Krivitsky, Walter (1899-1941)

Walter Krivitsky

Walter Krivitsky

Soviet intelligence operative in Europe and defector. Born Samuel Gershevich Ginsberg in the Ternopol region of western Ukraine (then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire), Krivitsky joined the Communist Party in 1919 and later became a Captain of the GB. He studied at a gymnasium (high school) in Lviv. From 1918 to 1921, he worked as a Cominternillegal” in Austria and Poland. From 1921 to 1931, he was an operative of the Soviet military intelligence (then the Fourth Directorate of the General Staff of the Red Army, or GRU.) In 1923, he graduated from the Academy of the Red Army and was posted to Germany to take part in the organization of an agent network. From November 1925 to May 1926, he worked at the Moscow headquarters of Soviet military intelligence as a writer and mid-level operative. In 1926, Krivitsky was again posted to Germany, as an “illegal.” In later years, he was head of an intelligence school in Moscow and was awarded honorary weapons in 1928 and the Order of the Red Banner in 1931. That same year, Krivitsky changed his affiliation to the OGPU foreign intelligence. In this capacity, he worked as an “illegal” in Germany and other European countries. In April 1933, however, he was sent on a “long-term leave of absence.” In October 1935, Krivitsky was sent to Holland as head of an “illegal” residency of the OGPU foreign intelligence, with liaison functions in several other European countries.

In October 1937, Krivitsky defected in France, following the assassination of his friend and fellow operative Ignacii Poretsky (also known as Ignace Reiss) the previous month. Krivitsky sought political asylum in France and later in the United States. At the end of 1938, he sailed to the United States, where, with the assistance of a journalist named Isaac Don Levine, he produced a series of articles and a book, In Stalin’s Secret Service, published in 1939. That same year, he testified before the Dies Committee (later to become the House Un-American Activities Committee) and was debriefed by the Department of State. In January 1940, he sailed to Great Britain to be debriefed by the British Security Service, more commonly known as MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), where he named more than 100 names as agents of Soviet intelligence. Krivitsky soon departed for Canada and returned to the United States later in the year.

On February 10, 1941, Krivitsky was found dead in the Bellevue Hotel in Washington, D.C. Although his death was officially declared a suicide, there were allegations that he might have been killed by the Soviets. However, no information was ever uncovered to prove these allegations. 1 The publication in 2009 of the notes on KGB foreign intelligence file taken in early 1990s by a former KGB officer and journalist Alexander Vassiliev, seems to have ended the decades-long controversy over Krivitsky’s mysterious death. According to Vassiliev’s excerpted notes on an April, 1941 report prepared at the NKVD foreign intelligence Moscow headquarters, an operation for the “Cultivation of  ‘Enemy’ – the defector Krivitsky” – was over because “’Enemy’ took his own life.” [[2. State Security Sr. Lieutenant Butkov to the Chief of the 3rd Department of the 1st Directorate of the NKGB State Security Major Prudnikov, April 11, 1941, Alexander Vassiliev Black Notebook, p. 174, posted at]]

  1. V.M. Lurie, V.Ya. Kochik, GRU: Deeds and People. Moscow: OLMA PRESS, 2003, p. 534; Val’ter Krititzki, “Ya byl agentom Stalina” Zapiski sovetskogo razvedchika. S predisloviem Borisa Starkova. Moskva: TERRA, 1991. (Walter Krivitsky, “I was Stalin’s Agent,” The Notes of a Soviet Intelligence Officer. With introduction by Boris Starkov. Moscow: TERRA, 1991); Gary Kern, ed. Walter G. Krivitsky: MI5 Debriefing & Other Documents on Soviet Intelligence. Riverside, CA: Xenos Books, 2004.