Tag Archives: Soviet secret service

KGB in Latvia

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The Soviet Secret Service widely known as Committee for State Security or KGB was a direct successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or simply known as Cheka founded in 1917. Since then the Soviet secret service has changed its name many times. It was known as OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB and finally from 1954 as KGB.  But, the very basis of this secret police has always stayed the same: strict protection of the communist party and its power. The KGB was omnipresent in every part of the Soviet life and it did everything to combat any means of the anti-Soviet movement.  For 50 years KGB also did everything to keep Latvia under the Soviet Iron fist.

During the first years after the war, the Secret police was preoccupied with battling the armed resistance movement. There were even cases of CIA and M16 involvement when Western allies sent special commandos to aid the national partisans. The CIA and M16 had naive belief that the partisan movements in the Baltic States and the Eastern Europe will weaken the Soviet Union and would help to crush it. However, the NKVD was aware of this and all western agents fell in their traps. The national partisan movement was eventually crushed and KGB now was more afraid of the non-violent resistance.

The Khrushev “Thaw” pawed way for more freedoms for the intelligentsia. For instance Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was freed and released his eponymous One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which revealed the Stalinist crimes. This made many to question the Soviet policies and their past. As Khrushchev was deposed, KGB started to combat such authors. On 1967 the new Fifth Department was made in the ranks of the KGB to combat “ideological diversions”. KGB believed that the intelligent anti-Soviet movement is directed by the Western secret service. Before that the task combating the “anti-Soviet elements”  was given to the Second Department of the counter-intelligence. While the Second Department was searching for foreign agents the Fifth Department now was searching for ideological dissidents.

The usual task was monitoring the Latvian emigration and foreign radio stations. The creative intelligentsia – artists, writers, actors and composers were under the KGB watch.  The Latvian nationalist movements like “Helsinki-86”, “Latvian National Independence Movement” and the “Environmental Club” was monitored and persecuted. When “Latvian Peoples Front” became the most active force for independence it was under the KGB watch. The KGB also monitored the national minorities like Germans and Jews. The KGB was involved in youth and student activities and closely watched them.

The nationalism was a prime concern for the KGB. Latvia was overflown with immigrants from the Soviet Union. The cultural differences between Latvians and the immigrants was very visible. Despite the official calls for national equality the Russian speaking immigrants were more privileged than  local Latvians. Also the Russian language was placed above Latvian language. However, Latvians themselves did not do much to force immigrants accept Latvian language and culture. For instance in Estonia, the local Estonians were more reluctant to speak Russian and enforced their rules on immigrants. Immigrants in Latvia took the Latvian passivity for granted and dictated their rules. This all made very bad national micro-climate in the national relations. However, most Latvians understood that the regime is too stable to stood openly against it.

Because of that KGB was occasionally accusing people of “masked actions against the Soviet order”. This usually involved private conversations where people condemned the Soviet power and praised the pre-war Latvian Republic. KGB had informants in many working collectives. The KGB was concerned about people who refused to hang out the flag of LSSR or USSR. The KGB also discovered that in case of foreign invasion the locals cannot be trusted. Two fake groups landed with parachutes near Ventspils. First group head for the city and was discovered and stopped. Other one was heading inland and met many locals, who did not report them.

Soviets destroyed many monuments built-in the time of the Latvian Republic. However, they were unable to remove the Monument of Freedom and the Brothers War Cemetery. At least what could they do was placing trolleybus depot around the monument. However, people still went there and placed flowers. They were arrested by militsya (Soviet police) and taken to KGB. KGB was aware that many people on every November 2 in so-called Totensonntag – the Lutheran commemoration day for the death comes to commemorate not their relatives, but the leaders of the Latvian Republic. People like the first president of Latvia – Jānis Čakste and general Jānis Balodis. Many restrictions were made and cemeteries were monitored day and night.

Soviets were afraid of the international radio broadcasting. Latvian leading companies VEF and Radiotehnika made brilliant receivers, however they could also receive the Western broadcasts aimed at Latvians. The Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America had their Latvian service. From 1948 Soviets built powerful jamming systems. People who listened to western broadcasters were reported and arrested by KGB. For a short time in the Seventies the jamming was halted when the relations with the US improved. Soon after the crushing of the “Solidarity” movement, the jamming was resumed until it was halted completely in 1986.

KGB was suspicious about Latvians leaving Soviet Union for trips and people from the West arriving here. KGB checked every application for visa. Often when large group of tourists went on a trip, a KGB informant was included to control them. KGB was worried about the intentions of the Latvian exiles who entered Latvia to meet their relatives. Actions were made to monitor them and ideologically influence them. In return Latvian exiles started to view their compatriots who visited Latvia with suspicion. KGB installed listening devices in the main hotels, after the collapse of the USSR they were removed in secret.

KGB was also aware of the anti-Soviet literature. Many sailors brought it home and sell it as contraband. Books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the Latvian exiled authors were confiscated. Local intelligentsia made self published books or samizdat. The restricted books were kept in special funds and could only be viewed with special permission. Sometimes even the most loyal communists were affected by the restricted literature.

  Singing songs with national content was also a crime. Old songs from the pre-war times or even worse the Latvian Legion songs were viewed as deeply danger0us. As new tape-recorders were invented, the possibility of copying illegal songs became widespread. The Latvian famous band in exile “Čikāgas Piecīši” became a fad. Everybody had heard about them, but nobody had seen them. KGB disliked the hippy movement and later rock music. Being a hippy or a rocker was soon understood as a sign of dissent. KGB was unable to stop them. Rock bands inspired by the western music appeared. Although it was unthinkable to write openly critical songs, many had “between the lines”. Rock band “Pērkons” (Thunder)  was the experts in this. Even when they were officially shut down, they reformed under the name “Soviet Latvia” and authorities were unable to stop them. After new perestroika policy, the song texts became more aggressive and  open calling for independence. That’s why many call the regaining of independence as “the singing revolution”.

The youth was viewed as potentially dangerous factor to the Soviet power. Soviet ideal youngster first went trough Pioneer movement, then entered the Komsomol – the Young Communist movement and joins the party in result. But, not all were so perfect. Some secretly embraced the national ideals, others joined punk, hippy and Hare Krishna movement. People caught doing anti-Soviet stuff was put under “prophylaxis” that meant ideological re-education. In schools and higher education facilities informants were placed to report illegal activities. The school teachers and lecturers were also under the KGB pressure.

KGB was eager to fight political dissidents. One of the most famous Latvian political dissident was Gunārs Astra. Despite many persecutions and imprisonments he was far from giving up. In his last court he spoke openly about the russification and occupation and said prophetic words “I believe that this time will go away like bad nightmare”. Astra died in prison. Writer Knuts Skuejenieks spent 7 years in Mordovia prison. Lidija Lasmane Doroņina suffered from many arrests and imprisonments. Latvian dissidents were often stabbed in the back by traitors employed by the KGB. KGB was capable of placing listening bugs in the dissident apartments and also listen to the telephone conversations. The head of the KGB Yuri Andropov even wanted to bug the phones of every Moscow citizen. They told him that its technically possible, but it would require enormous size of workers to monitor all the conversations.

The Jewish minority who survived the Holocaust was thankful to Soviets for rescuing them. However, the Soviets answered by suppressing the Zionist movement and openly condemned Israel. Not only that – the commemoration of the Holocaust was deemed as nationalistic. Soviet propaganda disregarded genocide against individual nations, because everyone in USSR was officially viewed as the “united soviet nation”. The mass murder site at Rumbula forest was the center of the Zionist activities. People gathered there to commemorate the victims and placed signs. KGB chased them away and removed the monuments. Eventually Jews managed to place commemorative stones, if they would not include the word “Jewish” and no Jewish symbolism. If not the Star of David was scrapped or monument was even removed. Many Jews wanted to move away to Israel or US. Soviets were desperately trying to stop this, however because of the international condemnation many thousands of Jews managed to leave.  There was even a case when a group of Latvian and Russian Jews attempted to hijack a plane in Leningrad to leave USSR. They were arrested on spot, the international condemnation saved them from death sentence. Also local Baltic Germans who still lived in Latvia wanted to leave for West Germany sparking KGB resistance.

As the time went KGB found it more difficult to control the masses. The technologies went ahead, connections with the Western world deepened. Even illegal possession of western porn movie was seen as act of anti-Soviet resistance. But, when Gorbachev introduced his democratic reforms the KGB became paralyzed. The work of the KGB was thwarted by many new liberties and the Western eyes were watching on the Baltic State more than before. First nationalistic movement Helsinki-86 in 1987 who heated up the society by openly commemorating the deportations of June 14 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were halted and their leaders exiled. However in 1988 the KGB was unable to stop people waiving national flags and chanting nationalist slogans. All national organizations were monitored, but even placing informants and provocateurs did not help. The economic failure of the USSR was eminent and large masses now stood against the Soviet order.

KGB now have to answer a tough question – return to Stalinist style repressions or let the country collapse. The return to Stalinism was impossible, Gorbachev had promised too much  to the western leaders. Baltic States and Moscow was full with western media. Everyone wished for Soviets to “go west”. After the communist party lost its monopoly and Latvia declared restoration of the independence, KGB played a desperate double game. By using the “Interfont” movement and special OMON forces, KGB hoped to spark national violence to install presidential order from Moscow. When it failed, the last straw was the 1991 August coup. After the coup failed large crowd entered the KGB headquarters in Stabu street. The KGB agents were forced to handover ID cards and all of their archives. KGB was made illegal. Current law states that ex KGB agents cannot take in the politics. However, many of them owns large businesses like Juris Savickis the head of the energy company Itera, that imports the gas from Russia. The full list of KGB agents are yet to published, however the large part of the KGB archives are available to researcher allowing us to see the real nature of this draconian institution.

Selected History:

Bergmanis,Aldis, Zālīte, Indulis.(2007) Latvijas PSRS Valsts drošības komiteja un sabiedrības ideoloģiskā kontole (1965-1990). In book: Okupētā Latvija 1940-1900. Latvijas vēsturnieku komisijas raksti 19. sējums. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

Bleiere, Daina. (2012) Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.


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The Soviet attack on Latvian border station Maslenki 1940

Burned down Maslenki guard house

Burned down Maslenki guard house

One of the usual interpretations by Russian historians that in the events of 1940 no military force was involved and Latvia was annexed voluntary.   However they tend to forget the events on the June 15 1940 when Soviet special forces raided the Latvian border guard station Maslenki, killing and capturing many borderguards and their wives. With all known rules of military warfare this can be seen as act of aggression and invasion, as the Latvian border was crossed and its soldiers and civilians attacked. It was intended as a provocation to force Latvia submit to Soviet demands and allow unrestricted entry into Latvian soil. Also it was a clear warning of what would happen if the Latvian government would not accept the Soviet demands.

Maslenki today is a  part of Russian Federation as it was located in Abrene district that was part of the Latvian Republic from 1920 to 1944, after it was included in the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic. After the fall of the Soviet Union it remained as part of the Russian Federation with no great chances of ever returning it to Latvia.

The border between Latvia and Soviet Russia was established in 1920 according to peace treaty. The Abrene district was mostly populated by Russian nationals, however Latvia saw this territory as important for its railway routes and special geographical situation making easier to defend the eastern border. Also it was earned in blood as Latvian army chased the Soviets away to this point. The Soviet government was forced to sign a peace treaty and give away this district. In next two decades Abrene became important part of the Latvian state. Latvians moved there to establish farms and towns and army fortifications and border bases.

The border protection law was issued in 1928 and the task was entrusted to Border Guard (Robežapsardzība), in 1935 it was renamed as the Border Guard Brigade that was split in three battalions. The third was the Abrene battalion. Battalion worked in guard stations that overlooked every kilometer. Later cordons were established. The border guarding was a tough work, as the Soviet spies and illegal immigrants  and also criminals tended to cross the border.

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

After October 1939 when Latvia signed mutual assistance pact with Soviet Union a greater importance was put on the border protection as every incident could mean accusation of breaking the pact. Latvia was already in undesirable situation as Poland was occupied both by Germany and Soviet Union and sizable Red Army garrison already stationed in Courland. In the summer of 1940 Germany opened the Western front and Stalin was sure that is the right time to “fix the Baltic problem”. For this a small provocation was required.

The 14 June 1940 was a peaceful day for Latvian border guards and civilians of the Abrene district. Many came to Latgalian song and dance festival at Daugavpils. 24 choirs with 1101 singers and 55 instrument players went there forming the second largest delegation. With the presence of the president Kārlis Ulmanis the song and dance festival marked the last normal day for Latvia for many years to come. Meanwhile the border guards organized the sport instructor courses. In the same time in Paris the German army marched on the main streets, but in Estonia two Soviet bombers shot down the Finnish civil airplane Kaleva (Junkers -52) over the Strait of Finland. Soviet submarine prevented the rescue or search of the crash site and collected all the remains. Estonian government made no protest to USSR. Meanwhile  the Soviet documents falsely stated that the plane was shot in June 23 meaning that it was done after the occupation of Estonia and therefore not an act of international piracy  but a defense move by Soviets. At 23:30 in Moscow the Lithuanian ambassador was summoned to Kremlin to meet Molotov, where he gave the ultimatum that Lithuania had to accept until 10:00 at morning.

The Maslenki or Lejnieki border station was one of the first border stations since 1920. The guardhouse was a wooden building built in 1929/1930. The commander in charge was senior officer Frīdrihs Puriņš who was notorious for his drinking and brawls with Russian locals. Soviet border guards often tried to provoke him because of it. Despite that his experience in the war of freedom brought a great respect from his senior colleges.

At Midnight a border guard brass band rehearsal took place. The night unusually cold, on guard post were Jānis Macītis and Pēteris Cimoška, one was patrolling other was hidden post. Kārlis Beizaks was resting on wait his shift to replace Cimoška.

On 2:30 25 special soldiers of the NKVD the Soviet secret service managed to cross the border at river Ludza. NKVD had surrounded the border cordon from all sides. Around the guard-house a bags of grenades were placed excluding the main doors meaning that NKVD men intended to capture the border guards without a single shot. The attackers were discovered by patrolling Jānis Macītis. He followed the instructions that if the stranger is spotted, he must let him closer for 20-30 meters and only then call him to stop, so he will be surprised and wont use arms. However, this instruction did not bear the fact that stranger may have an automatic weapon. And precisely at this moment the NKVD men opened automatic fire at the Latvian border guard. Latvians only had shotguns that were useless in thick fog and bad visibility.

NKVD realized that they were spotted and turned to burn down the guard-house and kill all the border guards. Macītis was badly wounded and tried to reach the guard-house and stepped on the hand grenade and lost his left foot. Border guard on the disguised post Pēteris Cimoška opened fire, enemy tried to locate his position to surround him. Cimoška retreated back to guard-house cause he heard other border guard Valdis Grīnvalds resisting. But he stepped on bag of grenades and were torn in pieces.

In the guard-house Valdis Grīnvalds was desperately trying to hide from Soviet bullets that fired trough the walls. As the visibility was bad he fired back without no aiming. Kārlis Beizaks also in the house decided to flee and jumped out of the window. He managed to run 199 meters passing house of Žanis Krieviņš that also was surrounded by NKVD men who killed Beizaks. They even threw grenades at him. Since some resistance was shown from  guard house the NKVD threw inside burning liquid and house went on flames.

In the apartment room of the guard-house the commanders Frīdrihs Puriņš wife Hermīne and his 14-year-old son Voldemārs were caught up in the middle of the firefight. Hermīne jumped out of the window with pillow in his hand to protect herself from the bullets. She was shot dead and later found in strawberry plants. Voldemārs run out of the doors and escaped and hided in nearby pile of firewood. Soviet attacker had been under cover there and shot Voldemārs in stomach and foot. Valdis Grīnvalds left the house on the same moment and made way to river where he was captured by the soviets.

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

NKVD also assaulted the border guards Žanis Krieviņš house. He was there with his wife Lida, son Artūrs and five year old Rita. Two grenades were thrown in. Lida was wounded as Soviets broke in  took away his husband and children.

As the resistance was put down, the Soviets started to evacuate their killed and wounded men. However, because of the poor visibility they left many of their displaced war equipment. Soviets also abducted two civilians Olga and Dimitry Maslov. As Latvian reinforcements arrived at the scene the Soviets had left with guard-house burned down, three guard men killed, commanders wife shot, his son wounded and many people abducted.

At the same time Soviets attacked other guard post at Šmaiļi. Here Soviets managed to capture the border guards without a fight. Also local civilians were taken as hostages. Also another attack was planned at Žuguru station. However, the plans were thwarted because the border guards wife Marianna turned 25 and border guards threw a big party. This became known by commander Voldemārs Gailītis and he came there with his men to inspect. At the night the border guard Kronis fired the signal pistol alarming the guards on duty and the guests. In 16 June they found a Soviet camouflage suit and wire breaking scissors nearby. It could be that Soviets were scared away by the sudden arrival of the commander himself and his men. The guard Kronis who spotted the Soviet intruder fired a signal rocket and loud talking by alarmed guests confused the NKVD men and made them turn back.

Soviets had taken away 37 men and women and children. Latvian border guards were put on alarm. But, Latvian government made no direct action or even protest against USSR. In 15 June Lithuania submitted to Soviet demands and allowed entry of the Soviet forces. Lithuanian president Antan Smetona fled to Germany. Worlds eyes were on France it seemed hopeless to make any significant move. Latvia made investigation commission on the incident but that was it.  In 17 June Soviet forces entered Latvia. Border guards were told not to resist, they had plans for it, but now the border became open to the enemy. At the night between 16 and 17 June all main roads to Latvia were cleared of mines. If Latvian border guards showed some resistance there would be no myth of peaceful occupation of Latvia and the removed district of Abrene.

In 7 July 1940 Soviets sent back to Latvia their 37 hostages. The captured guards were submitted to interrogation. The later events, the occupation and war put them on the extremes again.  The only one who did not return was Dimitry Maslov who was agent of the Latvian Secret Service. He was executed in  1942 at Astrakhan prison.

The attack on Maslenki was intended to force Latvian government to accept the Soviet demands. Soviets blamed Latvia for this tragedy and interpreted as a breach of mutual agreement pact, that was one of the reasons why Soviets demanded the full entry of the Red Army. Also it was a revenge by NKVD to Latvians for the actions of their secret service on the Soviet border. The attack was also made to test the Latvian army leadership, fearing it may order full resistance, instead Latvian leaders showed confusion and weakness. However, the attack on Latvian border station must be seen as act of aggression and treachery that shows that the occupation of Latvia was brutal and bloody not peaceful.

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy


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The Lockhart Plot 1918

The main people involved in so-called Lockhart plot
From the left: British envoy R, B, Lockhart, British spy Sidney Reilly, Latvian rifleman colonel Eduards Bērziņš, head of the Cheka Felix Dzerzhinsky

Russia has always been a mystery for many westerners. The Americans, British and French have always misunderstood or underestimate the Russians and their allies. And because of that they have fallen for Russian deception and treachery for many times. One of the must particular victims for this deception were and are Western secret services. Despite the professionalism and valiance of the CIA and MI6 these agencies have been many times roughly beaten by their most strongest nemesis – the KGB. The secret fight between Western secret services and the KGB has a long history of failed missions, captured and executed agents and betrayal. In many events the Soviet secret service was more clever and sinister than Americans and British. This is a story of first of such events the so-called Lockhart Plot that involved the Red Latvian riflemen and the British most famous agent Sidney Rielly The Ace of Spies the inspiration model for James Bond.

In 1918. the Bolsheviks had seized the power in Russia. The new government brought great inconvenience and fear for the Entente powers. The separate truce with Germany and calls for international communist revolution left two options for the west – either to try to cooperate with Bolsheviks or to get rid of them. But getting inside the war-torn Russia and the Bolshevik inner circles was the toughest part.

After all attempts of bribing the Bolsheviks to get them back in war Germany failed, the new objective was to topple the new regime. British intelligence officers raised the alarm and called Russia the new main enemy. British Naval Intelligence director Sir William Hall said: “Hard and bitter as the battle has been, we now have to face a far more ruthless foe, a foe that is hydra headed and whose evil power will spread all over the whole world, and that foe is Russia”. The chief of MI6 (British intelligence service) Mansfeild Cumming also was convinced that the new enemy are the Bolsheviks.

At August 1918, Bolsheviks controlled only small part of Russia, no bigger than 16, century Muscovy. Bolsheviks moved their capitol from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to Moscow. From all sides they were surrounded by various anti-bolshevik forces the so-called white  guards. Brits had landed a large expeditionary force  in Arkhangelsk to supply and lead the white forces. It seemed from the start that the victory over Bolsheviks are certain.

However, the ruthless and brutal Bolshevik tactics and lack of unity among the white forces prevented Bolsheviks from fast collapse. Also the support from western society for anti-Bolshevik struggle was lacking. There were sense of leftist radicalization among British working classes, and many intellectuals had sympathetic views towards the Bolsheviks. The knowledge about the Red Terror in early 1918, was minimal and not everyone was convinced that the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky were all too serious about the international revolution and struggle with west.

In summer of 1918, Lenin decided that the western powers are trying to overthrow him so it would be great effort to catch the plotters red-handed and expose them. This task was given to Felix Dzerzhinsky the head of  Extraordinary Commission ( ЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия – in short Cheka) Cheka was the new Bolshevik secret police designed to combat contra-revolutionary efforts and impose the Bolshevik power. Cheka was the mother of KGB and Dzerzhinsky its ideological father and heroine.

The Cheka started the plot by approaching British Naval attaché Commander Leslie Cromie (also a MI6 agent).. On 7  August the Cheka agent introduced Cromie with  his friend – colonel Eduards Bērziņš the senior officer of the Latvian rifleman. He wanted to cooperate with the British and promised the support from Latvian rifleman. This is what the British wanted and they were too wiling to believe it.

A week later the two man appeared in Moscow apartment of the the British envoy Robert Bruce Lockhart. Lockhart was extravagant, brainy and moody gentleman. Bērziņš explained to Lockhart that the Latvians are not intending to fight for Bolsheviks forever and wished go home to Latvia. They told if they would be sent to fight the British forces in the north they would surrender. They also asked four million rubles to work on his fellow Latvian sympathies. Lockhart responded that it will be better than two Latvian regiments would switch sides on the provincial town of Vologda, opening a second front against the Bolsheviks, while those who are remaining in Moscow would assassinate the Lenin and his government. But he wrote lassiez-passer to help Latvians reach the British forces and provided 900 000 rubles as the down payment.

Lockhart incriminated himself and his fellow Cromei and confirmed the Bolshevik suspicions.  He went further by putting two visitors in touch with Sidney Reilly the spy from British consulate. Born Sigismund Rosenblum near Odessa later nicknamed the “Ace of Spies” was a complex, unpredictable and widely overconfident.

As a womanizer Reilly arranged the meeting with Bērziņš at apartment of one of his mistress, but turned up late. While waiting the Latvian noticed an envelope that gave an address  of the actress Elizabeth Otten who had allowed her apartment for spy meetings. The Cheka begun arresting all who visited it. One of them was Maria Friede, sister of a colonel in the Red Army General Staff who was carrying secret documents from him, destined for Reilly. Her brother was arrested and confessed his cooperation with American intelligence officer who was also arrested but later released in exchange.

The Brits exposed them further by believing that the French reporter of the Le Figaro Rene Marchand is spy of their government. Marchand posed as hostile to the Bolsheviks, but in reality he informed Dzerzhinsky about the British plans. He learned that the supposed coup would happen in 28 August at the time of the party meeting at the Great Theater. The Latvian rifleman should arrest and execute the Bolshevik leadership on spot. Reilly promised Latvian conspirators senior positions in the future Latvian state under Allied protection.

Why Latvian rifleman were so important in the British plans and why they believed them? Latvian rifleman regiments were one of the best Russian formations during the war with Germans. Their intentions were to defend and liberate their homeland from Germans, however because of many pointless military defeats and pointless casualties under Czarist leadership exposed them to the Bolshevik ideology. After the Bolshevik coup the majority of Latvian rifleman went to Russia to protect the revolution and became the Red Army elite guard. They played the most important role in the Red Army victories and Lenin trusted them. However, the British regarded that the Latvians would switch sides on promise of independent Latvian state and bigger money offer since they regarded Latvians as Bolshevik mercenaries. That was a grave mistake – ironically the Latvian rifleman were the most devout defenders of the Bolsheviks at that time.

Dzerzhinsky went straight to Lenin to inform about this plot. The problem was how to use the Marchand’s  material. Lenin came with ingenious solution. The French journalist Marchand wrote a letter to French president Raymond Poincare where he warned the president about his countries spies involvement in the plot. It’s a duty of journalist to inform his head of state about ludicrous actions of the secret service. Then the letter would be “found” by the Cheka during the search at the Marchand’s home.

Cheka waited few days to see the plot developing. But the assassination on 30 August of the head Petrograd Cheka Mosei Uritsky and later in the evening the assassination attempt of Lenin himself prompted the communist leaders to spring the trap. On 31 August eight officers of the Cheka raided the British embassy. Officer Cromie was shot dead while trying to delay the intruders and allowing his two officers to escape. The Lockhart, his assistant and the French consul general was arrested, interrogated and later deported.Reilly escaped but was sentenced to death in absentee. In 1925 he again fell for Dzerzhinsky trap and was arrested in Soviet Union. He and others fell for guise of so-called anti-Bolshevik resistance organization the Trust that in reality was made out by the Cheka to lure western agents and Russian monarchist agents in to hands of the Cheka.

The so-called Lockhart plot was the first Soviet counterintelligence operation, many others would come. The next crushing failure by British and American intelligence that involved Latvians was Operation Jungle. The ill-fated attempt of supporting the Latvian anti-soviet partisans after the World War II will be discussed in the future.

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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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