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Inside the KGB
An interview with retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin:
In 1958 Oleg Kalugin traveled to the United States as a Fulbright exchange student -- and KGB spy. During his 32 years in the KGB, Kalugin played a major role in the John Walker spy ring and rose to become chief of KGB foreign counterintelligence and a major general. Because he pushed for reforms in the KGB, Kalugin was forced into retirement in 1990. After the fall of the Soviet Union he was briefly a people's deputy in the Russian Parliament. The COLD WAR production team interviewed him in January 1998.
On joining the KGB:
I had a background: my father was a KGB officer for many years, though he never approved of my choice. As a young man, I was very determined to join the service. I thought it was a great honor to serve in the Soviet security and intelligence organization. I was a highly motivated, inspired man, by the ideals and faith which I had in my system, and I was profoundly affected by the ideology of communism.
On spying in the United States:
I had three assignments in the United States: one as a student of Columbia University. I went to the School of Journalism. I was not supposed to spy; it was a reconnaissance trip: I was supposed to make as many friends as possible, to prepare fertile grounds for my future work, to familiarize myself with the United States and its ways of life. ...
I came to the United States again in 1960. ... I was appointed correspondent of Radio Moscow, the sole correspondent covering the United States as well as the United Nations in New York. For four years I performed my duties as a correspondent, which was a cover, and I also tried to collect information, to recruit Americans. I concentrated on the young, aspiring people, because I was very young myself and this was part of my assignment.
And finally I came again in 1965 to Washington, D.C., as deputy chief for political intelligence. I later acted as chief of station, briefly; and had I not been exposed by Jack Anderson, one of the prominent U.S. journalists at the time, I would have probably been appointed chief of station and stayed in the United States longer.
Those were perhaps the most productive years, from 1965 to 1970. My cover was press secretary, public relations officer. Great job, I must say. I cultivated dozens of journalists, European, American; I would brief them, at times disinform them -- but very subtly, not to let myself down and not to compromise my credibility.
Finally, I ran, as a chief of political intelligence, several major spy rings. One was John Walker, who came to the Soviet Embassy in the fall of 1967 and continued to spy for the next 18 years. But I also ran a few other spies in Western embassies, in the journalistic community, in the academic community, in the military. So I would say my five years in Washington really made me one of the best officers by KGB standards. And this is why, despite my early age, I mean fairly young, I was recalled to Moscow and appointed deputy chief of foreign counterintelligence. And within three years I became chief of foreign counterintelligence, a major outfit within the KGB; and I got my general's rank in 1974, when I was barely 40 years old. And in fact, all my career was extremely successful, and I had no complaints of any sorts; though my philosophical views ... let's say my mindset and my political views have been undergoing [an] evolution.
On the KGB's goals:
The chief mission of the intelligence, as defined by the Soviet leadership, was to forewarn the Soviet leadership of impending military crises. ... As you know, the Soviet leadership was paranoid about a potential Western attack against the U.S.S.R., and for that reason the intelligence [agencies were] given all they wanted [in order] to provide the leadership with advance warning about forthcoming events.
On the other hand -- and this is the other side of the Soviet intelligence, very important: perhaps I would describe it as the heart and soul of the Soviet intelligence -- was subversion. Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.
In that sense, the Soviet intelligence [was] really unparalleled. ... The [KGB] programs -- which would run all sorts of congresses, peace congresses, youth congresses, festivals, women's movements, trade union movements, campaigns against U.S. missiles in Europe, campaigns against neutron weapons, allegations that AIDS ... was invented by the CIA ... all sorts of forgeries and faked material -- [were] targeted at politicians, the academic community, at [the] public at large. ...
It was really a worldwide campaign, often not only sponsored and funded, but conducted and manipulated by the KGB. And this was again part and parcel of this campaign to weaken [the] military, economic and psychological climate in the West.
On the ruthlessness of the KGB:
Well, it was ruthless. It was ruthless in Stalin's times, and the measure of its ruthlessness -- well, it's of a historic proportion. I think if we compare Hitler to Stalin, and the Gestapo to the KGB, the KGB was far more ruthless -- not because they killed far more people, but because they were indiscriminate in the selection of victims. The Nazis concentrated on Jews; the Soviet KGB under Stalin's directions was an internationalist organization: it would kill anyone who would stand in the way of Stalin and his leadership.
After Stalin's death, the KGB underwent serious reforms, but not serious enough to declare it a legitimate organization abiding by the laws of the state. In fact, it was a tool in the hands of the totalitarian state, in the hands of the Soviet leadership. And it was used at their will. I mean, the Soviet system was a lawless system, and the KGB was a tool of lawlessness.
On KGB assassination plots:
The Soviet KGB would not be involved in indiscriminate killings. I'm talking about the external arm of the KGB intelligence -- the domestic secret police and its ruthlessness, well, it's on the record. As to the assassinations outside the U.S.S.R., they were very selective. Let me just describe the criteria used to put someone on a death list.
First of all, political opponents of Joseph Stalin, in Stalin's time, [were targeted]. Trotsky was one of the victims. [Second], Ukrainian nationalists and Russian emigres who fought valiantly against the Soviet regime, they were also sentenced to death in absentia. [Ukrainian nationalist leader Stefan] Bandera was assassinated in Europe after World War II. The third category [of assassination targets] would be former military officers [who defected], [particularly] KGB secret police and intelligence. All of them were sentenced to death in absentia.
By the time I took over the foreign counterintelligence branch of the KGB, it was our job to locate these people and provide information for the execution. The execution would be carried out by someone else, normally [undercover agents]. We were not involved in physical executions, but we would do the search job. In fact, in my time, we [targeted] perhaps three dozens of former military intelligence officers including, simply military men, like Nikolai Shadrin, former commander of the Soviet cruiser in the Baltic who had defected to Sweden with his mistress. He was also sentenced to death because he was a military man, he sort of [broke] his oath to serve the state. ...
There were some other people of a higher rank -- government figures. But they were exclusively pinpointed by the Soviet leadership. One of them, for instance, was the shah of Iran. There were two attempts on his life -- both failed -- by the KGB. A recent example is the prime minister of Afghanistan, who was murdered by the assault troops -- I mean KGB groups -- in his own palace in Kabul in 1979. ...
Sometimes there is a lot of exaggeration about the Soviet capabilities. ... When people talk about the pope, for instance, this is out of the question. No major figures in the Western world, or in the Eastern world for that matter, except those I mentioned, were [targeted]. [It] would be unthinkable, inconceivable. ... [Despite] all the deliberations and rumors and gossip, this was not true.
On the assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov:
Markov was a rather special case. In the first place, it was not a Soviet affair: it was Bulgarian. And the Bulgarians, in the person of the party secretary, [Todor] Zhivkov, requested the Soviet KGB to help them to get rid of Georgi Markov, who was a prominent journalist, highly critical of the Bulgarian regime. Soviet KGB Chairman Andropov was very reluctant to play along with Zhivkov, and in fact he refused point-blank to go ahead with the plans. It was [Vladimir] Kryuchkov, the chief of the intelligence, who persuaded Andropov to change his mind. ...
The Bulgarian secret police was a branch of the KGB. Perhaps I would never say that of East Germany or Poles, or even Czechs, [but] the Bulgarians were simply the 16th republic, whatever they say. They even wanted at one point to become the 16th republic, but [the] Soviet leadership was wise enough to decline. ...
[Andropov] agreed finally and said, "OK, but no personal involvement. Provide the Bulgarians with equipment [and] advice on how to use the equipment." And that's how it happened. The Bulgarians were given a choice of weapons, and finally they picked up this umbrella as a cover to shoot the man with a poisoned pellet. Well, it was not supposed to be uncovered, because the pellet would dissolve in his body within 24 hours, if I recall correctly. But somehow it was found, the entry was found, and this made a major scandal. The Soviets never admitted this crime. I was the first to publicly disclose the facts.
On the importance of good intelligence:
Well, let me tell you this: intelligence played little, if any, role in winning the Cold War. Economic power, technological progress, political imperatives -- they were decisive forces in the Cold War outcome. On the other hand, the intelligence played a tremendous role in keeping the world from the brink, from turning the Cold War into a hot war.
Let me give you [an] example. Oleg Penkovsky, a CIA spy, former Soviet military officer, provided the CIA and the United States government with impeccable information which allowed President Kennedy to take decisive measures in the Cuban crisis and to stop installation of Soviet missiles on Cuban territory. Had not the United States government known the extent of Soviet military power, the number of missiles they had in their possession at the time, the intentions or plans they had at the time, [there] would probably [have been a] war between the United States and Russia. I was, at the time, very intimately knowledgeable about the developments, and I was really on the brink of a nervous breakdown as things were closing to a major confrontation.
On the John Walker spy ring:
I was John Walker's supervisor. When he came into the Soviet Embassy, he produced immediately very convincing proof of his great value. We understood that we [had] a great catch.
[As] his supervisor, I handled all the information he would provide us with. At the time, he would drop these big brown bags filled with top secret, classified information, and it took some time [for] us to convince him that this was not right, that he should use miniature cameras and other gadgets. ...
John Walker's importance was not only because he provided classified information from the U.S. Defense Department ... but he provided us with codes which allowed the Soviets to decrypt all traffic between the U.S. naval headquarters and their navies across the world. It was particularly important because the United States Navy is the most formidable force in the United States defense establishment. The U.S. nuclear submarines, armed with nuclear missiles, perhaps is the most dangerous of all weapons, because they would be capable of coming close to the Soviet shores and firing their missiles, which would reach Moscow and major industrial centers within minutes. To keep an eye, to monitor all the traffic, to know well in advance what kind of military planning was in process, what kind of commands the naval people would get, what movements the submarines would make, and how close they would come to the Soviet shores, was of absolutely strategic importance.
On George Blake, Soviet mole in British intelligence:
George Blake's conversion to communism I think was in many ways motivated by his profound belief in Christian values. You may be surprised, but the communist ideology, in its original form, borrowed a lot from early Christianity: the brotherhood of people, the brotherhood of nations, equality and universal love, and many other things. ... I think [when he was interned] in the North Korean prisoners' camp, where the Soviet officers were actively looking for potential spies, he found a good interlocutor, the man who understood his convictions, and who enhanced them by providing a model of the U.S.S.R. as a Christian country, in a sense, whose goals are very close to that of Christianity. Paradise on Earth in our lifetime -- isn't it appealing?
And indeed, you know, George Blake had that innocent mind in a sense. He's still a very naive man. ... He is a traitor to the Western world, he is a traitor to the British, and in fact it's true, and he didn't know it, and he didn't want to know that many people he betrayed were executed. I think we even discussed this subject at one point, and he wouldn't believe it -- he would say, "Well, I was told that this would not happen." It did happen; he was not told.
On getting to know Kim Philby, another Soviet mole inside British intelligence, when Philby lived in Moscow:
When I came to Philby's apartment the first time, in 1971, when I befriended him and became his supervisor, when I opened up opportunities to him, denied before: traveling around the country, not only in the U.S.S.R. but in Eastern Europe, and ultimately to Cuba; when we allowed him to meet our young, aspiring intelligence officer(s) and to become an instructor, a teacher; when he would be received with rousing ovations by the Soviet hockey players or football teams; my idea was to give the man a chance to become what he always wanted to. He lived in seclusion; he became an alcoholic; he had been losing faith in the Soviet system. And to me it was a matter of honor to resurrect him to life and make him a man ... what he was: a very intelligent man, a very warm man, by the way; a very smart man.
Unfortunately, some of my superiors felt that he should never be left out of control, and for years after I was put in charge, his telephone conversations were picked up -- I mean tapped -- his mail was opened. The reason was clear: to protect him from potential dangers from the outside world. Soviet intelligence always thought that some day British intelligence will try to assassinate him, so to keep an eye and ear on his dealings with his friends in the U.K., or with foreign correspondents who we selectively admitted to his apartment. We thought that we were protecting him.
But in my time, the suspicion that he had been a planted British agent was entirely destroyed. I said, "If we deal with a man who devoted his life to the Soviet cause, we have to be honest with him, we must relieve him of all these suspicions," and I think I succeeded in that. You know, after all, he was rewarded. I was the one who insisted on awarding him the Order of Lenin, the highest government decoration at the time. And finally we persuaded Andropov to persuade the Politburo to give him that great award.
Though we parted in 1980, and I left for Leningrad ... we still maintained friendly contacts. I would call him [at] home, we would exchange letters, and I had a few letters from him while I was in Leningrad. He complained to me, sort of ambiguously, about his new supervisors, and I think in one letter he used the words: "This is like in the old Roman Empire: no one knows what's going on in the court: gossip, rumors, innuendo -- nothing is clear." He was obviously disappointed by lack of attention, lack of personal attention. And when he died, I felt as if I lost a friend. And it's probably hard to explain. ... The man, Philby, betrayed his country for the cause. I served my country for the cause. By the time of his death, I think he was highly disappointed, not in the cause itself, but in the way the Soviet system functioned. I think he felt betrayed. I felt betrayed, too. By the time of his death, I felt betrayed. And his death was a very sad event for me, not because I was his supervisor, but a man who was of the same mindset but who already died.
On how the Prague Spring affected his views:
In 1968, when I was acting chief of station in Washington, and I had access to classified information, top secret, from the CIA, Department of State and National Security Agency, I learned well in advance from Moscow that Russian tanks [were] going to roll into Prague and finish the so-called Prague Spring. And the Russian propaganda at the time claimed that Czechoslovakia was about to be conquered, occupied by Western powers, by NATO subversives, anti-communists. And I had at my disposal all [this] information which did not corroborate these allegations.
I thought it would be wrong for me as an intelligence officer to simply swallow the stuff I hear, having all the information available. I sat down and wrote a cable, two or three pages: I illustrated my points by excerpts from the [U.S.] documents, saying that the CIA was not involved to the degree described in the Soviet media, [that] the Western services, the American services, were not guilty of what was going [on] in Prague, [that] it was a domestic affair. ...
Only later I learned from my colleagues in Moscow that Andropov, after reading my message, said, "Do not show anyone, destroy immediately." That was the answer. To me, Czechoslovakia was a continuation of Khrushchev's thaw: socialism with a human face. Whilst the Prague Spring was crushed by the Soviet invasion, it was clear to me that there will be no thaw in Russia, at least not in any immediate future. And this started a chain of events which led me finally to the realization that I was on the wrong path.
On Soviet technical intelligence:
Soviet technical intelligence was far inferior to Soviet human intelligence. ... We were always behind the West, and in fact our technical collection was not as highly valued by the Soviet leadership -- though some of the intercepts we had here in Washington, for instance, surprisingly received high marks in the Kremlin.
I recall, in the late 1960s, we managed to intercept a conversation of Henry Kissinger, then assistant of national security affairs to the president, and his fiancee. They talked on the phone, and Henry asked her how he looked on television the previous night, and she said, "Oh, you looked great." But he was insistent: "But tell me more, tell me more." He was ... you know, he wanted more. He was in the mood [for] great praise from his fiancee. And we sent this to Moscow, just simply as an example of our successful technical program. I found out later that this piece of information -- which is a trifle really, peanuts, nothing -- was relayed to the Politburo and was highly, highly evaluated by the Soviet leadership. And [for] one reason: they thought that through this small episode, they had access to the most intimate inner workings of the American system, which was of course untrue. But Andropov, who was a great manipulator, obviously managed to project this piece of information in a way that convinced the Politburo that we have excellent technical facilities and could intercept even such intimate conversations of major Western political leaders. ...
In terms of its practical use, all the gadgetry, all the miniature devices, listening, photographic, otherwise, would be used to look for compromising material against someone, to listen [for] the conversation which implicated them in something which [could] later be used against him, or in favor of the KGB. In that sense, the Soviet technology was unparalleled. ... It [had] a narrow use: primarily to monitor and keep under control people -- not to report on major developments, military, social or otherwise. Human intelligence provided the bulk of information required by the government. ...
I recall it was the British Prime Minister Lloyd George who said in the 1920s that the best way to soften the bullishness of the Bolshevik system is through commerce. Indeed, trade was one of the major weapons. ... When you see Western technology, which is so winsome in the eyes of the Russians, compared to awkward, ugly, inefficient [Soviet technology] ... it impresses you. Not [only] from the technological standpoint; it also makes you think that there is something in that system which produces better stuff, better stuff and better technology. ...
The Soviet technological and scientific intelligence [groups were] well-funded. [They had] really no limits -- they [c]ould buy anything, from a hydrogen bomb to a top missile or whatever, bomber. ... And they ultimately saw that all their efforts and money were wasted.
For instance, when we stole IBMs in our blueprints, or some other electronic areas which the West made great strides in and we were behind, it would take years to implement the results of our intelligence efforts. By that time, in five or seven years, the West would go forward, and we would have to steal again and again, and we'd fall behind more and more.
On Soviet fears about "Star Wars":
The Soviet leadership particularly became more paranoid than ever when their leadership became too old. This aging of the Soviet system coincided with the aging of the Soviet leaders. They all lived in the world of Nazi Germany's attack on Russia in June 1941, and they thought the United States and the West were preparing grounds to invade Russia again. This time, perhaps, with nuclear weapons.
In 1981 or 1982 ... we received a cable from Andropov, who was the KGB chairman, and as I read it I had a funny feeling. Andropov said, and I quote: "At no time after World War II were we closer to another military confrontation with the West than today." I think it was 1982. And I thought ... I was an avid listener of the BBC programs, I read a lot of Western stuff; I was well exposed, let's put it this way, to all sorts of information, and I could not find a single reason why, what happened? I thought, "Maybe I'm just out of touch." And I was out of the intelligence at the time -- I was in the domestic branch of the KGB -- [and] I thought, "Maybe they have something very important which makes them think that way."
Well, it turned out that the Soviet aging leadership was so scared by President Reagan's blueprint for a safer world through a Star Wars program. The Soviet leadership understood that they would simply be incapable of keeping up the arms race with the United States. The Soviet system was exhausted, on the brink of collapse, and this is what Gorbachev understood a few years later. But at the time, when the United States launched this program, or at least publicly declared their intent to build up this major anti-missile defense, [and] later when President Reagan called the Soviets the "Evil Empire," it looked [to aging Soviet leaders] as if the Americans were preparing fertile grounds to attack the Soviets. You know, just working with the people, public opinion.
On the KGB in general:
KGB was ... an omnipotent organization compared to any counterpart in the West or East. I think they were the greatest. In terms of their size: half a million; in terms of ruthlessness: I mean, millions of people executed; and in terms of their sophistication, because it was one of the oldest security and intelligence services, perhaps the only service as experienced [as] the British one. ...
The Soviet secret police was not supposed to be petty; it was omnipotent, it was funded well, it had the best-educated people, it had access to almost everything, and yet it failed in the long run -- which shows that the cause they were fighting for was not the right one.
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