Spies Keep Secrets and, With Them, Their Own Power

December 27, 2019 Updated: January 7, 2020
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Commentary

Sometimes it takes decades before we get the facts about our past, because our intelligence agencies don’t want the facts known. According to the UK’s Sun newspaper:

“[The CIA has] the only surviving record of the defunct East German spy service’s list of foreign informants, collaborators, and targets.

“It is believed the huge swathe of 280,000 index cards—known as the Rosenholz files—were sold to American spooks for $1m by a Stasi officer when East Germany collapsed in 1989.

“The CIA have kept it under lock and key at its Langley HQ ever since, after sharing it with their British counterparts.”

That was 30 years ago, and nobody outside the intelligence community knows what’s in the files of the Stasi. We do know that the East German intelligence service—headed by Markus Wolf—was perhaps the most sophisticated and ruthless of Soviet services, and Wolf was a master of espionage.

In the final phase of the Cold War, those of us who followed the activities of the East Germans were fascinated by their ability to recruit high-ranking West Germans, such as Willy Brandt’s chief of staff. Thus, the Rosenholtz files are unusually valuable, and the East German archives remain under lock and key.

That’s part of a wider picture. For years, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to obtain a similar set of KGB documents, passed to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, more commonly known as MI6, by the man in charge of the records of Soviet foreign intelligence for many years, a man named Vasili Mitrokhin.

The Brits got them—and later, Mitrokhin himself—because the CIA wasn’t interested, and when the Cold War ended, the documents were made available to the separate countries where the KGB had recruited their agents. Mitrokhin maintained ongoing records on espionage agents and agents of influence in the press.

The Italian government decided to make public its documents, and for the weeks leading up to their publication, a large number of journalists wrote op-eds preannouncing their imminent outing as Soviet collaborators. The op-eds revealed the authors had frequently wined and dined with officials of the Soviet Embassy, and therefore, the officials could claim them as reliable sources.

But guess what? With rare exceptions, the journalists’ names weren’t on the KGB lists. The Mitrokhin lists were not, as the self-confessed sources claimed, merely people who frequented Soviet officials; the KGB had a wide range of contacts, and didn’t claim most of them as agents.

The CIA has Mitrokhin’s revelations, but refuses to make them available to researchers. I have filed several Freedom of Information Act requests, but the CIA won’t release them.

Nor will they declassify the records of a major CIA informant from the Italian Communist Party delivered to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, shortly after World War II. The source of the documents was a high-ranking member of the Party who gave the United States the secret history from the early 1920s, including the ways in which the Italians communicated with the Soviets.

Like the Stasi files and the Mitrokhin records, these documents provide rare insights into the ways in which our communist enemies operated. The source is long since gone, and the events of which he speaks are, in some cases, a century old. Why on earth does the intelligence community continue to hoard these secrets? Indeed, when I was in the Reagan administration, I read these files, and the CIA made me swear to keep the information secret.

I have, even though I believe strongly that it should be made public.

The repeated pattern, according to which the past—the true past—is known only to a small number of people, gives the knowers an immense advantage over the rest of us.

So why hold onto the secrets? It all goes to the source of the power of the intelligence community, which is knowledge. By preserving the secrets, the spooks maintain control over the past, and, to a certain extent, the present as well.

As we now see, in that way, the spooks can invent the “facts” about their political enemies. Just ask Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was determined to carry out a detailed audit of the intelligence community, and threw the spooks into a tizzy.

Did you know it’s been decades since there was an audit? And did you know there has been no accounting for all the billions spent on secret missions?

It’s a heck of a story.

Michael Ledeen is a freedom scholar at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served as a consultant to the National Security Council and the departments of State and Defense, and as a special adviser to the secretary of state. He is the author of 35 books, most recently “Field of Fight: How to Win the War Against Radical Islam and its Allies,” co-authored with retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.