Russian spying game ongoing Espionage changes in Post-Cold War era

'trust but verify'

November 24, 1996|By Clara Germani JTC | Clara Germani JTC,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- While the American intelligence community was reeling last week from two spy scandals, it was one of those rare moments in this collapsed empire when Russians could act smugly superior.

Breaking the unwritten spies' code of conduct, the United States issued a visa to a retired KGB officer and then the FBI -- without thorough CIA consultation -- arrested him Oct. 29 when he stepped off a plane in New York. Threatening tit-for-tat, the Russian government flexed what little is left of its muscle and won the agent's release.

Then Monday, the U.S. government arrested a high-level CIA officer who is suspected of selling to the Russians the whole roster of U.S. spies working in Russia.

The Cold War may be over, but the spy game continues.

Vladimir Galkin, 50, the retired KGB officer who freely admits his job once was to buy strategic secrets from American scientists, came home to a hero's welcome eight days ago.

While Galkin gave a slightly flustered description on national television of how he was "pleasantly amazed" at the comfort, cleanliness and friendliness of his U.S. jail, the rest of the Russian intelligence community was exhibiting an old-fashioned reaction.

The Galkin case was a "stupid, Cold War-style provocation," said Yuri Kobaladze, the spokesman for the Russian foreign intelligence service.

But the Russians won, he said.

"The paramount task of our country was to get him free. And we did. At the end of the day Washington realized its mistake."

Did the Nov. 16 arrest of Harold J. Nicholson, the top CIA officer who taught spy-craft to new officers, indicate another big score for Russia, too?

"No comment," said Kobaladze, whose office is in an unmarked, gloriously appointed 19th-century mansion seized from a physician in the Bolshevik Revolution. "In 1991 the Soviet Union ceased and the KGB became five independent agencies. But we never said we'd stop intelligence, we never said we'd stop spying," he said, speaking generally about the state of espionage.

"Nor did anyone in Washington, London, Paris or any major capital of the world say Russia was not interesting anymore," he said.

"[Americans] would never criticize the CIA for recruiting KGB and we don't criticize the KGB for recruiting CIA. Let's not make a drama out of it -- it's routine," said journalist Mikhail Lyubimov, who spent 25 years in the KGB, retiring in 1980 when he was chief of station in Denmark.

He pointed out scandals in recent years in which even close allies spied on each other. For example, he said, the British stole French submarine secrets, and American spies were expelled from France for recruiting high-level French industrial spies.

U.S.-Russian espionage in the post-Cold War era is characterized by outward goodwill and cooperation. Russian intelligence and security forces work together in areas such as narcotics enforcement and anti-terrorist activities.

But cooperation "doesn't substitute for intelligence," Kobaladze said. He said the "classic case" is characterized by how America, with all its sophisticated spy technology, "knew everything that was going on in Iraq except what was going on in Saddam's head." He was referring to miscalculations before Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait sparked the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

Espionage generally falls into three categories -- political, industrial and spies spying on each other, Lyubimov said.

In the Soviet era, outsiders never had access to political leadership and were rarely allowed to visit most areas outside the capital of Moscow. But today, virtually all corners of Russia are open to visitors, including Kremlin offices. And foreign businesses have swarmed into the fledgling market economy to invest in Russian industry -- particularly the once-sensitive and highly advanced military-industrial complex.

"So now it's much easier and more effective to collect information in Russia by normal diplomatic means and through the press than through recruitment of agents," said Lyubimov.

"But espionage against each other inside intelligence agencies will always be necessary," he said. "Remember President Reagan always said, 'Trust but verify.' Why should we stop recruiting CIA spies? Paradoxically it's a verification of good intentions."

The kinds of issues Russians would want to verify are Western intentions on the expansion of NATO -- such as how actively the United States would try to pull Ukraine toward the West, or how actively it will support opponents of hard-liners in Belarus, he said.

"And what are America's intentions of putting a military base in Kyrgyzia?" Lyubimov asked, referring to the former Soviet Republic bordering China.

Moles are necessary, he said, because "the task of any intelligence service is to learn about even improbable plans like that."

The foreign intelligence service, a spinoff of the old, infamous KGB, is still as prestigious a place to work as the KGB once was. But that's relative to the times.

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