Korotkov, Aleksandr Mikhailovich
- (1909–1961)The best-known of the WorldWar II and postwar illegals was Aleksandr Korotkov. Korotkov started his career as an elevator operator in the Lubyanka; he joined foreign intelligence in 1933. His first posting was to France as Alexander Orlov’s assistant. Because he had been mentored by men shot in the Yezhovshchina, he was fired in 1938— often the first step to execution. Korotkov challenged the decision and demanded a hearing. Somehow, he was cleared.He was then assigned to Berlin; his assignment was to contact a German espionage apparatus that had been abandoned during the purge of foreign intelligence. He traveled to Berlin in 1940 to contact Arvid Harnack, a dedicated communist who had been recruited several years earlier. Harnack, whose code name was “Corsican,” worked with Korotkov to rebuild a ring of agents that formed the core of the Red Orchestra. Karnack surprised Korotkov by revealing that in the two years he had been out of touch with the NKVD, his group had grown from 16 to 60 potential agents. He had only been waiting to be contacted by Moscow. On 16 June 1941, five days before Operation Barbarossa began, Korotkov reported: “all German military measures for the attack on the Soviet Union have been fully completed, and the blow can be expected to fall at any minute.” The German section of the Red Orchestra was prepared to operate secretly and without the active participation of Soviet intelligence officers after war broke out. It is to Korotkov’s credit that it functioned for more than a year with minimum support and supervision by Soviet illegals. It lasted for almost a year before Karnack and the rest of his ring were compromised by the Gestapo. It is clear that the ring could not have operated let alone survived in the capital of Hitler’s Reich without Korotkov’s work.After the war, Korotkov established Karlshorst, an area in Berlin, as a base for KGB illegal activities in Germany. Before his death, he served as chief of Service S, the First Chief Directorate component responsible for illegals, and then as KGB rezident at Karlshorst as a general officer. As rezident, Korotkov worked closely with the Stasi’s young chief of foreign intelligence, Markus Wolf. Korotkov recognized that the Stasi had far better access to the West German target, and he encouraged his young colleague and his organization to operate in Berlin, West Germany, and NATO states.Korotkov died in 1961 after a series of confrontations with KGB Chair Aleksandr Shelepin. Shelepin, who had had no experience in foreign intelligence, attacked Korotkov’s work in Germany for neglecting the recruitment of agents by Soviet case officers. He KOROTKOV, ALEKSANDR MIKHAILOVICH (1909–1961) 137 apparently subjected Korotkov to an hour of insults and imprecations that brought on a heart attack. Markus Wolf delivered Korotkov’s eulogy at the funeral.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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