KGB Today: The Hidden Hand.
by John Barron.
Reader’s Digest Press. 489 pp. $19.95.
John Barron’s KGB Today, which draws on a wealth of new data and is written with a conceptual clarity rarely found in books about espionage, is indispensable to an understanding of the recent activities of Soviet intelligence. Unlike his 1974 book (KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents), which tended to depict KGB officers as thugs and incompetents, and therefore focused on their failures, Barron concentrates in this book on the KGB’s successes. Aside from revealing a number of Soviet espionage operations, such as the recruitment and maneuvering of spies in the U.S. defense establishment, KGB Today provides an unparalleled insight into the covert foreign policy of the Soviet Union.
Barron’s most dramatic coup proceeds from exclusive interviews with a KGB defector named Stanislav Aleksandrovich Levchenko. Major Levchenko, who, before defecting in 1979, had been responsible for developing both conventional intelligence sources and agents of influence in Tokyo for the KGB, met with Barron in Hawaii with the evident approval of the CIA. Among the disclosures he made were the names of at least a dozen Japanese agents and sources recruited over the past decade. He also provided considerable detail about the tactics and disinformation line of these KGB operations, which all turned on the common objective of disturbing the alliance between the United States and Japan. The Levchenko revelations generated an unprecedented scandal in Japan when published last year.
After establishing the modus operandi of a KGB station, Barron moves on to Europe and provides a coherent picture of the way in which the agency orchestrates a campaign of “active measures”—the rubric under which are subsumed all non-intelligence-gathering activities of the Soviet clandestine services—to achieve covertly the ends of Soviet foreign policy. He effectively demonstrates that the Soviet objective in Europe in the late 1970’s was (and still is) obstructing or delaying the deployment of new generations of NATO weapons, especially the more accurate Pershing-2 missiles. To help realize this policy, the KGB employed a wide range of active measures—including forged documents, inspired rumors, planted news stories, and provocations by well-placed agents of influence to manipulate mass demonstrations and anti-nuclear groups. While the KGB did not control most of the targeted organizations in any hierarchical sense, and the concerns of most of the participants were no doubt sincere, it still managed through these covert operations to redirect their energies—and fears—away from the issue of Soviet weapons deployments to that of Western counter-deployments. Barron argues that this campaign of active measures brought sufficient pressures on NATO governments to raise substantially the political cost of defense; in this sense it was successful.
Finally, using cooperative sources in the FBI, Barron updates the continuing spy war. He reconstructs in great detail the cases of recent KGB spies, like Hugh George Hambleton, Rudolf Herrmann, and William Holden Bell, who caused only a momentary blur in the newspapers when they were arrested in the late 1970’s, explaining their motives and describing their recruitment, their targets, their craft, and the context in which they operated. In the course of discussing the counter-measures to this espionage, he also reveals that the CIA at least temporarily penetrated Soviet intelligence with two moles. The first, Arkady Shevchenko, defected to the United States in 1977, but it was not known until this book that he had spied for the United States since 1974. The second mole, Aleksandr Dmitrevich Ogorodnik, an officer stationed at the Soviet embassy in Colombia, who supplied the CIA with microfilmed reports from 1974 to 1977, committed suicide after his espionage was uncovered by the KGB.
Like Barron’s previous books, KGB Today is precisely documented with source notes. It also includes two extraordinary appendices. The first, apparently drawn from a CIA computerized printout, is a listing of some 200 Soviet diplomatic officials expelled or withdrawn from foreign countries between 1974 and 1983 because of their involvement in espionage. The second appendix, presumably reflecting the current CIA state of knowledge, gives a completely revised organizational description of the KGB’s foreign-intelligence apparatus, the so-called First Chief Directorate, which differs markedly from early versions drawn from defecting Soviet intelligence officers in the 1960’s. Indeed, when one compares the two versions of the KGB, it appears to be two completely different organizations. Either its order of battle changed drastically or the CIA may have been the victim of serious misinformation.
Although the material in the book, much of which cannot be found in any other published form, is essential for any serious analysis of Sovet covert activities by journalists and scholars, it has received surprisingly little attention to date. (It has not been reviewed, for example, by the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.) Journalism, to be sure, traditionally reports the most evident causes of change, and this focus often leads to the neglect of the less visible activities of intelligence services. Yet intelligence services do enagage in a subterranean battle to change political outcomes—the CIA terms this “covert action” rather than “active measures.” KGB Today is an important step toward understanding this invisible level of statecraft.