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Presented below is a pre-publication excerpt from the PBS series companion book, RED FILES: Secrets from the Russian Archives, written by George Feifer, published by TV Books, distributed by HarperCollins.

Secret Victories of the KGB

In essence, from the perspective of my 71 years, I still think that brash youth had the right end of the stick.
    - Atomic spy Theodore Hall, 1997

I justified it in my mind by believing that I was helping, in a small way, in building a new society...It's never wrong to give your life to a noble idea and a noble experiment, even if it didn't succeed.
    - Soviet agent George Blake, 1998

They believed in this country, this ideology. They found the ideals and goals of our society attractive, and that's why they decided to help us - and to help us without payment.
    - Vladimir Semichastny, former head of the KGB

The enemy howls, and seeks a way inside.
    - Old Russian saying

Cold War espionage probably produced slimmer results for both sides than the furious struggle was worth in trouble and expense. If that view never becomes conventional wisdom, it will be largely because the public remains hooked on spy thrillers, the prism through which many still see the larger struggle. But respected experts support the doubt of Phillip Knightley, Britain's guru of intelligence affairs and Abamedia consultant. Knightley recently wondered whether the massive underground efforts had been "a vast international confidence trick to deceive us about the necessity and value of the world's second oldest profession...all a waste of time."

No one lesser than John Le Carré endorses that skepticism. Not long ago, that former spook turned maestro of the spy thriller remarked that only intelligence officers, their heads buried in their secret work and their eyes narrowed with resolve to defeat the enemy, could have missed major Cold War trends unmistakable to others. Citing instances of western intelligence officers failing to see crucial Soviet developments because they never looked up from their underground operations, Le Carré regretted misleading the public about the significance of intelligence work. Richard Helms, a former director of the CIA was only half joking when he said his analysts would have done better to conduct their research in the Library of Congress. Even Marcus Wolf, the virtuoso "man without a face" who has been called the greatest modern spy master for his artful command of East Germany's foreign intelligence service, agrees that the game was rarely worth the candle. Distinguished writers about Cold War espionage now find it was not merely "a dirty, bogus business riddled with deceit, manipulation and betrayal," to quote Knightley again, but also an unprofitable one. Espionage agencies fell victim to their own ideologies and bureaucratic strategies. Their captains were beguiled into playing the furtive game more for itself than for the national good. Reports that contradicted prevailing evaluations or attitudes about the sinister enemy were dismissed, often leaving their authors under suspicion, almost in proportion to the value of their information. Mistakes naturally abounded in field officers' workplace of darkness and anonymity. The worst were made by jittery comrades, even their operational superiors, who unwittingly did more to get them captured and punished than the enemy's counter-intelligence.

In a word, the huge expenditure on the morally corrupting, usually fruitless enterprise was a kind of fleecing. Of course the full record of success and failure won't be known until, if and when, all secret records are opened to public scrutiny. (That remains to be done for biological warfare weapons, although former scientists on both sides have made a start with their memoirs.) But a considerable share of atom-related material is already available, including more than 3,000 messages between Moscow and its American spies in the 1940s that were intercepted by American counter-intelligence and recently declassified. Judging by such examples, more could have been learned by analyzing information that was easily accessible to the public without a password, and not only in the Library of Congress. Given the choice of a mole in the National Security Council or a subscription to the New York Times, one KGB officer said he'd take the latter any day.

Fairness requires some personal disclosure here. Of all Western journalism for the non-Communist press, it might have seemed that Moscow would have been least likely to be angered by my kind, which tried to portray the Soviet people, even the bureaucrats, as recognizable human beings. But the defenders of the official portrait of the forever patriotic and industrious Soviet citizen didn 't care about that. A friendly Soviet journalist once explained in the safety of London that the mid-level bosses never considered the effect of any reporting on Western public opinion. "Those people are interested only in whether a given book or article meets the standards of their bosses, higher up people who 've never been abroad and have no way of knowing what the West is really thinking." Surely the man worked for the KGB in one way or another, but his disgust seemed genuine. "And," he added. "your writing annoys them because it reveals too much deviation from the prescribed image of virtuous Soviet behavior."

That was apparently why I was barred from returning to Moscow for almost the full decade of the 1970s. When I finally got a visa in 1979, I saw at once that a sea change had taken place in popular morale. Why was less obvious because living standards had decidedly improved, at least in Moscow. My in-laws had escaped from their detested communal apartments to blessedly private self-contained ones, and a cousin through marriage even had a car! Nevertheless, the formerly cautious family that had always avoided all talk with this American about politics - or, heaven forbid, discontent - could hardly stop complaining.

Sharper grievances sounded from my less inhibited friends and former classmates. In the trembling 1930s, Stalin's "life's become better, happier" had rung with tension as well as hope. Now the old declaration was true in a way, Muscovites being less tense as well as better off than before which, however, brought neither appreciation nor optimism. Increasing knowledge about the outside world had fertilized expectations to grow faster than the improvement. From old dormitory friends of once-staunch belief to strangers standing alongside at public urinals, the Soviet people seemed unable to restrain themselves from muttering about economic stupidity and failure. Many spoke about possible breakdown of a system that seemed to be losing its struggle to cope with modern developments.

 

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