Pavlov, Vitaly Grigorievich (1914-2005)

Vitaly Pavlov

Vitaly Pavlov

A KGB foreign intelligence operative and leader who was the Moscow coordinator of NKVD foreign intelligence activities from 1939 to 1942 – and in his 50 years of service managed to supervise major branches of KGB foreign intelligence, eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant General.

Pavlov was born in 1914 in Barnaul, in the Russian Far East, into a family of schoolteachers. He began his career as a worker at a local factory – and in 1933 enrolled at the Siberian Auto and Road Engineers Institute. A capable student, he was selected in his fifth – graduate – year for the state security service and, in March 1938, came to Moscow to study at the NKVD school of higher learning, known as the Central School. He continued his training at the newly organized Special Purpose School (known in Russia as “ShON”) – the first school to train foreign intelligence operatives. In late 1938, after graduation from ShON, Pavlov was sent to the GUGB 7th department, the name during that period for the NKVD’s foreign intelligence service, previously known as the INO.

Having started as a “probationer,” he was soon promoted to the rank of operative – due to the dearth of available talent following the mass purges of 1937-1938. According to Pavlov himself, when he came to the foreign intelligence service, “only about 10% of [his] colleagues were veterans; the rest were young people.” 1 Hence, the 25-year old Pavlov soon found himself on a fast career track, appointed assistant head of the American division – to coordinate Soviet intelligence efforts in the entire Western hemisphere. In the United States, he coordinated the work of “legal” residencies in Washington, D.C. and New York and two “illegal” groups in the same cities. The New York “illegal” group, which was run by Iskhak Akhmerov, was put on ice following the latter’s recall to Moscow; and Akhmerov was assigned to Pavlov’s division. In this way, the weathered Akhmerov became the spycraft guru for his young and inexperienced supervisor. In the spring of 1941, Pavlov went on his first overseas mission: under cover as a diplomatic courier, he visited New York and Washington, D.C. By that time, he had been assigned the pseudonym – “Klim” – with which he would sign his dispatches for years to come.

More than 50 years later, Pavlov would describe his 1941 American mission as Operation “Snow” 2 in a meeting with the U.S. Department of Treasury official, Harry Dexter White. However, more than a year after Pavlov’s book, entitled Operation “Snow,” was published, he described his 1941 U.S. trip to me as “educational,” in that it gave him a first-hand view of the field he was supervising from Moscow – as well as the ability to inspect the operation of the New York field station and, in particular, to check the status of its assets in Washington, D.C. (most of whom had been “put on ice” since late 1939). Against this background, a meeting with White which Pavlov described in his book was more of an “evaluation” than an attempt to use White as a Soviet “agent of influence.” 3

Watch for alerts on this website to read more about General Pavlov’s account of his meeting with Harry Dexter White.

Pavlov returned to Moscow in early July 1941, where he soon became the head of the American division. With the Soviet Union fighting for its life against Nazi Germany, he felt it urgent to send Akhmerov back to the United States to resume contact with important assets he had acquired back in the late 1930s – assets who had potential access to intelligence on Nazi Germany and perhaps even information pertaining to the possibility of a Japanese attack on the Soviet Union. It was Pavlov who was in charge of the organizational groundwork for Akhmerov’s return to the field as an “illegal” resident. He was also in charge of preparations for the posting of Vassili Zarubin as chief resident in the United States – and of coordinating the work of both residents from their initial arrival in the country until July 1942.

Click here to have a look at Pavlov’s April 1942 assessment of the situation on the political and diplomatic lines of work.

In July 1942, at the age of 28, Pavlov became the NKGB foreign intelligence “legal” resident in Ottawa, Canada, working under the cover of a Soviet consular official. In 1946, he was declared persona non grata in the aftermath of the defection of the Soviet cipher clerk Igor Guzenko in September 1945. On his return to Moscow headquarters, he became assistant head of the American and British section of its informational department -to work on sorting through the backlog of intelligence information accumulated during World War II. In 1947, Pavlov transferred to the newly organized directorate of illegal operations, where he worked until 1961, becoming the chief of its American department in 1951 and the chief of the “illegal” directorate in 1958. In those capacities, he prepared and coordinated several important “illegal” missions, including that of William Fischer (better known in America as “Rudolph Abel”), an “illegal” resident in the United States from 1948 to 1957.

In 1961, Pavlov was appointed assistant chief of the KGB foreign intelligence directorate, in charge of foreign counterintelligence — and from March 1966 to October 1970, he was posted in Vienna as a “legal” resident (under the assumed name of “Kedrov”). From 1971 to 1973, Pavlov was chief of the KGB school of higher learning, then called The Red Banner Institute of the KGB USSR (now The Foreign Intelligence Academy). In early 1973, he was posted to Poland as the KGB representative at the Polish Ministry of Interior Affairs. Upon his return from Poland in late 1984, Pavlov went on to work in Moscow as an advisor to the chief of foreign intelligence. His responsibilities included investigating the cases (and archival records) of defectors from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. Pavlov retired in 1990 holding the rank of Lieutenant General. In the course of his long career, he was given the highest Soviet awards, including the Order of Lenin, the October Revolution Order, the Red Banner Order and others. He was fluent in English, German, French and Polish. During his retirement, Pavlov wrote a memoir and a few books on the history of KGB foreign intelligence. 4

  1. General Pavlov interview with Svetlana Chervonnaya, November 12, 1997.
  2. Vitalii Pavlov, Operatsija “Sneg”: Polveka vo vneshnei razvedke KGB, Moskva: “Geja”, 1996. (Operation “Snow”: Half a Century at KGB Foreign Intelligence, by Vitaly Pavlov, Moscow: “Geya”, 1996.)
  3. In 2004, I had a chance to trace Pavlov’s route to his meeting with White at the Old Ebbitt Grill, as he described it to me in detail in 1997. As described, his route led exactly to the 1427 F Street, N.W. location occupied by the saloon from the1920s to 1970s, before it moved around the corner into its current location at 675 15th Street. Pavlov, who had not visited the U.S. after World War II, could not easily have faked his 1997 route in order to support his story.
  4. Vitalii Pavlov. Operatsija “Sneg”, Op. Cit; V. Pavlov. Rukovoditeli Pol’shi glazami razvedchika, Moskva: TERRA-Knizhnyi klub, 1998 (Polish Leaders through the Eyes of an Intelligence Officer, by V. Pavlov, Moscow: TERRA-Book Club, 1998); V. Pavlov,“Sezam, Otkrojsja!”: Tajnye razvedyvatel’nye operatsii, Moskva: TERRA-Knizhnyi klub, 1999 ( “Open, Sesame!”: The Secret Intelligence Operations, by V. Pavlov, Moscow: TERRA-Book Club, 1999); V. Pavlov, Tragedii sovetskoi razvedki, Moskva: Tsentrpoligraph, 2000 (The Tragedies of Soviet Intelligence, by V. Pavlov, Moscow: Poligraph Centre, 2000.)