Riding the escalator out of the Paris Metro station, Vladimir Kostov felt a sharp sting just above his belt. At the same time he heard a sound like a pebble striking the metal stairs. He turned to face a tall, a athletic-looking man who quickly disappeared into a crowd along the Champs Elysees.
Kostov later learned that the man was an assassin -- probably a member of Bulgaria's secret intelligence service. In the eyes of the Bulgarian regime, Vladimir Kostov, a defector to the West and a former member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, was a traitor.
From what was believed to be a fountain-pen shaped object, the attacker had fired a poison-filled metallic about the size of of a pinhead into Kostov's back.
It was extraordinary that the dark and slender Kostov lived to tell about the sunny day in Paris. That afternoon, when he confided to a French physician that he thought he might have been the target of an assassination attempt, the man scoffed and told him he had probably suffered nothing more serious than a wasp sting. It was only later that it appeared that the Bulgarian's life might be in danger from poisoning.
The attack at the Etoile Metro station took place on Aug. 26, 1978. Thirteen days later, an assassin struck in London. The victim this time was another Bulgarian defector, writer and commentator Georgi Markov. His attacker was carrying an umbrella, and the suspected weapon was that same umbrella, apparently desigend to fire a metallic object -- about the size of pinhead. Markov did not survive.
The two attacks looked like something straight out of a James Bond novel. Indeed, they were testimony that in today's spy world, James Bond-style villains actually live, breath -- and kill. But the Soviet Union is not believed to have directly engaged in any overseas assassination since the early 1960s.
If one looks at today's spy world as a whole, it is clear that many intelligence officers, in the major countries at least, rarely leave their desks , computers, and air conditioned offices. And many of the new specialists in intelligence wouldn't know a poison dart from a ballpoint pen.
When active and former officers of the Central Intelligence Agency and other experts in the field of spying met at a colloquium in Washington, D.C., last year, many of them spoke like graduates of the Harvard Business School. A lot of them sounded like bureaucrats.
Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, would no doubt have been appalled.
The talk was such things as the "estimative process," the "finished analytical product," and the interaction between "producers" and "consumers" of intelligence.
The Washington, D.C., session dealt with intelligence analysis and estimates, and not with secret action. But as everyone knows, intelligence officers are supposed to be flamboyant, or at least mysterious. At the CIA, however, bureaucratic and scholarly men are on the rise. More than half the new recruits entering the CIA this year have advanced degrees.
This does not mean that the CIA is completely out of the business of secret action. All indications are that there has been a limited revival of such activity over the past year or so, most of it in the propaganda field. If the impression continues to grow that the US is less in control of events around the world than it used to be, the agency may come under further pressure to engage in what is known in American spy lingo as "political action" -- secret action aimed at influencing events overseas.
But the CIA is also under pressure at the moment to do better what it was intended to do in the first place: that is, to provide clear warnings to American policymakers about real and potential threats against the United States. In the midst of all this, Congress is still trying to decide what kind of restrictions it wants to place on the CIA and on those whom it deems to be a threat to the safety of the agency's intelligence officers overseas. Whatever the outcome in the Congress, the future state of the agency's morale and effectiveness remains far from predictable.
If one were to draw an intelligence map of the world, the biggest question mark would, indeed, have to be suspended over the CIA. But in a sense, it hangs over all of the Western democracries. If the US executive branch and the Congress come to a clear consensus about what they want out of the CIA, it could eventually have considerable impact on the way in which other Western countries pursue the spy trade. Parliaments in a number of these countries are studying the American approach to the difficult taks of trying to balance the need to keep secrets against the need to preserve freedoms. What is the future of the CIA?
Intelligence men in nations allied with the United States are watching anxiously to see if the CIA recovers from the purges and criticism that have shaken it.
No one can be certain how all this will be resolved, in part because many Americans, perhaps more than most peoples, have ambivalent feelings about intelligence work. They have a tendency to swing from fascination with the alleged quick-fix exploits of spies to feelings of shock and guilt when the abuses of those same spies are revealed. What can be said with reasonable certainty is that is the post-Iran, post-Afghanistan atmostphere, few Americans seem to be proposing that the CIA be put out of business. Quite a few, including both Ronald Reagan and President Carter, advocate that it be made stronger.
In the meantime, while the Americans sort things out, the rest of the world's foreign intelligence agencies can be expected to go about business pretty much as usual. Few parliaments in the world -- an certainly none among major countries outside the United States -- have anything like the power of the US Congress to monitor and investigate their spy agencies. In many of these countries, a majority of the population seems to accept secret services as a necessary evil.
What the American specialists in the field sometimes refer to as "the chief adversary," namely the Soviet Union, can be expected to continue to build its intelligence arm in a steady fashion, much as it builds its military strength. The Soviets' allies -- most notably the Cubans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and East Germans -- can be expected to do the same.
What has been changing most is the nature of what many of the world's spies do. Instead of slipping, like James Bond, in and out of a casbah teeming with exotic characters, many "spies" are up to their ears in paperwork. Some are busy sorting out and analyzing photographs and tapes gathered from satellites and vast networks of electronic listening stations. Only a relatively small number of intelligence officers, perhaps 1 out of 20 in the CIA, for example, are in the sometimes exciting, occasionally hazardous, and often tedious business of handling secret agents in the field.
With computers and satellites doing much of the work, such secret agents would appear to be an endangered species. But most countries would be reluctant to give them up. By all accounts, highly placed spies arerare. Both the Americans and the Soviets, and their friends, keep trying to place them, or find them, however, in the hope of getting those spies to provide them with key pieces of the intricite intelligence puzzle.
Trying to figure out how many people are engaged in the intelligence business is no easy task. It is even more difficult to determine the cost of financing intelligence operations around the world. In the United States, estimates of what all of the nations' foreign intelligence agencies spend run a high as $5 billion to $10 billion a year. But if one studies the literature available and asks a few questions about what might be considered to be a dozen of the world's leading nations in the field of spying, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that these nations employ as many as a quarter of million people in foreign intelligence work. That figure would, of course, include both civilian and military intelligence officers, clerks, technicians, scientists, and specialists in propaganda, as well as a few experts in sabotage. Thousands of others would be working for them, in turn, as agents implanted in foreign countries.
The following table gives rough estimates of manpower in a dozen of the world's leaders in the spy trade. Totals include both military and civilian officers and clerical and technical staff, focused on foreign intelligence but based at home and abroad.
1. Soviet Union 100,000 (includes KGB, GRU, technical and monitoring services) 2. United States 70,000 (includes CIA, NSA, DIA, and Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence) 3. West Germany 9,500 4.BritainNo estimate available 5. East Germany 5,000 6. China No estimate available 7.Poland3,500 8. France 3,000 (about 800 involved in electronic monitoring) 9. Czechoslovakia 3,000 10. Israel 2,000 11. Cuba 1,500 12. South Africa Unavailable
It is also difficult to determine who the winners and losers are. The inconclusive nature of much intelligence work does lend itself easily to descriptions prevalent in scorecard, or horserace, journalism. Men and women working in the spy trade are often reluctant to rate their brother, or sister agencies in terms of effectiveness. By its nature, much of their work is compartmentalized.
But interviews with more than 40 active or former intelligence officers in the five countries -- the United States, Britain, France, West Germany, and Israel -- show that the highest prestige ratings for spying often accrue not to the superpower intelligemce agencies but to small and medium-sized countries: Israel and East Germany, for example.
The intelligence services of Israel and East Germany would appear to have little in common except an obsession with secrecy. Secrecy, of course, helps to create a mystique for an intelligence service. And mystique can be useful. It keeps potential enemies off guard and encourages potential friends to cooperate.
Secrecy safeguards some missions. It also helps cover up mistakes.
But even when it comes to the much-vaunted Israeli secret service, some mistakes cannot be hidden. The Israelis' miscalculations and surprise in the face of Egypt's 1973 attack is often cited as an example of an intelligence failure. Less well known, in the United States, at least, was the misguided attempt of Israeli secret service assasins to kill the man Israel held responsible for the 1972 "Munich massacre" of the Israeli Olympic athletes. The Israelis went all the way to Norway to get their man. But they killed the wrong one. They finally found the intended target, Ali Hassan Salameh, closer to home in Beirut.
In Israel today, the head of the foreign intelligence agency, known as the Mossad or "the institution," is Gen. Yitzhak Hofi, an apparently dour and meticulous former paratroop commander.
The two leading spymasters of the Soviet and East-bloc countries (if one can call them a bloc after what has been happening in Poland) would have to be Yuri Andropov, head of the Soviet Union's KGB, and Markus Wolf, chief od East Germany's foreign intelligence service. The dapper and urbane-looking "Mischa" Wolf has become a legend in the spy world. He has planted agents in high places in West Germany and has trained East German Lotharios to seduce any number of West German secretaries.
But it is a tribute to communist secrecy that little reliable information is available concerning either Mr. Wolf or Mr. Andropov. The latter is described in John Barron's classic book "KGB" as "a tall, scholarly looking man with cultured and reserved manners."
Even in the Western democracies, there are few intelligence officers with a liking for openness toward their respective publics. Few would agree with Adm. Stansfield Turner, the US Director of Central Intelligence, in his advocacy of "controlled openness." Admiral Turner makes speeches, grants interviews, and has authorized the publication of a number of CIA studies. Sixteen persons are at work in the CIA's public relations office.
In Western Europe, the closest one could come to finding openness in a high-raking intelligence officer of a major country would be in West Germany: Klaus Kinkel, president of West Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), West Germany's external intelligence service, is a boyish-looking, energetic man,who enjoys talking and debating. A veteran politician, he also spends quite a bit of his time explaining his secret servicehs activities to selected members of the West German parliament, or Bundestag. But even Dr. Kinkel is reluctant to be photographed or quoted on the record.
In Paris, Col. Alexandre de Maranches, the portly chief of France's Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE), is known to lunch occasionally with a journalist or two. But the colonel is hardly a widely known public figure.
In London, little is publicly known about Arthur Temple (Dickie) Franks, chief of Great Britain's MI.6, the British foreign intelligence service. Under the "D" notice system, a kind of honor system or self-censorship in place since 1912, British journalists are asked not to publish the names, whereabouts, or activities of present of former intelligence officers. The system is being increasingly questioned. But only one publication, the New Statesman, is known to have mentioned that Mr. Franks heads the secret intelligence service.
If one were able to take these eminent spymasters, who among them probably command more than half of the world's top spies, and ask them to weigh their victories agianst their defeats, it is not at all clear that they would be able to produce a convincing balance sheet. In peacetime, it is difficult to measure either success or failure among the intelligence services. Arguments can be heard on al sides.
In each of the countries in which this reporter worked to prepare this series of articles, there were knowledgeable commentators who felt that the importance of the secret services is overrated or that they consist largely of cops who can't shoot straight. But that appears to be a minority view.
Some diplomats are convinced that spies working under diplomatic cover live much too good a life and that they end up congregating in certain West European capitals simply because life is pleasant there. Vienna, for example. Home of many international agencies, including the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Vienna is also a conduit for refugees from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
"But I think there's another reason why a lot of spooks live in Vienna," said an American diplomat. "I think it's because they like living there. . . . They end up spending a lot of their time just watching each other."
There is one level at which the prowess of the international spy agencies can be more easily measured, and that is in the technological fields. High-ranking Western officials declare that the Western nations, with the United States in the lead, enjoy "techonological superiority" over the East in the collection of intelligence. What this means is that the Western nations are supposed to be better at:
* Breaking the communications codes of other nations while protecting their own.
* Using satellites to take photographs and subsatellites to record radio and radar transmissions.
* Storing information for rapid retrieval through the use of computers and microchips.
American satellite pictures are assumed to be sharper than those of the Soviets. From Big Bird satellite photos, experts are supposed to be able to distinguished individual persons. One joke has it that US specialists studying these photos have nicknames for a number of Russian truck drivers whom the Big Bird frequently films. But it is not true, as someone once claimed, that satellite photography can pick out the lettering on golf balls. Not yet.
American and allied listening posts pick up conversations between Soviet fighter pilots and between Soviet tank drivers.
But it is in the use of computers that the Western nations, and the US in particular, are supposed to be most markedly ahead. The Soviets are believed to employ thousands of people doing jobs America's supersecret National Security Agency (NSA) gets done with acres of computers. Code-breaking today is to a great extent a matter of computers, and some experts think the NSA has broken more than half of the world's existing governmental codes.
"The Soviets probably suffer from a lag in their ability to store information and process and manipulate it as quickly and easily as we can," said one American intelligence specialist. "Ten years from now, they may be right where we are. . . . But we'll be somewhere else." Challenges for the '80s
A high-ranking American intelligence officials says that because of its technological means, the United States is not likely to be surprised by any major buildup of Soviet military forces.
A word of caution: The Soviets are expert cryptanalysts, and had a number of code-breaking and code-protecting victories to their credit in World II. The major codes of the Soviet Union, like those of the US, are believed to be unbreakable. The Soviets' spy satellites are thought to be quite effective, even if the Soviets have not pushed the state of the satellite art to the degree that the Americans have.
Michael Handel, a research associate at Harvard University's Center for International Studies, who has studied the question of military surprise, warns that the US has repeatedly underestimated the Soviets' technological capabilities.
At any rate, a revolution has taken place in both East and West in the field of intelligence techonology. A major challenge for intelligence men in the 1980 s will be how to sift through and analyze the fallout from the "explosion" of information the satellites and listening devices have released.
Another challenge to both sides will be no to monitor the rapidly growing sophistication of new nuclear weapons. The CIA made major advances in the 1950s and '60s in devising ways of monitoring any possible. Soviet cheating against nuclear arms control agreements. But without a new strategic arms limitation (SALT) treaty, new weapons developments could outstrip new methods of arms control.
Where the Soviet Union and its "little brother" intelligence services of Eastern Europe and Cuba seem to be ahead is in the use of human -- as opposed to technological -- spies. This is partly because the more open societies of the West are more easily penetrated by such spies.East German agents used to make West Germany look like a piece of Swiss cheese. But it may also be partly because the Soviets, for one, place more faith in human agents than the Americans do. With a long history of secret services and conspiracy and counterconspiracy, the Russians seem to accept espionage as a way of life.
In most countries of the East, intelligence is of high priority and its practitioners have become an elite. They are better trained than many of their counterparts in their nations' regular diplomatic services.
"A diplomat who doesn't work of the intelligence service is considered only half of diplomat," said Vladimir Kostov.
The peoples of the Western democracies, however, have mixed feelings, at least in peacetime, about the need for espionage. The level of education for new recruits into the CIA is high, but much of the American public still views the agency with an uncertain mixture of fascination and mistrust. In France and West Germany, it is difficult for the secret services to recruit from the best universities, and those services must rely heavily on military men.
The intelligence services of both East and West face certain common challenges in the 1980s. One of them is to understand the rapid changes that are occuring in the developing nations of the world. The ability of the United States and its partners to understand the changes taking place in and around the Persian Gulf could be of vital importance. A highly placed American intelligence officer puts it this way: "Given increased competition for raw materials, where the difference between the two sides may lie in the decade ahead is not in our ability to counter each other but simply in our respective abilities to understand events in the developing countries of the world."
The United States did not do well on that score in Iran. But some people think it may before long get a further chance to test its ability to understand rapid change in ancient societies -- in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.
The countries of the East are expected to continue to deploy special sections of their intelligence agencies in the coming decade in pursuit of their longtime aim of splitting the United States away from its allies. Some experts think that in pursuing this goal, the Soviet Union and its friends will rely increasingly on "disinformation," or deceptions, designed to mislead foreign public opinion. Other experts think that disinformation is a much overrated phonomenon that backfires more often than it succeeds.
One thing is virtually certain, and that is that the East will continue to place heavy emphasis on industrial and technological espionage. Hundreds of millions of dollars are to be saved through the stealing of Western secrets in these fields.
For the Western intelligence agencies, terrorism may become of growing importance in the 1980s. Some American intelligence officers think that not enough is being done to penetrate terrorist groups before they launch attacks.
In the pursuit of almost all of their goals, the intelligence agencies of the East work in tight coordination and under overall Soviet guidance. The exception is Romania. Defectors says that that country is able to withhold a great deal of information from the Soviets.
A Czech defector who came to the West some years ago said he believed there had been tension between some members of the Polish secret service and their Soviet counterparts. One way in which the Soviets overcome such problems, he said, is simply the secretly recruiting agents and collaborators among comrades inside the various brotherly secret services. In that way, the Soviets know what's going on even when some people may be holding back. They have spies spying on their fellow spies.
In the Western alliance, arrangements are looser. American intelligence officers complain that their allies sometimes withhold specifics from them -- the true nature of certain sources of information, for example -- because of a fear that the information will leak once it reaches the United States. But on both sides of the Atlantic, officials say that relations among the Western intelligence agencies are, in fact, often better than those that prevail at the government-to-government level.
"Perhaps the unrest in political relations has even contributed to consolidating relations among the intelligence agencies," said one high-ranking West European intelligence officer."It almost seems to be a rule that intelligence services fill gaps."
"They provide a kind of stabilizing force," said another West European intelligence officer.
Indeed, if one could imagine a "common market" of intelligence information, it would show major exchanges of information flowing among the US, Britain, France, West Germany, and Israel. To a much lesser degree, but on certain specific subjects, South Africa would be cut in. The relations of Western governments with South Africa have been strained in recent years. But among intelligence men, relations seem to have suffered little.
South Africa is of importance to the spy world as a major source of mineral resources and a potential trouble spot. It is also considered important because South Africa's main foreign intelligence agency, known, until recently at least, as BOSS the Bureau of State Security, has information to trade. BOSS is rated highly by the Americans, West Europeans, and Israelis for its information on southern Africa.
"Why are the South Africans good at intelligence work?" asked a former intelligence officer. "Because they are frightened. Because they have a lot of money. And because they do a lot of business in the world."
Intelligence is often "traded" under informal understandings. Favors are received eventually in return for information. One former intelligence officer said that after Israel turned over to the United States a copy of Nikita Khrushchev's famous secret speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress in 1956, it was perfectly understood there would have to be a quid pro quo in it for Israel.
American sources say that Israel and the United States do have a formal agreement not to spy on each other. But the agreement is apparently unclear when it comes to the question of industrial and technological espionage. It is widely believed in the US government that Israel several years ago illegally obtained uranium, for building atomic weapons, from a nuclear materials plant in Apollo, Penn.
EVen closer than the US-Israel intelligence relationship is that which exists between the United States and Britain. The base of information from which the two countries work is virtually the same. An American officials said that through cooperation with Britain, particularly in the field of signals intelligence, some people estimate that the United States saves more than $500, 000 a year.
Sometimes the relationship between intelligence agencies can be described only in business terms. Latin American intelligence services have been known to form "consortiums" against their enemies.
Just as Japan does not have an army commensurate in size and strength with its economic power, so does it not appear to have much of an external intelligence service. But one American informant gives high marks to the Japanese for gathering economic intelligence, particularly in Asia. The US, he said, was able at one point some years ago to "piggyback" with the Japanese in orde to get useful intelligence on the Chinese economy. This arrangement apparently reduced the importance of intelligence "equities" which the British were able to offer the Americans in Hong Kong and Peking.
In the novels of John le Carre, whose real name is David Cornwell, men of the British secret intelligence service, or the "Circus," speak of the need to barter information with the "cousins," namely the rich American cousins in the CIA.
George Smiley, in Mr. le Carre's "The Honourable School-boy," sees it this way: "Unless the Circus produced, it would . . . have no wares to barter with the cousins, nor with other sister services with whom reciprocal deals were traditional. Not to produce was not to trade, and not to trade was to die."
But the British are not the intelligence power they once were. Just as political power has been dispersed through the rise of new nations, so has intelligence power spread. And one gets the impression that a good deal of espionage derring-do now is carried out by nations of which one is only dimly aware.
"Don't ignore the Romanians," a West European intelligence officer advised. "They're very active. . . . They can be very dangerous."
Western intelligence experts also given high marks to the external intelligence service of Cuba. The Direccion General de Inteligencia, or DGI. This is not only because of the DGI's work in Miami, the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa, but also because of its efforts to win friends and influence people among third-world diplomats in places as far-flung as Paris and Tokyo.
Cubans in Tokyo? They are there not only to work the third-world beat but also to nab industrial secrets and watch other Cubans, such as seamen coming in on ships.
Part of the Cuban's effectiveness seems to derive from a revolutionary fervor that has long been absent among their more cynical big brothers, the Soviets.
A number of American intelligence men insisted that the DGI is little more than an extension of the Soviet KGB, with Soviet officers sitting in the Cuban headquarters in Havana. Be that as it may, the Cubans sometimes have an appeal among potential recruits from other nations that is denied to the Soviets. A certain romance still attaches to the Cuban revolutionaries.
"Cuban intelligence is growing up," says Harry Rositzke, founder of the Soviet division of the CIA and author of a forthcoming book on th KGB. "They are more acceptable in many places than the Russians. . . . They are brown and black. They are a revolutionary power."
Another secret service worth watching -- but it is not easy to find -- is that of China. A former CIA specialist on the Far East said that as the Chinese take a more active role in foreign affairs, so are they also likely to begin developing their intelligence service into a truly global organization.
The Chinese apparently rely on third parties to do much of their spying for them. They do not go in for the aggressive pursuit of secret documents the way the Soviets do. They have a great advantage in foreign countries where there are large numbers of Chinese residents. Many of these overseas Chinese, as they are called, are likely to feel a strong identification with their homeland. New China News Agency, the main news service, apparently helps with the gathering of political intelligence.
The FBI seems to think the Chinese are going to make the United States a major intelligence target now that they have established diplomatic relations with the US. A China scholar from a major American university said he was startled not long ago to find an FBI man in the audience when he was giving a lecture on modern Chinese politics. The FBI man explained that now that many Chinese communists were studying in the United States as well as visiting the US , he and a number of his colleagues had to begin learning all they could about China.
But most of the Chinese students in this country seem to be studying too hard to do much spying. And the FBI seems to have its hands full trying to watch Soviet spies who pose as visitors, seamen, diplomats, and trade representatives.
As the table on comparative manpower on the preceding page indicates, it is the Soviet Union and the United States that remain the truly big players in the worldwide intelligence game. Only these two nations reach all the world, deploying the full panoply of espionage, from satellites in the sky to agents on the ground.
Next: The KGB and the CIA