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Latvian intelligence services 1919-1940

Latvia is placed in crossroads between the West and the East. In the times of the independence various foreign secret services and antigovermnental organizations has operated in Latvia. And it was up to Latvian intelligence service to fight them. Today because of the two language referendum that recently took place in Latvia many say that Latvian intelligence agencies have not done their job. But the job of protecting the country has always been tough in every time. This article will tell a short story about the Latvian intelligence services before the World War II when Latvia was one of the main hot points in the war between the secret services.

The main goal of the Latvian intelligence agencies was the counterintelligence. Naturally Latvia had no expansionist interests to spy on other countries. But, there were countries especially Soviet Union that wanted to spy on Latvia. And there were many national minority organizations that fought secret campaigns.

The task of counterintelligence was given to the Defense ministry and the Ministry of the Interior.  The main agency was the Political Police Agency. Agency worked both on exterior and interior security. From 1919 to 1922 the Army Staff interior intelligence Riga Department and the Political Guard was directed by Voldemārs Alps. On January 1922 his assistant Pēteris Mārtinsons took charge over the Political Guard. Later Political Guard was renamed as the Political Police Agency. In 1922 162 people worked in the Agency with central apparatus 6 regional departments. Voldemārs Ozoliņš became the chief of the agency.

The reports by the agency conclude that from 1920 to 1939, 21 802 people were taken under custody for actions against the state. 8616 persons were taken to court and 6205 were actually sentenced.   With out the court by administrative orders 1610 people were sent to prison. The total number of the political convicts was 16931 persons. The number includes persons who were convicted more than once.

 The agency made constant monitoring on political events in the state.  Intelligence reports were made constantly and covered the entire monthly political situation in the state. The agency also used the new methods of the Radio intelligence. The task was to intercept coded radio messages and locate the transmitters.

In summer of the 1940, when Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union the Political Police Agency became subjected to the new regime. Not only it gave important documents to Soviet intelligence, but arrested people considered nationalists. The last chief of the Agency Jānis Frīdrihsons Skrauja helped to make list for deportations to Siberia. After his arrest he continued to help Soviets and reported his co-workers. However, according to granddaughter of J. F. Skrauja Anita McKenzie, Skrauja managed to sort out his papers in such a way that he divided the names of his spies who had left Latvia in to one bag and the spies who were still there in another.  His colleague Roberts Stiglitz knew about this. He supposedly had given the bag with the names of the people that Skrauja wanted to protect to the Russians Its not known know if he had been threatened by the Russians or whether he did it to protect himself. Skrauja died in 1940 in Astrakhan after months of questioning and torture. Roberts Stiglitz survived and had collaborated with Nazi Germany and took part in Holocaust. After the war he escaped to Brazil and was on the Nazi criminal list by CIA.  There is however, other version that Stiglitz resisted the occupants and managed to hide one half of the papers and escape imprisonment. He was on the search by the Soviets, who arrested his relatives Līzbete and Krišjānis Puteņi for hiding his location. It’s a known fact that Stiglitz was involved in Nazi war crimes. However the majority of Latvian historians defend Stiglitz and blames Skrauja for betrayal. The accusations against Stiglitz are based on memoirs by Skrauj’as wife and his granddaughter.   To sort out these claims a proper research is needed and possible the documents proving or disapproving them lays in Russian archives that still are not open to public. From all 664 Latvian counterintelligence operatives 603 was repressed by the Soviets. They were either shot or died in Stalin’s prison camps. Such was the tragic end of the Latvian security service filled with cowardice and betrayal. Many of the operatives however stood strong and did not betray the state and fought the Soviet repressions till the end. As Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union the Political Police Agency and the Latvian Army was disbanded. The Soviet intelligence service NKVD and GRU started to operate in Latvia and became the main repressive force.

The force that destroyed Political Police Agency was the Soviet Union intelligence services its main enemy. The goal of the Soviet secret service was to spread the power of the Soviet Union within the Baltic States. The tactical objective was to research Latvia as the theater of war for possible wars with third-party countries. Also Latvia was used as the territory to spy on other countries. The longtime goal of the Soviet Union was to initiate Worldwide Socialist revolution and gain supremacy of the USSR. The task was given to so-called Cheka (NKVD) and the Red Army intelligence agency (GRU). Latvia got its own illegal Communist party that was member of the Comintern that supervised the party from Moscow.

The Soviet secret service sent agents to Latvia and recruited local Latvians. Not only Latvian Communist party members worked with Moscow, but also some Latvian Social democratic Workers party members became agents. The most visible action by the Soviet secret service was the communist coup attempt in Estonia in 1924 that failed. The Red Army was ready to enter Estonia once the communists would take full control over the Tallinn. In Latvia communists managed to form Leftist Workers and Peasants party that got elected in Saeima (parliament). The attempt was discovered and the elected communists were arrested and excluded from Saeima.

 One of the notable Soviet agents was Bruno Kalniņš. He was a son of social democratic leader Pauls Kalniņš. He along with other social democrats joined the occupation regime and became a general. He however was arrested by the Gestapo but was released because Germans hoped to use him as double agent. He then played the role as the member of the Latvian Central Council that opposed German occupation. He was thrown into German death camp, but survived.  After the war he moved to Sweden and became the leader of the Social democracy in exile and was known as hard-line anticommunist. The Soviet attempts to bring him back failed and they suspected him as the foreign agent.

The most mysterious possible Soviet Agent was the last Latvian Foreign Minister Vilhelms Munters. While there is no sustainable proof that he was a Soviet agent, his mysterious life after the occupation raises many questions. He was a German, but did not work with Baltic Germans. Germans considered him Latvian. The Soviets first intended to choose him as the new government leader after the occupation. However they changed their mind and instead local communists and Soviet agents like Vilis Lācis and   Aleksanders Kirhensteins became the party leaders. Munters was arrested but he was placed in special prisons while the president of Latvia Karlis Ulmanis died somewhere in Turkmenistan from bad illness. He returned to Latvia in late fifties and wrote small brochures and books condemning the Latvian independence. He was under constant supervision by the KBG that forced him to write these publications. He died in 1967 and was buried in the main cemetery. This made many believe he was a Soviet agent that helped to occupy Latvia however this cannot be proven.

The other enemy of the Latvian secret service was Nazi Germany intelligence service. It grasped its hopes on Baltic German Nazi organization “Movement” (De Bewegung). It was led by Erhard Kroeger who united Baltic Germans under the swastika banner and pursued anti-Latvian activities. The Baltic German Nazis were severe problem in Latvia and it was only fixed after Baltic Germans were repatriated to Germany in 1939. Kroeger then became full-time SS operative, Einzatzcommando  member and close associate of General Vlasov the head of the Russian Liberation army.

Latvian Political Police Agency did its best to protect Latvian independence. However it could not stop the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany from destroying Latvia. In the end the Agency became its own enemy for its administration was forced to destroy itself and betray their own co-workers. There may be double agents within the agency.

Today Latvia got three intelligence agencies. The Satversmes (Constitution) Protection Bureau provides external and internal intelligence, Security Police supervises the interior political situation and the State Military Police handles the military matters.  Also the Corruption Prevention Service is a powerful organization to affect the political matters.

It is really complicated to comment on actions of the actions made by present day Latvian intelligence agencies. Their work covered in secrecy. The same can be said at the time of the Political Police Agency for it too did not make any comments on their actions. We can only hope that our intelligence agencies are working on behalf of the Latvian people.

Selected Sources:

Kaņepe, Vija (Ed.) (2001). Latvijas izlūkdienesti, 1919-1940 : 664 likteņi. Riga : LU žurn. “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

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