KGB's glory days are over: Its best spies work for private firms, many in West

March 05, 1994|By Boston Globe

MOSCOW -- Aldrich H. Ames, the CIA officer who was arrested last week on charges that he spied for Russia, may be the last of his kind because, sources here say, the KGB is going down the tubes.

An article in the New Daily Gazette, based on interviews with dozens of intelligence officers, reported a "catastrophic decline in the quality of information" provided by the KGB, which has been reorganized as the Foreign Intelligence Service.

"The winds of change have carried away . . . the smartest and most energetic people," those "with one or two long-term periods of work abroad, who know operational and analytical work very well," the article said. They have gone to work instead for private, even Western, companies that pay much more.

Spy stations in 30 countries have been closed. Most of those left, which once employed eight or 10 people each, now have two or three. "If the station in the U.S. used to have several dozen spies," the article said, "you can now count them on the fingers of two hands."

The Andropov Institute, the school for new agents, once enrolled 300 students each term. Now it attracts about 50.

"Russian intelligence has certainly lost a lot of its glitter from old times," Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general-turned-critic said in an interview. "This is partly due to the general demoralization of society and the disintegration of many power structures."

Furthermore, he said, as Russia's borders opened with the collapse of the Soviet Union, intelligence agencies were "riddled with defectors and CIA spies."

Besides emptying the ranks, these defectors, who often fingered former comrades, made it harder to hire more foreign spies, as potential recruits realized the higher risk of getting caught.

Finding agents is also harder, General Kalugin said, because "the ideological basis of recruiting, which was the major asset in old times, is gone."

Money can still lure, but -- despite the $2.7 million Mr. Ames is alleged to have earned, much of it dispensed before the Soviet Union collapsed -- funds are limited, too.

New Daily Gazette said spies cannot get more than $300 without first justifying it in a formal request to Moscow. In some stations, intelligence officers lack personal computers and have to write reports on the back of used paper.

Another factor limiting the number of Ames-type cases is the shift in Russia's strategic interests. "The most important thing for us now," an officer told New Daily Gazette, "is monitoring the flow of arms and financial support . . . from Iran to Azerbaijan and Central Asia."

General Kalugin said, "I would not judge the potency of the intelligence services by the Ames case."

Russia's efforts to counter the embarrassment of the Ames affair have not been impressive.

Last week, officials in Moscow highlighted the capture of a Russian industrialist who was leaking secrets to Britain -- a case already publicized weeks ago. Thursday, they boasted of catching a worker who had offered a U.S. Embassy official the blueprints of the plant that builds T82 tanks -- significant only in that the Russians, apparently trying to show that "everybody does it," could not come up with a more dramatic example.

General Kalugin said, "I am surprised that there was a man of Mr. Ames' position still left. I'd think he would have been given away a long time ago."

However, the fact that General Kalugin was surprised by the alleged spy's long survival suggests that there may be more surprises to come. The New Daily Gazette's sources probably knew nothing of Mr. Ames, either. General Kalugin estimated that only a handful of people in Russian intelligence would have known Mr. Ames' identity.

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