Obituary: Peter Deriabin

Jeanne Vronskaya
Wednesday 09 September 1992 23:02

Peter Sergeyevich Deriabin, security and intelligence officer, lecturer, writer, born 1917, died Washington DC 20 August 1992.

PETER DERIABIN was one of four well-known post-war defectors from the Soviet Union: the other three - Igor Guzenko, Nikolai Khokhlov and Vladimir Petrov - worked for what was later known as the KGB.

Deriabin was born in 1917, in Siberia. In 1938 he graduated from the Pedagogical Institute in Biisk, in the Altai region, and worked as a history teacher at a local school. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 he became a soldier. He was a hero of the battle for Stalingrad and one of 151 survivors from a regiment of 2,800. He was wounded four times and was decorated with five gallantry awards. In 1944 he was recruited by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), under Lavrenti Beria.

By the end of the war Deriabin had risen to the rank of a counterespionage major, and was stationed in Vienna. He was then transferred to Moscow, where for a short time he worked as a security officer in the Kremlin, under Sergei Kruglov, head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) from 1945 to 1953, whose main responsibility was for Stalin's personal security outside the Kremlin and during his trips abroad. Kruglov and Deriabin accompanied Stalin to summits with foreign leaders at Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam. Deriabin rose to the rank of colonel in the NKVD. After the war, he was promoted to foreign intelligence under Beria and Victor Abakumov, then head of Smersh (Smert Shpionam - 'death to spies'), a terror organisation responsible for the kidnapping and murder of many of Stalin's opponents. Deriabin's field of activity was Germany and Austria. He returned to Vienna - in the post-war years a centre of international espionage - where he made his first contact with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He never worked for the KGB, as the organisation did not start operating until March 1954: a month after his defection to the West.

It is not clear whether Deriabin became disillusioned with Stalin's Communism, and changed his political views, or whether he had displeased his bosses, and defected for his own safety. His immediate superior, Kruglov, died in suspicious circumstances, however; he apparently shot himself. This might be an explanation for Deriabin's defection. Deriabin had, besides, no 'hostages' to leave in the Soviet Union. His first wife had died before the war, and he was divorced from his second, a secretary to Lazar Kaganovich, Stalin's right-hand man. Like all Soviet defectors, he was sentenced to death after his defection, and hunted by his former colleagues. He was brought to the US, where the CIA kept him in hiding for five years. Still comparatively young, he studied at Michigan and Virginia universities under an assumed name. He then lectured at the Defense Ministry. .

Deriabin was luckier than some of his fellow defectors. Walter Krivitsky, head of Soviet espionage in Vienna before the war, defected in France in 1940 and was found dead in February 1941 in a hotel in the US. Ignace Reiss, an intelligence officer operating in Europe in the 1930s, defected in 1937 and finished his days in a hired car on a road near Lausanne with multiple gun-wounds.

Deriabin provided useful information to the CIA, before becoming a consultant - he retired in 1981 - and publishing several books. In 1959 he published his autobiography, Tainyi Mir ('A Secret World'). In 1972 he wrote a book about Soviet espionage and the KGB - Storozhevye Psy Terrora ('Guard Dogs of Terror'). In 1982 he co-authored The KGB: owner of the Soviet Union. In 1965 he translated Shpion Spasshii Mir ('A Spy Who Saved the World'), the diaries of Col Oleg Penkovsky, who worked for both the CIA and MI6, and was caught and executed in Moscow.

Deriabin's story is less well known than, for example, that of Igor Guzenko, a cipher clerk, who defected in September 1945, or Nikolai Khoklov, the Smersh hit-man who defected in Germany one month after Deriabin, or Vladimir Petrov, who defected in April 1954 in Canberra. Deriabin died, as he had lived, in careful obscurity.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments