The Spike and the Spooks

The Spike
is a 1980 spy thriller co-authored by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss.

In old journalistic jargon “spiking” means withholding a story of dubious veracity from publication.

The Spike tells the story of a radical 1960s journalist, Bob Hockney, who uncovers a Soviet plot to establish world supremacy. When he tries to expose it, he is repeatedly foiled by his editors’ liberal bias.

It became a best seller and was considered a roman à clef. It was endorsed by CIA Director William Casey, President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It had Washington insiders trying to match The Spike‘s fictional cast to real people.

One easy guess is a character named Laurie Pritchard.

“… Laurie Pritchard the veteran Australian correspondent… had faithfully echoed the party line for the past thirty years. Pritchard, married to a Hungarian woman, had broadcast anti-American propaganda from Pyongyang during the Korean war. Now he specialized in reports from behind the Vietcong lines on the Indochina war. Pritchard was highly valued by the old school in Moscow. He was, in all respects, a trusted person… The amazing thing was that Pritchard still had credibility with the New Left radicals, who gave him space in their magazines. Their continued acceptance of this party hack, sloppily dressed and reeking of whiskey, was the result of their inability to distinguish between an antiwar activist and an agent of Soviet disinformation.” (The Spike, p. 58)

Laurie Pritchard is a crude caricature of Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, whose Vietnam Will Win is currently serialized by CounterPunch.

But who are Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss?

Fred Landis is a Chilean-born North American psychologist and investigative journalist. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois based upon his thesis, Psychological Warfare and Media Operations in Chile 1970-1973. He served as a consultant on the Church Committee which investigated CIA illegal operations in 1975. He wrote a review of The Spike for Covert Action Information Bulletin (Number 10, August-September 1980). You can read it at the CIA online library. It is titled Robert Moss, Arnaud de Borchgrave, and Right Wing Disinformation.

Arnaud de Borchgrave was a senior foreign correspondent and editor at Newsweek, until he was asked to resign in 1980. From 1985 to 1991 he was editor-in-chief of The Washington Times, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church. According to New York Times News Service (London, Nov. 18, 1979), as “a senior editor of Newsweek magazine”, de Borchgrave was gifted “a matched set of rugs worth $10,000 each” by the Shah of Iran.

His co-author, Australian-born Robert Moss, was also accused of being a recipient of the Shah’s largess. According to Wikispooks, Robert Moss is now a ‘shamanic counselor’, and ‘dream teacher’, but was once a journalist and right-wing activist who specialized in anti-communist writing. He was editor of The Economist’s “Foreign Report” supplement during the 1970s and a columnist with the Daily Telegraph. He authored a book on Chile, financed by the CIA and edited a magazine called Vision owned by Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza, who paid him a salary of £20,000 a year. In his review, Landis reveals, among other things, Moss’s obsession with defeating “communism” in Chile and his deep involvement in the 1973 coup against the socialist government of President Salvador Allende.

The two authors’ connections to a certain three-letter agency, various right-wing think tanks and institutions, including a fraternity called Le Cercle, are meticulously documented by Landis. Both were diligent proponents of the “KGB plot to take over the world” line and found a willing audience in mass circulation populist publications like Reader’s Digest and various right-wing forums, dedicated to reversing détente with the USSR and keeping the “Free World” on a permanent war footing.

So why would a senior international reporter for a reputable magazine, Newsweek, pair up with a notorious right-wing disinformation agent to produce a spy thriller with thinly disguised protagonists modeled on real people? Why not do what journalists are supposed to: present facts and arguments, rather than write fiction? Good question.

In the age of Trump, “fake news”, “the Russians did it”, “Putin trolls”, “New Cold War” and other media distortions, it is interesting to travel back to the 20th century and revisit the ideological battlefields of the time and the methods used to wage propaganda wars.

Fred Landis writes:

“The basic theme of The Spike is to argue that the Soviets have invented this strange thing called disinformation. For Moss to accuse anyone of spreading disinformation is like Caligula blaming Christians for inventing sadism. Or more specifically a 1966 U.S. Army Training Film, County Fair, in which the sinister Viet Cong is shown in a jungle clearing heating gasoline and soap bars in a vicious Communist invention called napalm.”

And that’s the trick: turn fiction into reality and then present it as facts and truth. In other words: distort reality to create a new one, that serves a specific narrative and political agenda.

Thus a journalist with a reputation for courage and integrity, like Wilfred Burchett, becomes “an agent of Soviet disinformation”, part of the global communist conspiracy to take over the world.

The “Laurie Pritchard” grotesque caricature of Wilfred Burchett was given credence in Agent of Influence, the Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett penned by Melbourne academic Robert Manne (Quadrant, 1985; Mackenzie, 1989).

Manne’s Burchett was in turn based on the tales of another fantasist, KGB defector Yuri Krotkov aka George Karlin. Krotkov/Karlin was called to testify before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security on November 3, 4, and 5, 1969. The full transcript of his Testimony is available on the CIA website (Part 1 and Part 2).

It is a better read than The Spike, but I challenge anyone with a modicum of common sense to take it seriously as evidence of anything but the man’s depravity. The Senate hearing is conducted by J.G. Sourwine. After Krotkov/Karlin is sworn to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” it begins thus:

Mr. Sourwine:  Would you give the reporter your full name, please?

Mr. Karlin: Real name?

Mr. Sourwine: Yes.

Mr. Karlin: Yury Vasilevitch Krotkov.

In the Transcript (Approved November 19, 1970) Krotkov appears as Karlin. So it is Karlin who answers for Krotkov. The question why he changed his name is not asked, so we don’t know.

Karlin/Krotkov states that his profession in the USSR, before he defected to the West in 1963, was “dramatist and script-writer”. That he spent World War 2 in “the rear” taking various courses in art and drama (while his compatriots were fighting Hitler’s armies.) That he agreed to join the KGB in 1945 to save a lady on the run from her husband and Soviet justice. We later learn that he married the lady while she was still married to her husband (who specialized in forged documents), with whom she had a six-year old son, and whom she never divorced. She later returned to her husband but still considered herself married to Krotkov who never divorced her because they were officially married and he never divorced her because when he married her she was still married to her first husband. Even Sourwine is prompted to comment: “You seem to have gotten into a very complicated situation with a very simple question, I’m sorry.” (pp. 47-54, Part 2.)

Karlin/Krotkov says he was also writing for “the newspaper Trud – that is the Soviet trade union paper. It means ‘truth.’ ” This statement – made under oath – is entered into the U.S. Congressional Record (Testimony, Part 1, page 8). In Russian, “Trud” doesn’t mean “Truth.” Truth is “Pravda.” “Trud” means Labour. So even that single word becomes a Krotkov/Karlin untruth.

When his KGB “recruiters” or “co-opters” – he states that he was “co-opted” –  asked him to chose a name, he opted for the Georgian word “Suliko”,  “which means in Russian honey man” (he was born and grew up in Georgia.) As a “co-opted worker of the KGB” his job would be to set up honey traps for foreign diplomats in Moscow and to befriend and sell himself to news correspondents or agencies in Berlin, where he was sent for that purpose in 1947. That’s how he first met Wilfred Burchett, the then Berlin correspondent of the London Daily Express.

Krotkov/Karlin’s Testimony is a sordid tale of honey traps, attempted black-mail, hear-say and slanderous gossip. For a minor dramatist and part-time KGB “honey man”, Krotkov/Karlin seemed to be everywhere and know everyone on the Moscow diplomatic circuit. He claims to have been on intimate terms with, T. N. Kaul, India’s ambassador to the USSR, later India’s Foreign Secretary (1967-1972) – also a KGB target, according to Krotkov/Karlin. I can’t resist quoting this passage from the Testimony (pp. 72-73, Part 1):

Mr. SOURWINE. Now, you mentioned that when you saw Kaul first on the occasion of his return to the Soviet Union in 1962 you had kissed?

Mr. KARLIN. Yes.

Mr. SOURWINE. Is this a Russian habit or an Indian habit?

Mr. KARLIN. I guess it is a Russian habit. I do not know anything about the Indian habits. But I would say that it was not a natural kiss, it was a thing that – one can write a short story about such a kiss. …

Mr. SOURWINE. Now, the same two people 13 years before had had a relationship. Was that a relationship in which you customarily kissed when you met?

Mr. KARLIN. I am sorry, I did not follow you.

Mr. SOURWINE. Thirteen years before, was your relationship such that you kissed when you met?

Mr. KARLIN. No. But all depends on what you mean by kiss. If it is something honest, something natural, I would not call ours the real kiss.

Mr. SOURWINE. Well, this is your word, “kiss”. You used it first. I will use it in the same sense in which you used it.

Mr. KARLIN. Physically we kissed.

Mr. SOURWINE. Did you do so as a custom in 1948?

Mr. KARLIN. In 1948? No, we never kissed in 1948.

Mr. SOURWINE. When did you first meet him ?

Mr. KARLIN. In 1948.

Mr. SOURWINE. And then after 18 years suddenly you kissed?

Mr. KARLIN. It was not suddenly, sir. I do not know the Indians, but in Russian.

Mr. SOURWINE. What was the significance of it? That is what I am trying to get at. Did you expect it to have a particular meaning to him, or did it have some particular meaning to you ?

Mr. KARLIN. No, that is like shaking hands, embrace people. …

Mr. SOURWINE. Did your relationship continue on a kissing basis during the remainder of the time from 1962 until you left ?

Mr. KARLIN. No, I do not think so.

Mr. SOURWINE. It was just this one occasion?

Mr. KARLIN. Yes.

And so it goes, with tales of attempted entrapment of various ambassadors and diplomats with squads of “swallows” (KGB “honey girls”), seduction of diplomats’ wives and embassy cipher girls, fake “friendships” with foreign journalists and so on, ad nauseum. It could even be mildly entertaining, if it didn’t result in the suicide of the French Military Attaché in Moscow, Louis Gibeaud, in 1962, after he fell victim to one of Krotkov’s honey traps.

At the end of the three-day hearing – and the last ten pages of the 174-page Testimony – we get to Burchett (Part 2, pp 71-82.) And thus Wilfred Burchett of the KGB was born, from the testimony of a “co-opted” KGB dramatist/script-writer, “honey man” and pimp appearing before a McCarthyist US Senate Subcommittee. I’ve dealt with this episode in a previous article: How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett (CounterPunch, Jan. 19, 2018.) To sum it up: Burchett offered himself for sale to Krotkov – and the KGB – as an agent of Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, the Laotian Pathet Lao, the official and “underground” Communist Parties of Australia and other absurdities worthy of The Spike. According to Krotkov, the KGB was initially suspicious of Burchett because they thought he spoke Russian – and presumably could tell the difference between “Trud” and “Pravda.” But… Well, we don’t really know what happened because Krotkov says he was ordered by the KGB to keep away from Burchett.

Krotokov split from his tourist group in London and defected to the West in 1963. British intelligence debriefed him and made him sign a paper pledging he would never repeat his fantastic – and slanderous –  tales in public. He was refused entry into the USA until, in November 1969, he was called to testify before the US Senate Subcommittee.

Coincidently – or not – at the same time, Wilfred Burchett was suing an Australian journalist, Denis Warner, and his paper, the Melbourne Herald, for defamation. Warner – another well-connected Antipodean like Moss – had been on Burchett’s case since Korea. In a lengthy article titled Who is Wilfred Burchett? –  published in New York and Sydney in 1967 – he repeated his old accusations that Burchett had fabricated the “germ warfare hoax” in Korea, tortured and brainwashed POWs to extract confessions and other treasonous activities. The Australian government was worried that if Burchett’s defamation action was successful, the government’s case against him – including denial of his passport and of Australian citizenship to his three children – would collapse and the government’s illegal machinations would be exposed.

Warner also had support from the CIA, the US State Department and various other agencies in the US and elsewhere. A declassified TOP SECRET cable from the Australian Embassy in Washington to Canberra reports: KISSINGER’S OFFICE COMMENTED THAT THEY WANT TO FINGER BURCHETT (Feb. 25, 1970.) The war in Vietnam was escalated under the new Nixon Administration and Burchett was one of its most articulate opponents. Possible revelations of US experiments with  “germ warfare” during the Korean War also made the Americans nervous.

Thanks to the Mc Carthyist diligence of the US Senate Subcommittee and Krotkov’s testimony, “KGB Burchett” was superimposed on “Korea-traitor Burchett.” This version of Wilfred Burchett is perpetuated by Professor Manne, who considers his star witness, Krotkov/Karlin, “not a liar and a perjurer, but a truth-teller.” (Robert Manne, The Monthly, August 2013).

After reading the full transcript of Krotkov/Karlin’s testimony, I can tell with full confidence that the most charitable label one could attach to him is that of rogue, or scoundrel – and that is being charitable considering the damage he has done to others, including driving a man to suicide. To rogue and scoundrel I can also add fantasist. Like the authors of The Spike, he mixes facts and fantasy to spin a sordid tale in which his deplorable exploits as entrapper, liar, black-mailer, false friend, KGB “honey man” etc. tarnished the reputation of prominent people – including a hero of the French Resistance – and led another Frenchman to shoot himself. Sourwine, in his role as Inquisitor, guides him in the right direction to provide the desirable answers that serve his anti-communist paranoia, and whatever other agenda or mission he may have been entrusted with. His many achievements included investigating “Communist affiliations of American journalists,” in December 1955 (The New York Times, July 22, 1986.) Krotkov/Karlin was in expert hands.

This sordid tale would be appalling enough if it were fiction. But the tragic truth is that these characters, supported by powerful networks, academic institutions, think tanks, the media, publishing, etc. – in other words, the entire propaganda machine of the military-intelligence complex – destroy not only individuals, but entire countries, as past and recent history show.

Krotkov/Karlin, prodded on by Sourwine, closes his testimony by naming Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Louis Aragon as KGB agents.

The least that can be said is that Wilfred Burchett was in good company.

Who would you rather hang out with?

Burchett, Sartre, Picasso, Aragon?

Or de Borchgrave, Moss, Warner, Manne, Krotkov/Karlin, Sourwine?

As the French say: show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.

George Burchett is an artist who lives in Ha Noi.

George Burchett is an artist who lives in Hanoi.