Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived in fear of the KGB for years after his exile from the Soviet Union – even as the FBI was secretly watching him, newly disclosed documents reveal.
The Nobel Prize-winning author’s FBI file shows that the U.S. law enforcement agency closely, but quietly monitored Solzhenitsyn for years, knowing the discovery of its surveillance would lead to political repercussions.
Solzhenitsyn, perhaps best known for writing “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which chronicled the brutality of Stalin’s labor camps, died in 2008 at age 89.
The NYCity News Service obtained the FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows certain documents to be released after the subject’s death. The FBI did not release all the documents in the file, citing national security issues and concerns about revealing sources. Forty-two pages were deleted and 46 pages were redacted.
The 95-page file shows FBI tracked the Nobel Laureate from 1968, the time of his first major protests against the Soviet regime, then followed his banishment and continued until 1976, as he settled in the U.S.
A 1975 memo circulated in the FBI cautioned that investigating a prominent individual such as Solzhenitsyn could be politically sensitive. The documents instructed agents to limit coverage to established sources to minimize the risk of being discovered.
Solzhenitsyn eventually moved to Vermont, where he lived about 20 years.
During his first years in the United States, Solzhenitsyn still feared the KGB, the Soviet spy agency, and worried about attempts on his life, the documents show.
While working on a book in 1976 at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank, Solzhenitsyn felt so threatened that he wanted to obtain a gun permit, according to FBI memos and police reports. He was denied because he was not a U.S. citizen, and the FBI noted it would not intervene in his request.
“Solzhenitsyn said he feels he is in imminent danger,” citing some “very disturbing events” in Switzerland, where he stayed before coming to the U.S., according to the file. It’s not clear from the documents exactly what alarmed the writer.
Documents show the FBI tracked Solzhenitsyn on a 1975 visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery in Oregon. The author wanted the visit kept confidential because he feared the KGB would learn of the trip. The files include a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s temporary visa to the U.S. and details about his travel plans to Canada in search for an “Old Believer,” or a Russian Orthodox community, where he could settle.
There is no evidence he knew the FBI was monitoring him, though, a 1976 memo notes that Solzhenitsyn did not trust the U.S. State Department, and preferred using unofficial channels to make his travel plans rather than getting approvals from the U.S. agency.
The FBI monitored him using undisclosed sources who reported on his activities, relying on reports from local authorities and tracking news accounts of his activities. The Bureau amassed more than 40 clips on Solzhenitsyn from U.S. and international newspapers and wire services, most of them documenting the author’s 1974 arrest and exile from the Soviet Union.
Information about the writer was monitored by the FBI’s highest echelons, including one-time acting director Mark Felt, best known as Deep Throat during the Watergate scandal, and associate director Clyde Tolson.
The reports tracked Solzhenitsyn’s movements as he began his exile, from Russia to Germany and Switzerland. In 1976, Solzhenitsyn moved to Vermont, where he lived until he returned to Russia in 1994. He died on August 3, 2008 at the age of 89.