Alexander Orlov

From Academic Kids

Alexander Mikhailovich Orlov (Leiba Lazarevich Felbing) (1895 - 1973 was a Soviet espionage administrator. He defected to the U.S. in 1938. He warned Leon Trotsky of his impending assassination.


Early years

Orlov was born Lev Lazerevich Feldbin to a Jewish family in Belarus (then part of the Russian empire). He graduated from military college in 1917 and joined the Bolshevik Party. He joined the Russian Revolution and quickly rose through the ranks. During the Polish-Soviet War he began his career in espionage organizing saboteurs, recruiting agents and gathering intelligence behind enemy lines, developing techniques he would use later in life. His expertice made him an obvious candidate for the OGPU, the political police that preceded the KGB.

Career in Russian spy agencies

During his time in the OGPU he served in a wide range of positions, the most important of which was the Deputy Chief of the Econemic Directorate and as head of the Border Guards in Georgia. In the early 1930's he was transferred to the INO, the branch of the KGB responsible for overseas operations.

In Orlov's new position he was responsible for a number of successful innovations in Soviet foreign intelligence gathering especially in his use of moles. He pioneered the extensive use of 'illegal' agents who operated without official diplomatic cover or any overt connection with the Soviet Union. He also encouraged the recruitment of young (and often idealistic) Communist sympathizers in Western countries. These recruits were cultivated and instructed to find jobs in sensitive government positions. This technique resulted in the spying ring in the United Kingdom that became known as the Cambridge Five.

Work during the Spanish Civil War

Orlov was appointed KGB adviser to the Spanish Republican government on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, making him the highest ranking KGB officer outside of the USSR. In this position he organized guerilla activity behind nationalist lines, training as many as 14,000 by 1938. He was also responsible for the suppression of left-wing groups and organizations and oversaw the execution and torture of a number of key leaders.


In 1938, the Great Purge was in full swing back in the Soviet Union as Stalin sought to clear away the last vestiges of the old guard who had survived the 1917 revolution. Orlov watched from afar as close associates and friends were rounded up and shot one by one. His turn came when he was invited to a briefing with a representative of the politburo on board a Soviet vessel in Antwerp. Instead he defected with his family to the United States.



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