Nosenko’s obituary six years before Tennent’s. In retrospect, what Volodarsky means by calling Tennent “tough” is what the Nosenko record calls “interrogation techniques now familiar to the public from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib”. In a word, torture. Tennent used to claim he didn’t use it on Nosenko.
What Tennent did to break Nosenko, then fabricate and fantasize the evidence for his Agency superiors, Gordievsky later called “the most shameful page in the history of the CIA”. According to Volodarsky, without Tennent “I could not have carried out the work”.
Tennent encouraged OUP to publish Stalin’s Agent because, he said, “Volodarsky’s work is fresh and pertinent… Boris offers unique insight into the methods and the mindset of those murderous and deceptive men who, with Orlov, staffed the NKVD/KGB – and whose FSB/SVR successors ruled Russia today, with those methods and mindset little changed.” There’s the nub – Oxford University and its publishing department are endorsing Volodarsky, not as a historian of the perfidious Cheka of long ago, but of the Evil Empire of the present. This is a war book, not a history book.
The Oxford University Press editor responsible is Luciana O’Flaherty (below left). She is thanked by Volodarsky “for her painstaking, insightful, and sympathetic reading of all the chapters”. An Italian crusader against Italian leftwing parties, KGB poison plots, and communist schemes, Paolo Guzzanti, (centre) is credited by Volodarsky for “his great help and support”.
Alex Goldfarb (right), an employee of Boris Berezovsky, and with him one of London’s most tireless Russian putsch schemers, is thanked for “his efforts to make this book appear earlier”. If that means money from Berezovsky, before he lost it all to Roman Abramovich, and then died by his own hand, Volodarsky isn’t saying. A US investigation of Goldfarb’s involvement in stories of alleged poisoning by the KGB says: “Mr. Goldfarb…dispensed money to a web of anti-Putin websites”.
According to Volodarsky, Berezovsky’s death by hanging or asphyxiation was murder, not suicide. He presented his version in Russian on Radio Azadlig. Shortly after Berezovsky’s death was reported in March 2013, Volodarsky told the Azadlig interviewer he believed Berezovsky had been killed “by a new weapon, I do not know just how exactly today experts can detect signs of its use… I cannot exclude that psychotronic weapons were used. These are fairly well known, though in secret development. We are talking about low-frequency radiation of great strength, which targeted at human exposure may have influence on the brain and cause the brain to perform certain commands.”
Radio Azadlig is the Azerbaijan service of the US Government propaganda organ, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Interviewed on the same radio programme, Gordievsky didn’t endorse Volodarsky. Instead, he said Berezovsky had killed himself because he had been discredited by the UK High Court, bankrupted by the money judgement in Abramovich’s favour, and lost the will to live. For more on that, click.
The August 2012 judgement of Justice Dame Elizabeth Gloster was that Berezovsky was “an inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes. At times the evidence which he gave was deliberately dishonest; sometimes he was clearly making his evidence up as he went along in response to the perceived difficulty in answering the questions in a manner consistent with his case; at other times, I gained the impression that he was not necessarily being deliberately dishonest, but had deluded himself into believing his own version of events.”investigated Volodarsky as painstakingly as Gloster did for Berezovsky, what judgement might the Fifteen Delegates (right), who officially supervise OUP, have come to about his manuscript? The OUP editors in charge claim they didn’t know there was any link between Volodarsky, his research, Berezovsky, his employees, his money, and his plots.
O’Flaherty was asked what evidence she and her management had gathered to verify Volodarsky’s claims to have been the Soviet spy he says he was. She refuses to say. Her colleague, Matthew Cotton, who says he also worked on the editing of Volodarsky’s book, said that all that OUP knows about Volodarsky came in “the details provided by the author”. He added that the publisher had conducted no checks of its own. Did he know whether Volodarsky was telling the truth about himself? “Not personally, no.”
Cotton adds that he doesn’t know what Volodarsky meant by his reference in the book to Goldfarb’s efforts to assist publication. As for Goldfarb’s employment by Berezovsky, Cotton said: “I have never heard that before.” O’Flaherty claims: “I know nothing about Dr Voldarsky’s relationship with Mr Goldfarb.”
If they can be believed, neither OUP editor responsible for the veracity of Stalin’s Agent can have bothered to read the acknowledgements and several parts of The KGB Poison Factory.
Had Goldfarb, Berezovsky, or any group associated with them made “efforts” to assist Volodarsky in the writing, or OUP in the publication of the book? Cotton said he needed time to research the matter; but he hasn’t followed with an answer. O’Flaherty said she didn’t know if Goldfarb or Berezovsky had employed Volodarsky. Volodarsky acknowledges that he has worked for Badri Patarkatsishvili, Berezovsky’s longest lasting and closest business partner.
OUP wasn’t on the take, at least knowingly, according to O’Flaherty. “We received no money of any sort from any source. The usual amount of books for an academic title of this sort have been printed. There are no sales outside the regular streams for an academic book… The book is an academic study and was read by academic experts in the field.”
As it stands, the book runs to 789 pages, plus 33 pages of acknowledgements, including Bagley’s foreword, and another by Paul Preston (right). He is an academic specialist on the history of modern Spain, particularly the Civil War, its winner Francisco Franco, and his political heir, the former King Carlos. Preston’s interest is in Orlov’s participation in the Spanish Civil War. Preston apparently depends on Volodarsky’s say-so for reporting that Volodarsky was “himself an ex-officer of Russian military intelligence”. He also takes Volodarsky’s word for it that “because of lack of experience (and because they ‘missed’ Orlov), [MI5 and MI6] failed to expose the numerous moles in British secret services, the foreign office, and parliament.” Preston is as upset about Philby as Volodarsky.
The text runs for 496 pages, and is followed by almost 300 pages of document photographs, footnotes, bibliographical references and index. Volodarsky is the must-read reference for Russian spy aliases and codenames. There are a total of 205 code-names in the index ranging from AVIATORSHA (female aviator) to ZHULIK (swindler). The list of aliases runs the character list in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace a close second.
A special appendix is dedicated by Volotarsky to “Soviet agents, suspected agents, collaborators and symnpathizers”, by which he means, exclusively, British citizens whom he wants us to call traitors because he does. He doesn’t approve either of homosexual orientation (when it goes hand in hand with spying); he hates Philby. In the appendix Volodarsky puts the boot into a total of 60 British individuals by file codename, or by real name.
It’s unclear whether Volodarsky is claiming that because he’s spotted their names in a file, he has any other evidence of criminal guilt. Take, for example, someone reported as Jack Jones, code-named DREAM. He’s charged by Volodarsky with appearing in “File no. ————–“ and with having been “recruited in Spain by —————- but had worked since the same year in London”. There is no record of this Jones in the rest of the book. Ditto for “Sir Andrew Cohen”. He stands accused by association with the others in the appendix. In his listing, the code-name is missing, and also the file. Whoever he is, there is nothing about him in the main text.
Google counts 231 million references to Jack Jones; 3.3 million to Sir Andrew Cohen. According to Volodarsky’s method of doing history, if he’s come across a Russian file (or maybe a Spanish, French, American, German, or British one), the individual named was certain to have been a collaborator at best, traitor at worst. “Those who do not have file numbers and code names or whose personal file numbers are unavailable might have been KGB collaborators or sympathizers.” Oxford University’s defamation lawyers might have insisted on the subjunctive, if they weren’t assured the names belong to corpses and can’t sue (except in the state of New York).
What is useful in this encyclopedia is Volodarsky’s lists of who was married to, or sleeping with whom; whether they were goodlooking (he’s more cautious about identifying Jews); what Russian illnesses required consultations with doctors in Paris or Vienna; and what bourgeois comforts (chocolates, backyards, first-class train seats) the Chekists bought out of the station petty-cash tin.
If you want to be convinced how wicked Russian individuals were in the 1930s, and how evil they are to this very day, this book is for you. If you want to understand the Soviet strategy and tactics in Europe, and those of their adversaries, particularly the Germans, this book obliges you to look elsewhere. Volodarsky’s conclusion is that Russian evil explains everything; reason, including reason of state, explains nothing.
OUP’s O’Flaherty provided contact details for Volodarsky through his literary agent, Sonia Land, of the Sheil Land agency in London, claiming that as far as truthfulness goes, he and she “really are best placed to answer.” Land was out to lunch when telephoned at her office. But her telephonist and Gabrielle Hancock, an assistant, confirmed Land’s email address and agreed to deliver the following questions: