Orlov, Alexander

(1899–1973)
   One of the most important of the early Soviet defectors, Orlov provided information that was long ignored by the West. Born Aleksandr Felbin, Orlov joined the Cheka during the civil war. In the 1920s and 1930s, he served as an NKVD illegal in Western Europe and the United States, recruiting and running agents. In 1936 Joseph Stalin sent Orlov to Spain, where he served in a dual intelligence and diplomatic capacity during the Spanish Civil War.
   As Stalin’s rezident in Spain, Orlov ruthlessly purged the Republican government of dissident Trotskyites. He also arranged for the transfer of the republic’s gold supply, worth over $700 million in 1937 dollars, to Moscow, where it remained for four decades. As Stalin’s rolling purge of the NKVD intensified in 1938, Orlov realized that he was slated for execution and decided to defect. He traveled with his wife and mortally ill child to the United States in the summer of 1938 and was interviewed by a senior State Department official. Orlov identified himself as a general of state security with important information. He was next interviewed some 15 years later by American counterintelligence.
   Orlov worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1950s and wrote two best-selling books on Stalin’s terror. He also testified before U.S. congressional committees as an expert witness. But his story has a dramatic posthumous postscript: in the 1990s, two decades after Orlov’s death, the KGB released his file and claimed that Orlov had never betrayed key agents but had remained true to his service. Abook by Orlov’s FBI handler predictably and dramatically rejected these assertions, claiming that Orlov had served the FBI as faithfully for 20 years as he had the Soviet service previously. There is no final verdict on this case, but given the incomplete nature of the Soviet files and the desire to protect the reputation of their service, Moscow’s claims seem spurious.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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