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Space

Victor Louis - A Major Source of Western Reportage in Moscow

During the 1960s, one of the major conduits for news and "exclusives" on USSR events (including the space program) for most Western journalists residing in Moscow was KGB agent/journalist Victor Louis.  Louis' main role for the KGB was to place news stories in Western periodicals that would reflect the aims of the Central Committee CPSU (showing the USSR in an advantageous light), and also apparently provide personal as well as professional information to his superiors about Western journalists posted to Moscow. (Louis was a legitimate Moscow correspondent for several newspapers in the UK, including the London Evening News.)

Louis was behind many "scoops"--for example, in the political sphere, such newsworthy items as Khrushchev's ouster; the imminent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; the late 1969 story that the USSR was seriously thinking about attacking China's nuclear infrastructure-accurately reflecting the Kremlin's thoughts at the time; and the reassignment of Marshal Ogarkov. Louis also placed articles in the Western media to discredit the memoirs of Stalin's daughter Svetlana, and also--after the Chernobyl accident--had publicized statements made allegedly by Andrei Sakharov that implied he was supportive of the Soviet handling of the accident and critical of the Western reaction to it.[31,32]

In regards to space-related matters, Louis directly provided details (such as the foreshadowing of the original intentions of the Soyuz 1/2 mission, what the circumstances were leading to Gagarin's plane crash, as well as details of the tragic descent and touchdown of the Soyuz 11 mission) and indirectly as well for nearly every manned-related space shot prior to launching, in the materials that showed up in Western media wire stories filed from Moscow.[33-35]

Due to his professional familiarity with UPI journalist Henry Shapiro, Louis is considered a candidate for being one of the key sources for UPI's top journalist, although there is not a consensus on whom or which persons his sources may have been.**[33]

Because Louis was on such good terms with all of the US journalists based in Moscow, whenever there were State functions at the USA's Soviet embassy there (which always had US journalists attend), he no doubt was invited to come along.  And I will point out the significance of that in a later section.

Additionally, Henry Shapiro himself responded to the idea that he had "high sources" that favored him (which he disputed).  In Whitman Bassow's volume[36] we read the following about his explanations of  the procedure with which he obtained his "scoops":

".Henry Shapiro has angrily denied that he had any special relationships with the Soviets, and there is no evidence that he did.  The scoops and beats that he regularly obtained, in my judgement [Bassow's view], were largely the results of longevity and hard work, not because the [Soviet] Press Department favored him above the other correspondents..  In Moscow, however, Henry Shapiro was usually but not always invincible.  He understood that reporting in Russia was like detective work:  Patiently putting the pieces together could give you the big picture.  As an example, some of the correspondents were convinced that the Press Department was tipping Shapiro in advance on one of the hottest stories of the 1960s, the Soviet space program.  Cosmonauts were launched regularly, executing increasingly complicated missions.  And more often than not, Shapiro seemed to know in advance when they would be launched and when they would return to earth, providing UPI with numerous [scoops], much to the chagrin of the Associated Press.  There was no secret to Shapiro's success, only his intimate knowledge of how the system worked.  Before a space launch, he knew that editors on Moscow's newspapers and magazines received an unmarked envelope containing the photos and biographies of the cosmonauts that could be opened only if the launching was successful.  Shapiro's journalist contacts alerted him to the arrival of the envelope on a Soviet editor's desk, and he was able to report that a launching was imminent.  Meanwhile, Ludmilla Shapiro worked as diligently as her husband, accumulating an extensive clipping file on the space program that enabled her to spot references to 'Cosmonaut X,' a graduate of the Leningrad Advanced Fighters School, married and the father of two, who spoke to a regional Communist Party meeting.  The designation 'X' meant that this officer was a future cosmonaut preparing for his flight, usually the next launching.  That was the way Henry Shapiro deduced that the Russians would launch the first multi-manned capsule in October 1964, and he was correct."[37]

This means that our Russia-based colleagues have an additional research avenue, in that they should talk to surviving Soviet newspaper journalists and editors in Moscow from that era, and see if there were such "envelopes" being given out in late November/early December 1968  for an anticipated manned circumlunar mission. There should also be efforts made to see if such an envelope crossed the desks of editors in late June/early July 1969 as well.  Perhaps some of these envelopes still survive, and if found, would provide further evidence of the USSR's still-hidden space history.

A further wrinkle is that Victor Louis apparently has a direct connection to Yuri Andropov.  In a 2002 article in Lehaim, journalist David Markish discovered in his interviews with Louis' ex-colleagues that "By [the gist of] some of Victor Louis' statements, [it appeared that] Yuri Andropov was his mentor and trustee."[38]  Apparently Andropov, a member of the Politburo, had--in the guise of Victor Louis--his information dissemination vehicle for Western reporters about Kremlin policy decisions and activities, including space-related ones.  In other words, Louis could be considered  the de facto official spokesperson for Western repoters about Kremlin designs, albeit at times in a sub rosa, or unofficial manner.

 

As German space researcher Ulrich Brocks commented to me, ".the information Victor Louis leaked to the Western media proves to be most accurate and reliable. All in all, I think that he was well-informed, and if he wanted to be trusted by Western journalists he could only be successful by leaking accurate information to them. Where he got his knowledge from and to what purpose he used it is another question.  It was the Cold War era."[39]

 

In the next section, we will turn to the events surrounding December 1968. 

 

*According to former Moscow UPI correspondent and Shapiro colleague Nicholas Daniloff, "Victor Louis was well known in the foreign community in Moscow, and especially in the foreign correspondents community also."  Additionally, "Journalists treated Victor like any other source in Moscow, namely pumping him at functions and dinner parties.  His phone number was known and some telephoned him occasionally." Daniloff also provided the comments that Victor Louis was viewed as truthful.  Western reporters would view the information from Victor--since it had KGB connections--as more factual and more authorized than if it wasn't coming from KGB-connected Soviet journalism persons.  (Personal communications with author, 4 June and 14 July 2006.)

**Former UPI colleagues of Shapiro who worked with him in Moscow provide alternatives to Louis as to whom they suspect was the UPI Moscow bureau chief's main "space source"-it could have been a high-ranking official in the TASS news agency, or alternatively high-ranking individuals other than Louis in the Novosti agency-two names mentioned include Avtandil Ruhadze and Pavel Gevorkian.



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