Oleg Kalugin, former chief of counterintelligence for the KGB, was once a major general who headed the KGB office in Washington. He was stripped of his rank and pension in 1990 after pushing for reforms in the KGB, and was subsequently convicted, in absentia, of high treason.
He now heads Intercon International, a Washington-based international business consulting firm, teaches at the Centre for Counterintelligence in suburban Virginia, is a director of the International Spy Museum, and consults for the departments of Defense and Energy. Excerpts from a recent interview with Al Eisele of newsmax.com follow:
Q: What’s your assessment of President Bush?
A: I like him. I was a little skeptical initially, but still preferred him to Al Gore. He came into power at a very dramatic period of history. He has character and is uncompromising.
Q: What do you think about his tough stance against Iraq?
A: Bush is right in describing Saddam Hussein as evil. I was glad that Bush said after 9-11 that he wanted Osama bin Laden dead or alive. But before using military force, I would use other ways. When diplomacy fails, use your intelligence service.
You must be prepared for violent overthrow of regimes: jamming radio-TV, installing your own transmitters, financing and arming the opposition.
The reason Afghanistan managed to resist the Russians for so long was because the United States supported the Afghans with military and financial assistance and moral encouragement. The CIA has not yet exhausted its potential in Iraq. If intelligence efforts fail, OK, there’s no other option.
Q: What’s your assessment of the CIA and the American intelligence community?
A: The end of the Cold War made the U.S. intelligence community feel relaxed. The intelligence community has no right to be complacent, even though it does have some legal and moral restrictions.
Soviet intelligence was far more sophisticated because we had a long history of spying and counterintelligence from the Russian empire. We always emphasized human intelligence.
Technological intelligence is important, but it must be supplemented by human intelligence. You may find bin Laden, but it’s like winning the lottery. … The United States has made great strides in human intelligence in the ’70s and ’80s, but you have to be aware of dangers and not fall back into complacency.
Q: How do you rate the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry?
A: I think they’re doing the right thing. They have revelations almost every day.
Russia Spies on U.S. ‘More Than Ever’
Q: Are the Russians still spying on the United States?
A: Sure, now more than ever. Russia wants to become a world power economically. The focus is on economic and technical espionage.
Q: Does President Reagan deserve credit for accelerating the fall of communism?
A: His firm stance and particularly his pledge to build up anti-missile defense put Russians in a very difficult situation. We could not match the United States financially or economically in building a system to overcome U.S. anti-missile defense.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he was a realist. He knew we could not continue the arms race with the United States. It helped push Gorbachev into his reform line, particularly Reagan’s pledge to build the ABM [anti-ballistic missile].
I read a book, not published yet, by the Hoover Institution, “How Ronald Reagan Won the Cold War.” But I wouldn’t overestimate that. The U.S.S.R. fell down because of burden of its own economic inefficiency and inhumanity, and the inability of Soviet leaders to adjust to modern life.
Q: What can you tell us about Vladimir Putin, the former KGB chief who is now president of Russia?
A: He was one of 3,000 men under my command. I know him as a man of no distinction. But he’s better than the old party hacks, better than [Boris] Yeltsin, more vigorous and with a sober attitude.
Unlike the old KGB, he’s very sophisticated. He’d use tax relief, some economic leverage, embezzlement, any means to achieve his goals. He’s gagged the media, the political opposition, there are no independent voices. … He’s a man whose mental set belongs to the past.
Q: What would you tell Moscow if you were still in the embassy here?
A: If I was in the embassy now and wanted to explain to Moscow what Bush thinks about the origins of terrorism, I’d say these people hate our way of living, of democracy. … I know I would try to take into account every point of view. Intelligence should provide a variety of views. We’re supposed to be objective, but we may be biased. …
Q: Do you think the United States is too open as a society?
A: No. One of the things that impressed me is its openness. The fact that some of that has been narrowed, I take in stride because this country is at war, and has to introduce some limits, and hopefully it will not change the core and essence of the American system.
The Ignorant and Envious Hate America
Q: You sound like an American politician.
A: I was interviewed by a major Russian newspaper two weeks ago, Commerzant. The first question was, “Why do you hate America?” I said, “I love America.” They asked, “How come everyone hates America?” I said: “Because of their ignorance. They do not know America and American history, or they may be envious. Envy and ignorance create hostility.”
I said: “America has created a society which may be the model for the world. It’s not perfect; you have all the contradictions and conflicts. But it’s allowed millions of people of all beliefs and religious views to come together and live in peace, and created a powerful and viable America.”
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of U.S.-Russian relations?
A: In the long term, yes. Russia today is too weak to compete. Russia has an obsolete industrial base. Almost 80 percent of its manufacturing base is obsolete.
There’s a huge opportunity for the United States to invest in Russia. America has great potential to help in reconstruction of that base. Russia has 143 million people, and they have one-and-a-half-million computers. There are no phones 50 miles outside Moscow. We need the United States.
Q: What is Russia’s biggest national security problem?
A: To quote a senior official of intelligence service, one has to question, who is the main enemy? … Russia’s potential enemy is China. It’s connected because the Russian Far East is being depopulated. Russians are leaving in droves. They are not settling there because they have no electricity, heat.
But the Chinese are coming and settling there. About one million illegal Chinese are now living in Russia. This is potentially a very troublesome spot.
‘KGB Preferred Nixon’
Q: What can you tell me about your work at the Soviet Embassy here in the 1960s?
A: I was acting chief of station when Richard Nixon was elected. The KGB preferred Nixon. The reason was simple. We thought Hubert Humphrey will change nothing, he will continue President Johnson’s policies.
Nixon was unpredictable; he was anti-communist yet had a very practical mind. … Nixon’s pragmatic [approach] was so visible, it looked as though he would be more receptive to the Soviets and it proved to be right.
We established a channel through [Secretary of States] Henry Kissinger. I conveyed the message that honestly, we’d rather have Nixon. And there was communication between Nixon’s staff and [Soviet President Leonid] Brezhnev, all through KGB channels, and Ambassador [Anatoly] Dobrynin was not aware of it.
Finally, he learned Moscow was doing something behind his back and he was furious. He demanded that the Kremlin do something and we received instruction to stop meeting with Kissinger. …
I generally believe Nixon was one of the most outstanding persons of the second half of the 20th century in regard to foreign policy. The Russians were always scared Nixon would make a deal with China.
Q: Do you have any regrets about your life as a spy?
A: No, none. I did my job well. I never cheated. I seriously served a cause I believed in. … I believed in communism. It was based on the best economic and philosophical theories. It was essentially rooted in Christianity, social justice, brotherhood, love of people, equality and freedom.
It turned out to be all slogans. It was discredited by a bloody and brutal and cheating [leadership].