A Soviet defector provides firsthand look at the KGB
Washington — A Soviet defector says the Soviet secret police, the KGB, has been successful for decades in compromising US Marine guards and security at the American Embassy in Moscow. Ilya Dzhirkvelov, who defected in 1980, also says that Soviet workers employed at the embassy until last year routinely engaged in espionage for the KGB.
Mr. Dzhirkvelov is only the second Soviet defector to have worked both as a covert agent overseas and as a counterintelligence specialist in Moscow. He now lives in London.
In a discussion with reporters during a recent visit to the United States, Dzhirkvelov confirmed much of the popular wisdom about KGB activities directed against the West.
He says the American Embassy in Moscow has been a prime target for Soviet espionage for over two decades. The KGB, he says, employed a wide variety of tactics to filch the embassy's secrets or compromise its employees, including the marines who guarded it.
Dzhirkvelov says he has personal knowledge that at least two Marine guards in Moscow had been compromised well before the current controversy erupted. In the 1950s, he says, two marines were lured into homosexual relationships with KGB operatives. From them the KGB learned the layout of the embassy and was able to target more effectively its electronic eavesdropping, including placing ``bugs'' in typewriters.
With his European-cut clothing, spectacles, and bow tie, Dzhirkvelov looks the part of a university professor. His close-cropped hair and accent are the only hints of his past life, during which he acted as a guard for Stalin, posed as a Soviet journalist in Africa, and singled out Western diplomats and journalists in Moscow for compromise and possible recruitment.
In the course of his career, he worked with a number of men who moved into the upper echelons of the KGB and the Soviet Communist Party. For years, Dzhirkvelov's ``cover'' job was correspondent for Tass, the Soviet news agency, in Africa and the Middle East. He also worked as a counterintelligence specialist at KGB headquarters.
Dzhirkvelov says the KGB works at compromising Western diplomats, journalists, and other resident foreigners from the minute they arrive in the USSR. They are kept under surveillance until their travel patterns and daily routine are well known. Then, he says, they are introduced to a KGB agent, or else a genuine acquaintance of the target is pressed into reporting to the secret police.
Referring to the Soviets' arrest of American journalist Nicholas Daniloff on espionage charges last year in retaliation for the arrest of a Soviet spy, Dzhirkvelov says the KGB routinely keeps dossiers open on four to six American diplomats or journalists who can be arrested or expelled on espionage charges at a moment's notice.
Dzhirkvelov laughed when asked to describe the relationship between the KGB and the Agency for the Service of the Diplomatic Corps (UPDK), the Soviet government agency that provides drivers, cooks, maids, translators, and language instructors to foreigners.
The UPDK officially is part of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. But, he says, ``Generally, we called UPDK a branch of the KGB.''
Dzhirkvelov cautions against ``sensational ... exaggerations'' about the true extent of KGB activity and influence. For instance, he dismisses claims that more than half of all Soviet diplomats in the West are intelligence agents.
At the same time, however, he says the KGB has thoroughly infiltrated the professional staff of the United Nations.
Dzhirkvelov says that when he was posted to the Geneva offices of the World Health Organization from 1976 to 1979, only about 40 to 45 of the approximately 170 staff members at the Soviet mission were actually involved in diplomacy. The rest, he says, were engaged practically full-time in espionage.
Dzhirkvelov posed as a Tass reporter in Tanzania during the 1960s. One of his chief responsibilities was to discredit the work of the Peace Corps by alleging that many of the volunteers were working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
A favored tactic, he affirms, is to place ``investigative'' articles, written by the KGB, in foreign publications, often by bribing journalists and editors or playing upon their gullibility. Once an article surfaces, it can be given wider circulation by being replayed in the Soviet press.
That, he says, was a favored tactic when the USSR sought to shift the blame for the 1983 downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 onto the US. A number of respected publications, he says, were conduits for stories falsely claiming the aircraft was on an espionage mission.
Dzhirkvelov scoffs at suggestions that the KGB has large numbers of ``illegals'' - agents living under assumed identities with no apparent connection to Moscow - living in the US.
Although there are undoubtedly ``several'' such illegals now in this country, he says, Moscow tries to keep their numbers manageable and, therefore, small.
Dzhirkvelov was in the US to consult with the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, an academic group specializing in intelligence matters.