The Old School Illegals Program

Steve LeVine digs up good stuff on one of the original spies from Russia’s “illegals” program, Nikolai Khokhlov.  Maybe the spy ring of 11 underground Americans were simply awaiting their eventual orders, if they ever came.

Nikolai’s German was near-native, a skill tested when he posed as a Nazi soldier in Moscow’s wartime plot to assassinate SS officer Wilhelm Kube in Minsk. But in 1945, with World War II still not yet over, he was dispatched to Romania as an illegal. Because of his accent, and total absence of Romanian, Nikolai was to pose as a Polish émigré named Stanislaw Levandowski. As professional cover, Nikolai was provided cash to open a small electronic goods shop.

As instructed, Nikolai acted normally. He got a Romanianwoman to marry him, explaining that it was necessary for him to getRomaniancitizenship so as not to lose his store and perhaps hisfreedom if he had to go back to Poland. But there was no spycraft, noindication from Moscow of any coming mission. In a word, it was boring.Four yearslater, he insisted that he be brought home to Moscow.

After his defection to the West, Nikolai went on to studypsychology, and became a professor at California State University in SanBernardino. He left a son behind in Moscow, marrying again in the UnitedStates and raising three more children with his wife Tatjana. Just a fewmonths afterwe met, Nikolaidied at the age of 84. I attended his funeral.

To the end, Nikolai insisted he was never an assassin,and he detested the mentality of the intelligence men who had once beenhispeers. But he remained proud of the one active illegal mission he didcarry out:the Kube assassination. He never stopped talking about that.