Dr. Thomas Boghardt, Historian
Espionage can be a dangerous business. Just consider the case of Soviet intelligence defector Walter Krivitsky. Born Samuel Ginsberg in Austria-Hungary in 1899, Krivitsky adopted his nom de guerre when he joined Soviet military intelligence in 1917. His assumed name loosely translates as “crooked” or “twisted”—an irony Krivitksy must have been aware of. After running a number of successful espionage operations in Germany, Austria, and Italy, in 1937 he was posted to The Hague where he managed Soviet espionage operations throughout Western Europe.
Initially an ardent communist, Krivitsky gradually became disenchanted with Joseph Stalin’s violent and erratic purges. When Stalin’s henchmen killed his friend, Soviet intelligence defector Ignace Porevsky, in Switzerland, Krivitsky himself defected in Paris. With World War II looming, he came to the United States in 1938.
Even though he dreaded Soviet reprisals, Krivitsky hardly missed a beat before publicly denouncing the machinations of Moscow’s secret service. When a Soviet agent murdered Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, Krivitsky feared he would be next. “If I am ever found apparently a suicide, you will know that the N.K.V.D. [Soviet intelligence] has caught up with me,” he told a group of friends. But largely ignored and unable to fully integrate in his host country, Krivitsky became increasingly despondent.
About a year later, on 2 February 1941, Krivitsky was found dead in The Bellevue, a seedy Washington hotel (today known as the posh Hotel George), with three suicide notes by his bed. While the police eventually ruled his death a suicide, others claimed he had committed a “Kremlin suicide”—forced by one of Stalin’s henchman to write suicide notes and then kill himself, in return for a promise that his family would be left unharmed.
Whatever happened at The Bellevue, Krivitsky was a haunted man long before his death. A CIA officer once noted that “every defector has just committed emotional suicide.” And whether Krivitsky killed himself or was forced to do so, he was caught in a maelstrom beyond his control and paid the ultimate price for being in the spy business.
Nothing is what it seems.
very well put = A CIA officer once noted that “every defector has just committed emotional suicide.” And whether Krivitsky killed himself or was forced to do so, he was caught in a maelstrom beyond his control and paid the ultimate price for being in the spy business.