- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009


By Oleg Kalugin
Basic Books, $18.95, 466 pages
Reviewed by Joseph Goulden

One of the more interesting figures in Washington’s international intelligence community is a gregarious former KGB major general who spent much of his professional life trying to topple Western governments in favor of a Soviet dictatorship.

Ironically, Oleg Kalugin now spends part of his time training U.S. security personnel in the counterintelligence tradecraft he practiced for three decades on behalf of the Soviet Union. Yet Mr. Kalugin is not - NOT, and he emphasizes the word - a defector. Rather, he is a man who came to realize that Soviet leaders were so enmeshed in their false conceptions about the world that they ignored contrary intelligence. The tipping point for Mr. Kalugin came in August 1968, when disgusted Czechs revolted against continued Soviet domination.

Mr. Kalugin’s Moscow superiors insisted the CIA had inspired the uprising, and they demanded evidence of it. From the KGB rezidentura in Washington, Mr. Kalugin politely, but firmly, told his spymasters that they were wrong: that the United States had absolutely nothing to do with the events in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, it was the last thing desired by former President Lyndon Johnson, who was hoping for arms-control talks that autumn to burnish his tarnished presidency.

Thus began the long road that led Mr. Kalugin to leave the KGB, gain election to the Soviet parliament as an outspoken dissident, and then be driven from his beloved homeland in the turmoil preceding the collapse of the communist state. He now has several successful business ventures in the Washington area - some involve dealings with the U.S. intelligence community - and serves on the board of the International Spy Museum in addition to his teaching gig at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in suburban Virginia.

“Spymaster” is a much-updated version of a memoir, titled “The First Directorate,” named for the KGB directorate that worked against the “main enemy,” i.e., the United States. Mr. Kalugin came to the United States in his late teens to attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and for much of his career he posed as a press officer at the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

Some of his work involved gathering political intelligence from “open sources,” chiefly American journalists who shared gossip they gathered from high-level sources. One such source was journalist I.F. Stone, who Mr. Kalugin learned from intelligence files had cooperated with the Soviets during the 1930s under the code name of BLIN, the Russian word for pancake.

But there was serious spook stuff as well. For instance, one of Mr. Kalugin’s last operations as chief of foreign counterintelligence was a plan to have sympathetic Palestinians abduct a CIA officer in Beirut. President Yuri Andropov vetoed the plan at the eleventh hour, demanding, “Are you going to start a war?”

“Spymaster” is a story of gradual disillusionment. For years, he writes, “I strongly believed that what I was doing was necessary and useful. I was not so blind that I didn’t see how far we were falling behind the West, how corrupt the upper reaches of the Communist Party were, and what a senile fool [Leonid] Brezhnev had become.” But even as he became critical, “I had no desire to run to another country, be pumped dry of everything I knew about the Soviet Union and its intelligence services, and then be cast aside to live a life of isolation.”

Nonetheless, “When it concerned defectors from the other side … my harsh moral scruples disappeared. It was the defectors’ business if they wanted to turn against their own country. I was delighted that people like [Navy Warrant Officer John] Walker and [British MI6 officer] Kim Philby had decided to help our cause.” Mr. Kalugin admits to a grudging admiration even for the spies, such as Walker, motivated by money, rather than ideology because of the risks they run. He also notes that as the pool of ideological spies dried up, so, too, did the quality of Soviet espionage.

Mr. Kalugin was firm when he came to the United States: His cooperation with American intelligence would not extend to identifying agents he had recruited or run while still with the KGB. His comments in “Spymaster” concern only Soviet officers and sympathizers who had already been detected.

Only in one instance was Mr. Kalugin pressured into breaking his rule. U.S. counterintelligence found that an army colonel named George Trofimoff, born in Germany of Russian-parentage, had worked for the Russians while commanding a unit responsible for debriefing defectors from Warsaw Pact countries. Mr. Kalugin called him “one of our most valuable sources.”

Trofimoff was arrested and put on trial. Mr. Kalugin was summoned by prosecutors’ and requested to testify. He refused. “How could I testify against my former asset, the man who trusted us, the man whose life depended on us? It was unethical from any standpoint - professional, human.” The prosecutor told Mr. Kalugin that if he did not comply, “I would be subpoenaed and face serious consequences, including changed legal status in the United States.” So Mr. Kalugin spent an unhappy 15 minutes confirming that Trofimoff had spied for the Soviets. “That was perhaps the lowest point in my career as an intelligence officer.”

From his voluntary exile, Mr. Kalugin keeps close watch on Russia’s deterioration, and especially strongman Vladimir Putin, with whom he served in Leningrad late in his career. He fears that “those who believe that he converted to Western values are simply misled by Russian propaganda. … He sees the world through his KGB prism and acts accordingly. Under him, Russia will remain in the edge of he abyss, never quite tumbling in.”

On this point, I feel that Mr. Kalugin is overly optimistic. But I hope he is correct.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence.

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