Borodin, Norman Mikhailovich

Norman Mikhailovich Borodin (real name Gruzenberg) (1911-1974) was the Soviet intelligence officer and journalist who served as an “illegal” operative in the United States in 1935-1938.

Norman Borodin was born in Chicago in 1911 in the family of Russian √©migr√© revolutionaries. His father, Mikhail Gruzenberg, who had assumed party name, Borodin, was a friend of Vladimir Lenin and one of the early Russian underground Communist revolutionaries, whose two sons, Norman and Fred, were born in the United States. Mikhail Gruzenberg’s name is connected with the history of the creation of the Communist Party in the United States. In 1918, Mikhail Borodin returned to Russia, where he went on working on important international party, diplomatic and Comintern assignments. The family followed him to Russia in 1923. In the same year, Norman travelled with his parents and brother to China, where his father became a political adviser to Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary (often referred to as the Father of Modern China) and, simultaneously, as the Comintern representative in China. Upon his return to the USSR, Norman Borodin enrolled at the Leningrad Nautical School, from which he graduated in 1930.

In March 1930, Norman Borodin, who by that time was fluent in several European languages, joined the OGPU foreign intelligence (known as INO). In 1931, he was sent as an “illegal” operative to Norway, and later to Germany. After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Borodin was transferred to the INO “illegal” resident station in Paris. For his cover, in 1930-1934 Borodin enrolled at the University of Oslo, then at the German Language Institute for Foreigners of Berlin University, and finally at a language college at Sorbonne in Paris. After his return to Moscow in 1934, Borodin enrolled at the Military Chemical Academy of the Red Army.

However, next year Borodin was sent to the United States as an “illegal operative” (code name “Granit“) of the New York station, which was headed by Boris Bazarov. Borodin is credited with running three important sources, including Laurence Duggan, the head of the Latin American department of the Department of State. However, in 1938 he was recalled to Moscow, and in September 1938, transferred to the Soviet censorship agency known as Glavlit, as the head of its foreign department. In September 1941, Borodin was transferred to NKVD foreign intelligence and soon sent to Germany as an “illegal” resident. Reportedly, he spent several of the war years in Berlin, under the cover of a foreign member of the Swiss Red Cross mission.

After the war, in 1947-1949, Borodin worked in Moscow as a writer for the English-language weekly, The Moscow News. In March 1949, at the height of Stalinist “anti-Cosmopolites” campaign, he was arrested, imprisoned, and in 1951 exiled to the city of Karaganda. In 1952-1953 he was an acting department head at the Socialist Karaganda daily, and in late 1953, after Stalin’s death, he was permitted to return to Moscow – and was rehabilitated in 1954. After his rehabilitation Borodin worked as a journalist, however, in 1955 he was readmitted into the KGB service. In KGB he became head of the department for the work with foreign reporters. In 1961 Borodin became the editor-in-chief of the office of political publications at the Soviet news agency, Agency Press “Novosti”, and since August 1967 he became its political columnist.

Norman Borodin had a rank of a colonel; was awarded with the orders of the Red Banner, “Badge of Honor” and many medals. Reportedly, he served as an inspiration for the Soviet writer Julian Semenov for his World War II espionage novel, The Seventeen Moments in Spring; and became one of the prototypes for its hero, a Soviet spy, Maxim Isajev, a.k.a. Standartenfuhrer SS Max Otto von Stierlitz, who is a popular hero in Russia after a late 1970s TV serial under the same name as the novel. Unfortunately, thus far, I have been unable to discover Norman Borodin’s photo. 1

  1. The publications used for compiling Norman Borodin’s bio included: V. Abramov. Jevrei v KGB. Palachi i zhertvy. Moskva: “Jauza”- “Eksmo”, 2005, ss. 130-132. (V. Abramov, The Jews at the KGB. The Executioners and the Victims. Moscow: “Jauza” – “Eksmo”, 2005, pp. 130-132; Razvedka i kontrrazvedka v litsakh. Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ rossiiskikh spetssluzhb. (The Intelligence and Counterintelligence in Personalities. The Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Russian Special Services.); An article “Sud’ba na-gora”, Kazakhstanskaja Pravda, 12 marta 2008 (“The Fate at Large,” in Kazakhstan Pravda, March 12, 2008)