THE ONLY MISTAKE CIA veteran Milt Bearden makes in this book is in the title, ‘the main enemy’ being of course the KGB. It would have been better to say ‘the main adversary’, which is how the KGB, with whom the expression originated, referred to the USA and the CIA. Anyone who has read books or watched documentaries on international espionage should recognise the name of the chief author, who somehow or other obtained the permission of the American authorities to relate in great detad many of the CIA’s activities during the last seven years of the USSR’s existence.
In the 1980s and early 1990s Bearden was, in turn, Deputy Chief of the Soviet and East European (SE) Division, Station Chief in Pakistan and, finally, Chief of the SE Division. He is one of the handfid of individuals who played a crucial role in enabling the West to win the Cold War, sharing the honours with two other CIA titans, Burton Gerber and Paul Redmond, who have also now retired. It was not easy for them to live and work together in one and the same Division.
Bearden had the reputation of being an aggressive, trigger-happy martinet, an officer who had been spoiled by his rather undemanding assignments and rough-andready activities in Mica and Asia. Gerber, by contrast, was basically an intellectual, academic type, a past master of sophisticated operational manoeuvres who had spent years working on the minutiae of ‘surveillance detection routes’, arranging secret rendezvous with agents, and picking out the ideal locations for dead-letter boxes in a Moscow that was completely covered by the KGB. Redmond was the man responsible in the Division for questions of security – an Irish-American Catholic, mistrustdid, passionate and selflessly devoted to his job.
To work in the USSR, which was controlled by this Division, was sheer hell. Bearden writes that a posting to Moscow was the most difficult job in the entire CIA. The physical and mental stress was due to the inevitable round-the-clock surveillance and the constant threat of exposure and arrest. The KGB used ‘spy dust’ (special chemicals) to try to track suspected CIA officers. Soviet citizens caught helping the Americans were usually shot. The KGB had a large section working exclusively on the American Embassy and headed by a highly experienced officer, General Rem Krassilnikov. Apart from shadowing and eavesdropping on the Americans, the KGB would regularly try to recruit employees of the Embassy as agents and continually dispatch ‘dangles’ (provocateurs who would volunteer to supply ‘invaluable’ information to entice any American officials who might fall for it). Naturally, all their telephones were tapped and every room in all their flats was bugged, as, frequently, were their cars. The Surveillance Service (ie, the 7th Directorate of the KGB) would on occasion deploy as many as twenty cars to shadow just one CIA officer. (This Directorate was staffed by over 2,000 officers with more than 400 cars of various makes at their disposal.)
Bearden was appointed to the SE Division at the beginning of 1985,&a year which has gone down in the hstory of the Western intehgence community as the Year of the Spy. It was tilled with mysterious and, as it later transpired, tragic events. The best CIA agent in Moscow was arrested in March. He had been working at a top-secret aviation design bureau and was providing the Americans with exceptionally valuable intelligence. In May, I myself was recalled tb Moscow from- ond don, where I had been Acting Head of the KGB Station. Back in Russia, I quickly realised that I had fallen into a trap. I was interrogated with the use of a ‘truth drug’ and placed under house arrest. I was expecting to be shot. Although I was a British (not American) agent, the CIA had worked out who I reallv was a cou~leo f months earlier and so regarded me as one of their own losses. Also in May a Soviet military intelligence officer stationed in Greece and worlung for the CIA received a suspicious summons to Moscow. He proved more alert than me and immediately fled to the USA. And in the summer of that year a KGB officer in Nigeria who had been a CIA agent for eleven years was recalled to Moscow and never seen again.
But for a short time there was some good news. With the help of some British hiends I managed to escape from house arrest in July and cross a heavily guarded hntier to return to Britain. On 1 August Colonel Vitaly Yurchenko, deputy head of the American Department of the KGB, defected to America while on a short visit to Italy. The Americans were exultant. but it soon became clear that while he knew a lot, it was by no means everything. Yurchenko named a former employee of the US National Security Agency, Ronald Pelton, as a KGB mole. He also revealed that some unnamed emv.l ov,e e of the CIA who had been dismissed a couple of years earlier was now working for the KGB. Gerber and Redmond immediately messed who this was: Edward Lee Howard. He had been fksh CIA candidate for work in Moscow in a deep-cover position. He had begun to bone up on the USSR while still undergoing checks on his reliability and loyalty. F&r consecutive lie-detector tests showed that he was abusing alcohol and drugs and was hstinctly light-fingered, so he had been dismissed fiom the CIA, and in retaliation had offered his services to the KGB. Why he had been allowed to familiarise himself with top-secret materials on the Soviet Union before his trustworthiness had been established remains unclear. Moreover, in August 1985, when the CIA and FBI were initiating attempts to have Howard arrested, the procedures took four whole weeks because of legal niceties and typically American bureaucratic interdepartmental wranghng. This gave Howard enough time to shake off FBI surveillance and slip away to Moscow.
Thus began an uninterrupted period of catastrophes, about each of which Bearden writes in detd. One afier the other, CIA and FBI agents in the KGB or GRU (military intelligence) began to vanish into thin air. Most of them were working in Soviet organisations in the USA, some in other countries and yet others in Moscow itself. Subsequently information trickled in to the effect that every single one of them (those who were stationed outside the USSR were called back home on apparently plausible grounds such as ‘problems with the children’ or ‘finalising the procedures for buying a flat’) had been arrested and shortly thereafier shot. The case of GRU Lieutenant General Dmitry Polyakov, the legendary ‘Top Hat’, was particularly distressing. He had worked for the USA for more than two decades and is regarded as one of the i most important Western agents ever to have operated in the Soviet Union, a man who helped to prevent a nuclear holocaust. Already elderly, he was tortured and interrogated for longer than any of the others, fiom 1986 to 1988, Cowboys before being shot. It is worthwhile reminding readers that all this was taking place at the height of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika.
The last straw was the re-defection of Yurchenko in November 1985. The Colonel decided to return to the USSR because he had realised that he would never be able to adapt to the American way of life. He was also hrious that the CIA had publicly announced his original defection. He was able to save his life only by cooperating with the Soviet propaganda machine. At press conferences in the Soviet Embassy in Washington and, later, in Moscow, Yurchenko went on at great length and in great detail about how the CIA had ‘kidnapped’ hlm in Rome and held him in complete isolation for three months, drugging him and subjecting him to various forms of torture. All this was a great humiliation for the CIA and a very bitter pill to swallow. In addition, all its remaining Soviet sources of information dried up that autumn and during the following winter (it was all too obvious that its agents had been compromised and arrested).
American intelligence went into 1986, when a new leadershp was already in place in the USSR, without a single agent in the vast Soviet officialdom. The US troika of Gerber, Redmond and Bearden realised that the traitor Howard had betrayed only one agent, about whom he had read before being fired from the CIA. Data on the others – almost a dozen in all – must have reached the KGB by other channels, and the Division naturally worked for all it was worth on every conceivable source of the leaks. Bearden vividly describes the heated discussions on questions of security. Redmond, the greatest expert on counterintelligence, was on the right track early on in these deliberations. ‘Too many fucking problems all at once. It never happens this way. We lose operations, but not like this … Add to that the fact that the British ran Gordievsky for years without any problem, we figure it out in March, and then he gets called back to Moscow.’
The CIA knew that there could be only two reasons for these massive fdures: either the Russians were reading the American coded traftic, or there was a traitor at large somewhere in the SE Division. Gerber and Bearden checked out the reliability oftheir communications: one of the CIA stations sent out some ‘highly sensitive’ (but false) encrypted information on which the KGB, had it been able to break the code, would have felt obliged to take action. No action ensued, so the 6rst alternative could be discarded. The CIA and FBI then set up a highly secret group to search for the and Afghans source of the leaks. It took it more than eight years to discover the truth.
In the meantime, the period of decline and demoralisation in the mid 1980s had given way to a situation in which the CIA was gaining a new buoyancy. William Casey, who had been appointed by President Reagan as overall chief of US intelligence, decided, as Bearden puts it, to deal aggressively with the ‘Evil Empire’. Casey ‘pumped the CIA with people, money, and, most important, a mission’, believing that the West should not accommodate itself to the Cold War, but win it. He decided that Moscow’s Achilles heel was in Afghanistan. By the mid 1980s the USSR had got bogged down there, with its 120,000-strong army costing the earth and suffering considerable losses. The Soviets were ‘paying for their adventure on a grand scale, not in small part because of Bill Casey’s CIA’. In the middle of 1986 the author was sent to Pakistan to run the Afghan covert-action programme. His work there was made easier by the fact that Casey had developed a close relationship with President Zia and his intelligence chief, General Akhtar. Nonetheless, Bearden displayed an enviable energy and firmness of purpose, providing the mujaheddin with weaponry and strengthening the multinational backing for the Afghan struggle against the USSR. Of the many countries who supported the &han resistance, the author singles out Britain as the natural ally, ‘though there was always an underlying prickliness about the come-lately Americans talung the lead in their old backyard’.
At the end of 1986 Bearden and the CIA got permission to supply the Afghans with the shoulder-held Stinger missile, at that time the most effective American weapon for bringing down helicopters and planes. The Afghans soon began to hit the main Soviet resource – the terrlfjlng gunship helicopters. In addition, the mujaheddin also took delivery of some very powerful new mortars (made in Spain). As a result of these developments, the Soviets began to realise that Afghanistan was a burden too heavy to bear. In 1987 Gorbachev and his Politburo took the decision to pull their troops out of that country, although this was put into effect only in February 1989. ‘We won,’ declared Bearden in his cable to Washington. In hs view, ‘the Afghan calamity had been the first breach of the Brezhnev Doctrine, the long-standing principle that Moscow would never abandon a fraternal socialist country’; the USSR’s withdrawal fi-om Afghanistan gave a signal to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. That very year they all threw off the yoke of Communist dictatorship and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The Warsaw Pact disintegrated, and the USSR collapsed in 1991. The West had won the Cold War.
Bearden returned to Washington in the summer of 1989 to become Chief of the SE Division. Despite the fact that the CIA had always, and especially during the previous eight years, focused its main efforts on the USSR and the other Communist countries in Europe, neither the CIA nor the White House was then expecting, nor had either predicted, that their adversaries’ regimes would crumble and collapse over the following two years. It turns out, as the author fiankly admits, that the CIA had no really toprate agents in the highest circles of state power either in the Central and East European Communist countries or in the Soviet Union. The CIA found out the details of the revolutionary transformations in these countries &m CNN. In this situation Bearden came to a wise decision: it was now pointless to try to recruit agents from the debris of the disintegrating Communist regimes. The way forward was to establish fiiendlv and ~rofessionalc ontacts with the new, democratic intelligence and securitv services. Bearden gives the reader to undirstand that both ;he Americans and their British counterparts made a good job of doing this.
Bearden retired in 1994. However, in the epilogue to his book he sheds light on the causes of the tragic losses of 1985. After almost nine years ofpainstaking work, the secret commission under Redrnond’s chairmanship unearthed the traitor. The culprit turned out to be one Aldrich Ames, an officer in the SE Division. For money, and for money alone, he had betrayed the CIA’s entire network of agents operating hm within the Soviet machinery of state, and myself in the first instance. (As I mentioned earlier, I was purely a British agent, but Ames had figured out my identity in March 1985 on the basis of my reports, which M16 shared with the CIA.) For a total of some three and a half &on dollars Ames also sold to Moscow a huge number of top-secret papers of great political and strategic sigdcance. Later, in 2001, Robert Hanssen, a KGB mole embedded in the FBI, was also unmasked. He likewise had betrayed to Moscow a number of American agents – who were unknown to Ames and who had been recruited by the FBI. He also supplied the KGB with data about expensive pieces of equipment that the FBI was using to keep an eye on Soviet spies in Washington and New York. Of all the agents betrayed by these two men I am virtually the only one who escaped with his life (true, one of the others was not given the death penalty but merely sent to the Gulag).
On reading Bearden’s book, one is led to the conclusion that during the Cold War the CIA made an important contribution to ensuring the security of the USA and all the other members of Nato, and that it did a great deal to ward off the danger of a nuclear conflict. As for the critical period when the Communist system was beginning to fall apart, the significance of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan (and possibly also in Poland, through its support of Solidarity) is beyond dispute. However, the East’s defeat in the Cold War can be explained above all by the unviable Communist economic system, the sensible policies of Western leaders and the reforms unsuccessfdly attempted by Mikhail Gorbachev.
What, though, of the main adversary (or ‘main enemy’, if Bearden wishes it that way) – the KGB, to the struggle against which the veterans of the SE Division devoted so much time, energy and ingenuity? Alas, the outcome is depressing. A few disloyal officials in the USA shored up the positions of the KGB in the final years of Soviet power, and this is one of the reasons why this organisation (unlike its counterparts in East and Central Europe) has survived all the subsequent crises of the power system in Moscow. As of today, the KGB (now known as the FSB) has replaced the CPSU as the party of power. The President of the Russian Federation is a former Lieutenant Colonel fhm the KGB; the government, the state apparatus, the media and business – everything is permeated by KGB/FSB personnel and manipulated by them. The Duma is packed with present and former secret informants linked to the security services. Once again there are some four hundred Russian spies hard at work in the USA. One of the illustrations in this volume shows Bearden in a fiiendly embrace with KGB General Rem Krassllnikov, a man with more than a few lives on his conscience.
Who has won, then?