Bykov, Colonel

The name Whittaker Chambers used to describe his Russian contact beginning in the fall of 1936. Chambers said he knew the man he delivered material to “through 1937 and the first months of 1938″ under the alias of “Peter”, and first heard the name “Bykov” from the Soviet defector, Walter Krivitsky “towards the end of the year 1938.” Before talking to Krivitsky, Chambers had no idea that his Russian contact had the rank of a colonel, or indeed any military rank at all. 1

From the scarce documentation and a few publications which have surfaced in Russia since 1990, it appears that the man behind “Colonel Bykov” was one Boris Yakovlevich Bukov – an illegal resident of the GRU in the United States from 1936 to 1939. Although they look similar to a non-Russian eye, the two names are different: Bykov [by-kov] derives from “byk” (bull) and Bukov [bu-kov] from, most commonly, “buk” (beech tree.) However, it may also derive from “buka” [bu-ka], meaning bogeyman.

Boris Yakovlevich Bukov, whose real name was reportedly Altman, was a cadre officer of the military intelligence with more than 20 years of service from 1920 to 1941. As of 1936, Bukov’s military rank was that of Regiment Commissar, the equivalent of Colonel. Bukov joined the Communist Party in 1919. In 1929, he graduated from the military intelligence commanders’ school, and in 1935 from the industrial department of the Military Academy of Chemical Defense. He was fluent in German and worked in Germany in the 1920s. Beginning in 1928, he worked at the Moscow headquarters of the GRU – first as a section head of its second department, and later as an assistant (third among seven) to the head of the second department. In 1935, Bukov was sent to Europe, and, from the later part of 1936 until mid-1939, was an “illegal” resident in the United States.

There seems to be a consensus in the United States that “Bykov” vanished following Chambers’s defection (which Chambers initially placed in 1937 and later moved to mid-April, 1938.) However, the real-life Bukov stayed in the United States through a good part of 1939. Petr Ivashutin, the GRU Director from 1963 to 1987, named Bukov among the few “intelligence officers who survived the purges” and whose “networks were able to supply information on major problems to the Center,” or Moscow headquarters. According to General Ivashutin, from 1937 to 1939 Bukov ran one of three GRU agent groups operating in the United States. The other two groups were run by Adams and Mulat.

Bukov returned to Moscow in the summer of 1939 and, until June 1941, lectured on agent operations at the Higher Special School of the Red Army General Staff. Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 22 1941, he was sent to train military interpreters, as head of the Chair of Foreign Countries Studies at a military school of the civilian Second Moscow State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages (later part of the Military Institute of Foreign Languages of the Red Army). 2

  1. The Transcript of Grand Jury Testimony in the Alger Hiss Case. The Testimony of Whittaker Chambers, December 8, 1948, January 26, 1949, pp. 3594-3596, 5756-5757.
  2. V.M. Lurie, V. Ya. Kochik, GRU: Dela I ljudi. Moskva: Olma-Press, 2003, str.356, 558 (GRU. Deeds and People, by V.M. Lurie and V.Ya. Kochik, Moscow: OLMA-PRESS, 2003, pp. 356, 558.