While some Western intelligence agencies or government specialists may have had some of the manuals in the past, they were not made available to the general public until now.
The still-classified manuals expose the devious methods of the Soviet Union’s secret police not only to surveil but suborn their own citizens and foreigners in a vast project to extend the Kremlin’s power around the world. These internal documents from the 1970s and 1980s were used in an era before the Internet and mass electronic surveillance. Yet what is most intriguing about them is that these same methods are still used today — and now amplified with new technology.
The Interpreter obtained a total of eight KGB manuals, four of which were used in Weiss’ series. Now we are making all these manuals available to be downloaded in the Russian original, and also providing some translations of the table of contents and notes and summary translations of the contents for four of the manuals not previously covered.
(For a glossary of Soviet/Russian espionage terms, see 20th Committee.)
First, the four manuals covered in the Daily Beast articles:
In 1973, a former CIA operations officer in Latin America walked into the KGB rezidentura in Mexico City with what he claimed was a tranche of invaluable secrets about the United States’ covert operations in the hemisphere. The “resident,” or Soviet station chief, was wary of too-good-to-be-true offers coming from seeming Western volunteers. So, believing he’d been sent an obvious double agent bearing conspiratorial gifts from Langley, the spymaster showed Philip Agee the door.
Oleg Kalugin, at that time the head of counterintelligence for the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, which handled the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence, would later tell that tale with chagrin: “Agee then went to the Cubans who welcomed him with open arms. The Cubans shared Agee’s information with us. But as I sat in my office in Moscow reading reports about the growing list of revelations coming from Agee, I cursed our officers for turning away such a prize.”
That “prize,” as Kalugin further noted, had “reams” of actionable intelligence about ongoing CIA operations, including the names of 250 covert operatives in the Americas, and was a propaganda windfall. Agee published a book, Inside the Company: A CIA Diary, that became a best seller in 1975, and in the years to come Agee, by then a Soviet agent codenamed “PONT,” would be used to help compromise some 2,000 CIA officers whose identities were quietly provided by the KGB for publication in the Covert Action Information Bulletin (which was actually founded “on the initiative of the KGB,” as the agency’s former archivist Vasili Mitrokhin noted), and in a book he co-edited called Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe.
Still, it’s hard to blame the Mexico City resident retrospectively for suspecting what in spook parlance is known as a “dangle.” It’s exceedingly rare that a trove of genuine intelligence will ever cross the transom of a foreign embassy. More likely, if you think you’re being handed the keys to an enemy kingdom, you’re actually being invited to don its shackles. If you’ve read John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, then you’ll recall that “Project Witchcraft,” the infamous operation that guides the plot of the novel, is in fact a beautifully orchestrated KGB dangle, using a Soviet cultural attaché who connives with a British double agent to defraud “the Circus,” or MI6, which thinks Alexei Polyakov is actually its man.
Both sides in the Cold War played this game, even before there officially was a Cold War, and now we know that the Soviets had ample case histories showing the lengths to which their democratic rivals would go to lure KGB officers into elaborate traps.
This is the first of a three-part series based on never-before-published training manuals for the KGB, the Soviet intelligence organization that Vladimir Putin served as an operative, and that shaped his view of the world. Its veterans still make up an important part of now-Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power base. All were trained in the same dark arts, and these primers in tradecraft are essential to an understanding of the way they think and the way they operate.
U.S. intelligence operatives understand this only too well. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN earlier this month Putin is “a great case officer,” suggesting he “knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president”—that is, the president of the United States.
“I am saying this figuratively,” Clapper went on, when asked to clarify his remark. “I think you have to remember Putin’s background. He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instinct of Putin has come into play here, and he’s managing a pretty important ‘account,’ if I could use that term, with our president.”
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Reacting to the first installment in the series, John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of Central Intelligence, drew a direct line between what’s contained in these manuals and the cases being examined by special counsel Robert Mueller:
This is classic spycraft from Sun Tzu (6th century BC) till today. A shadowy mosaic of cut-outs, access agents, plausible denial, gossamer webs. Whether or not Mueller proves collusion, Russia clearly took its best shot. https://t.co/f0JoaBKiLL
— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) December 28, 2017
As with the previously discussed training manual for KGB officers looking to recruit agents on Soviet soil, this document remains classified by the Putin government owing to its utility as a “historical” case study for contemporary foreign intelligence officers, according to a source in that European service who requested anonymity. Whereas the earlier document discussed how Westerners might be snared and turned on Soviet soil, “Acquisition and Preparation” examines the tradecraft necessary for recruiting American officials in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the necessary network of local agents who might help with their recruitment. (Of particular value as targets were retired U.S. or NATO officials.)
Certainly, one can see the continued relevance of such a study considering the Kremlin’s dramatic return to the region in the face of perceived American withdrawal from it, with hyperactive Russian military and diplomatic activity in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.
A compliment, of sorts, to the vigilance of the main adversary and its allied services, the analysis is an exercise in self-criticism. It acknowledges that by 1988 the United States had learned from prior mistakes of laxity and sloppiness in counterintelligence, forcing Moscow Center to adapt to far less hospitable environments. By the time of perestroika the KGB’s efforts to recruit Americans in Arab countries had clearly seen diminishing returns. U.S. spies, the document states, “inspect and track employees of these institutions and their contacts with Soviets better, they take measures to expose Soviet intelligence agents, they organize stings, they conduct surveillance of agents and their connections.”
For the latest analysis of the Kremlin’s manipulation of media in the Arab world, see Eliot Stewart’s report, The Kremlin’s Anti-Western (and Remarkably Successful) Middle East Media Project.
The fourth and final set of intercepted KGB documents given to The Daily Beast by a European intelligence service shows just how paranoid Moscow Center was about Russian exiles. “The Use of the Soviet Committee for Cultural Ties with Fellow Countrymen Abroad in the Interests of State Security Agencies,” as it’s called, resembles the previous two documents in its thoroughgoing obsession with counterintelligence threats and botched operations. Where this document deviates from the other two is that it delves into greater anecdotal detail about some of those screw-ups and even names names-or codenames, anyway.
Such added color may owe to the fact that unlike the other two, which were produced in the late ’80s, this file was published for internal KGB use in 1968, an annus horribilis for the Soviet spy services, which failed to predict and preempt the Prague Spring. Surely an excellent time to fret about what “compatriots” were getting up to everywhere inside and outside of the Warsaw Pact’s jurisdiction.
In a sense, this relic of Cold War tradecraft is as much a monument to the West’s nimble manipulation of émigré circles as it is a manual on how to recruit them for Moscow.
Next, the other four manuals obtained by The Interpreter deal with the nuts and bolts of running agents’ networks in hostile territory abroad, and the fine points of tradecraft:
5) Main Directions and Targets of Intelligence Abroad
In this manual, the KGB outlines its ambitious plans to target and penetrate the leading Western nations, particularly the US, and international institutions led by the West. It is the most ideological of the eight manuals here, and the most suffused with paranoia about imagined hostile intentions of the West and exaggerated notions of the West’s capacity to thwart the Kremlin.
The manual also reveals the ideology-skewed self-perceptions of the Kremlin, as the Soviet Union believes that Western nations are failing, and their workers are soon to rise up and overthrow the capitalists and monopolists.
The Kremlin sees that the “aggressive policy of the US reactionary circles is closely-connected to the expansion of American capital” and that this inevitably leads to “resistance by the masses.” So the job of the Party’s “Sword and Shield,” the KGB, is to focus on economic and scientific intelligence and gather as much information as possible by any means about trade, hard currency reserves, top financiers, new inventions, and so on.
With this ideological underpinning to intelligence work, the KGB must tackle not just Western intelligence and counter-intelligence, but political parties, parliaments, the media, and intergovernmental bodies like NATO and SEATO. Key to undermining the West for the KGB is gathering intelligence on “internal contradictions” within the Western block, between Western allies, within Western-dominated multilateral organizations and so on.
The manual provides a number of interesting case studies on how the KGB penetrated a number of Western political parties believed to be hostile to the Soviet Union and disrupted or even destroyed them, amplifying internal tensions or spreading disinformation — in a revealing game plan that was to be used successfully 36 years later in the Russian interference with the 2016 elections in the US.
6) Recruitment of Agents’ Networks
In the KGB’s very thorough manual on the recruitment of agents, we learn that intelligence operations aren’t just about gathering information but about disrupting the hostile plans of the enemy (mainly the Western nations); intercepting real or imagined Western sabotage of socialist countries and actively influencing capitalist states to the advantage of socialist countries.
In 1969, when this manual was published, the KGB wasn’t facing the kinds of intensive backlash from Western intelligence agencies it was later to face after a string of defections to the Soviet Union. The Kremlin believed socialist countries were rapidly improving and the capitalist world was disintegrating and that it could tap into “millions of sympathizers” — which is how it saw the anti-war movements in Europe and the US.
The manual states unabashedly that agents are to be recruited in Western peace movements, but that some of them might be more useful in opposing their own countries than just gathering intelligence. The national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America were also seen as fertile ground for KGB recruitment.
The many Soviet emigres who fled Stalin’s oppression and World War II and also managed to leave in the 1960s were also targeted as potential allies. A variety of reasons ranging from political sympathies to mercenary motives could enable a foreigner to work for the KGB. And if these were not enough, threats, pressures, and blackmail were used, particularly on emigres.
A number of case studies give an idea of how carefully the KGB did its recruiting to avoid dangles from Western intelligence or misjudgments of character that might lead to exposure.
7) Communication with Agents
Chances are that the staples of Western spy novels and movies today — dead drops, microdots, safe houses, hotel managers or tailors living double lives as spies — got their start in the intensive and inventive methods of the KGB. In this manual, we learn all the enormous amount of detail and caution that has to go into a seemingly simple operation like having an agent pick up instructions from his handler.
While this manual reveals the increasing use of radio technology and micro-photography, also on display are the old-fashioned methods of vetting agents for good character, modest lifestyle, political correctness and obedience are even more important, and backed up by constant double-checking and creation of alternative plans. Beware the worried or jealous wife who wonders where her husband is, says the KGB; if the cover story isn’t airtight — she might come looking for him and stumble on his relationship to intelligence.
In all communications, intelligence and officers have to be careful not to create patterns or complexities that will either tip off the increasingly hostile and wary Western counter-intelligence agencies, or make it to hard to avoid mix-ups and disasters.
The amateur might think a knothole in a tree or a garbage can in an alley might make good dead drops or secret hiding places for transmitting film or letters, but the KGB manual points out that children can also play near such trees and janitors can cart the trash away.
Intriguingly, this manual gives several case studies of KGB hidey- holes that were discovered by the FBI years ago — in a downtown New York movie theater (a building that no longer exists more than 50 years later); in a restroom in a children’s playground still in existence; by a dog run near the East River. All of these secret places put under carpets or set under railings with magnets or rolled up and put into toilets were all too easily discovered. The manual won’t tell you what the good dead drops were, except generically — they must seem natural, and yet unnoticed.
KGB comms also relied on an army of people in professions that provided an excellent cover for their work relaying messages, handing over letters, or simply sending a danger signal. These included store owners, postal workers, theater cashiers, taxi drivers, auto repair workers and even librarians. The agents are instructed to go through the motions of ordinary activities with real people as part of their cover for the espionage work involving feigned relationships.
Always and everywhere, the KGB instructs its agents to verify if they are being followed, and to have multiple back-up plans and signals to extract themselves if their machinations go awry.
8) Work with Agents’ Network
This manual covers the exhaustive detail and rigor that goes into training agents to have the correct political and ideological indoctrination to enable them to be trustworthy in the KGB’s range of espionage tasks, from identifying information worth gathering to sabotaging organizations.
The recruiters concede that some of their agents will not be ideological supporters, and especially among emigres, who have grievances with the Motherland, they must take care to keep them engaged. The KGB also frankly admits that some agents are recruited under false flags, believing they are working for some other organization to promote their own political causes.
Some agents are trained extensively but then held in reserve, perhaps living for years as “sleepers” in a foreign country. The intelligence officers must constantly vet and test and second-guess their agents to make sure they are reliable.
Finally, the manual instructs officers how to break off relationships with agents causing trouble — not always suddenly, but in some cases by drifting away to avoid suspicion.
o Notes on Work with Agents’ Networks (1970) (Coming Soon)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick