My Administration for Special Tasks,” Sudoplatov begins, “was responsible for sabotage, kidnapping and assassination of our enemies beyond the country’s borders.” The administration to which he refers was one of the key divisions in Stalin’s security police, an agency he headed from the summer of 1941 until he took over the Fourth Directorate, which was responsible for guerrilla warfare behind German lines. The assassinations included Trotsky’s, a project Sudoplatov directed and here describes in detail. Stalin met with him twice during the plot, and Sudoplatov gives a revealing account of the dictator’s mood and motives in commanding the murder.
Earlier he had personally killed Yevhen Konovalets, the leader of an migr Ukrainian nationalist organization, in Rotterdam with a bomb rigged in a box of chocolates. His long career began as a 14-year old in a special intelligence unit in the Ukraine (fighting the army of the same Konovalets whose inner circle he would penetrate 15 years later) and eventually gave him control over Department S, the organization responsible for gathering intelligence on atomic bomb research in the West and funneling it to Soviet scientists. Sudoplatov devoted himself to the business of grooming and deploying agents, counteragents and masters of deception and disinformation.
Given the intensely sensitive positions that he occupied for the period of high Stalinism, he is able to provide not only missing information on an astonishing range of questions, from the fate of Raoul Wallenberg to the impulses behind the anti-Jewish “Doctors’ Plot”, but also a clear picture of his grim organization’s inner workings. Yet, reader beware: at points Sudoplatov recounts things he could not have known (such as a given leader’s private motives) as though he did, and, in the book’s most discrediting section, he tars the famous principals in the Manhattan Project with the unsubstantiated charge of knowingly abetting Soviet agents in gathering the information Moscow so eagerly sought.