Lydia Stahl

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Lydia Stahl (1885-?) was a Russian-born secret agent who worked for Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) in New York and Paris in the 1920s and 30s.

Early life[edit]

She was born Lydia Chkalov in Rostov-on-Don, in the south of Russia, in 1885.

She married Baron Boris Stahl, a Russian nobleman, who divorced her and emigrated to the United States with his new wife Ludmila.

Personal life[edit]

She befriended the Finnish writer Hella Wuolijoki and was a regular visitor to her estate Marleback in Southern Finland, which was a meeting place for leftist intellectuals and politicians. Through her relationship with Finnish communist politician Otto Kuusinen, she met the American radical, journalist John Reed, and maintained a correspondence with him until his death in 1920.


While a refugee in Finland she joined the Soviet secret service in 1921.

During the 1920s, Lydia established a photography studio in Paris where she copied secret documents for Soviet Military Intelligence. In June 1928 she was transferred to New York to help the Soviet Union's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) rezident Alfred Tilton. Her second trip to New York took place in December 1931. Then she returned to Paris to work for the network which included Robert Gordon Switz who led his own group. Lydia's ami was the French professor Louis Pierre Martin, codebreaker and translator for the Naval Ministry and member of the Legion of Honor.


In 1933 counterespionage uncovered a network in Finland which included Tilton's wife Maria, Lydia's friend Ingrid Bostrom, and Arvid Jacobson. Bostrom provided information which led French counterintelligence to Lydia. She was arrested in December 1933 and other members of the network, including Switz and his wife, were arrested shortly afterward. Lydia was convicted of espionage in April 1935 and served a four-year sentence.

She disappeared after her release from French prison.


  • Golden Age in Soviet Espionage By Josh Lerner Air Intelligence Agency
  • Petri Liukkonen. "John (Silas) Reed". Books and Writers
  • Inserted statement of Nicholas Dozenberg, hearings 8 November 1949, U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Un-American Activities, 81st Cong., 1st and 2d session.
  • David Dallin, Soviet Espionage, Yale University Press, 1955.
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press (1999), pgs. 380, 471.
  • Walter Krivitsky, In Stalin's Secret Service, Enigma Books, 2000.

William T. Murphy,"Lydia Stahl: A Secret Life, 1885-?," Journal of Intelligence History,2018. [1]