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Washington Profile
January 27, 2006
Konstantin Preobrazhensky Interview

Why did you join the KGB?

Preobrazhensky: I joined because my specialty as a Japanologist required it of me. If you are a specialist in Japan studies, you have to travel to the country that you study. And that wasnt possible without working in the KGB. There were only two ways of visiting a country you studied: either by becoming an outside agent, that is, a stool pigeon telling on others, or by becoming a career employee with the KGB People dont recruit you, rather you recruit others; you control your own destiny. But its a sad situation for any Japanologist in a totalitarian state. You just cant work without the KGB.

Many former CIA case officers say they became quickly disappointed in the U.S. intelligence agency? Your book also describes feelings of disappointment

Preobrazhensky: I never felt disappointed because I was already disappointed when I arrived. I knew all too well what was going on because my father was a general in the KGB, the deputy head of the border security services. I learned about the ethics of the agency early on; I knew that we tortured people, etc. Having been aware of all this, I went straight into intelligence to pursue my specialty. As soon as I entered the KGB I began studying at the counterintelligence school in Minsk; the very first day I began writing an expos (editors note: KGB in Japan), and published it immediately after I retired.

How would you assess the quality of intelligence work internationally?

Preobrazhensky: The KGB was not an intelligence agency as such. It was a department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CCCPSU), a part of the party apparatus. Hence, intelligence and counterintelligence entities did not play a key role. Rather, they represented a way of life for bureaucrats overseas junkets, a way to fatten their wallets, stay connected with the countrys elite. After all, the entire retinue surrounding the Politburo members and the General Secretary was employed by the KGB. If you worked in the KGB, you had close access to Brezhnev, Gorbachev But the intelligence work itself had a much lower priority. One reason no one engaged in it seriously was that party bosses lacked experience in the trade, and were generally devoid of requisite creativity. Andropov and Kryuchkov never were involved in intelligence work. In other words, if a country puts party bosses in charge of intelligence operations, you cant expect much.

For any intelligence agency, theres only one measure of effectiveness: the preservation of the state. The KGB failed to fulfill its historical task and save the U.S.S.R. Up until the last moment, from every corner of the world the KGB sent messages to Moscow saying that everything was fine and that the Soviet Union would survive, that the German Democratic Republic would remain intact

The KGB is now part of the past. The FSB (Federal Security Service) and the security services of other post-Soviet countries have taken its place. How would you assess these successor organizations?

Preobrazhensky: This is a fallacious supposition that the KGB itself disseminates. Nothing has become part of the past. The people are the same, and the slogans they proclaim have not changed. For instance, in Russia, Putin has completely brought the KGB back to life. As far as other post-Soviet republics are concerned, everything there is better preserved. In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, it was revealed that the personnel were KGB operatives. The entourage of the leaders of post-Soviet republics is entirely made up of graduates of the KGBs elite academy. They are aides, instructors, ministers. and through them, the KGB is able to influence these countries heads of state. It is precisely with their help that Putin and the FSB are destabilizing Ukraine. This isnt a struggle between disparate clans; its an FSB operation to topple the detested Yushchenko.

In Soviet times, working in foreign intelligence was an extremely attractive career. What are the prospects now?

Preobrazhensky: Foreign intelligence work was the highest paying job in the U.S.S.R. As a foreign intelligence agent, I received three times the salary that my father, a KGB general, did. Unfortunately, this system has returned. Intelligence operatives engage in practical activities. People in the West for some reason dont understand the role of Soviet intelligence correctly, because the CIA and the British Intelligence Service function as information gatherers. We, on the other hand, always had an overabundance of information; we didnt know what to do with it. Our problems had to do primarily with processing and analyzing this information. Also, the information always had to please the boss. If it isnt to his liking, then it must be wrong. Thats the reason why the KGB during all its existence beginning with Hitlers attack in 1941 and ending with the Soviet Unions collapse was never able to provide one accurate prognosis. The Soviet intelligence services carried out other functions: They engaged in operations to influence and disrupt, above all, Western powers.

There were three main pillars of agent recruitment during the Soviet era, three ideas on the basis of which foreigners would risk life and liberty to cooperate with the U.S.S.R. First, they could be motivated for ideological reasons (e.g., communism); second, for material reasons; and third, for moral or psychological reasons, that is, they could be blackmailed into espionage. The agents considered most reliable were those operating for ideological reasons, for example, Kim Philby (a.k.a. Harold Adrian Russell).

Today, Russian intelligence can no longer recruit on the basis of political ideals. All KGB operatives share a communist ideology, which dumfounds the West. But, clearly, they cant go up to a Western liberal and ask him to fight for global communism. Thats why potential agents are asked to fight against America, and many agree to do it. The second pillar of recruitment is a love for Russia. In the West, only Russian immigrants have feelings of filial obedience toward Russia. Thats precisely why [the KGB] works with them so often. A special division [within Russian intelligence] was created just for this purpose. It regularly holds Russian immigrant conferences, which Putin is fond of attending. Now a grandiose operation is underway: the uniting of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia with the Moscow Patriarchate, or more precisely, with the Russian state. If this happens, the Orthodox Church here will become a bastion of Russian influence and a center of espionage.

The intelligence community has always depended greatly on people who can infiltrate a foreign culture. How did the KGB deal with recruitment issues, and how does the FSB deal with them today? For example, where do they find people with expertise in the Chechen or Karakalpak languages?

Preobrazhensky: This is very simple, actually. Natives of these regions went to the institutes to study, and afterwards some of them made it to KGB academies. I think there was a small KGB division that dealt with Karakalpakstan, consisting of two or three people. In the course of many years they opened just one espionage case. The Chechens are a different story. The Chechen people are divided into many clans. There are clans whose leaders work for the KGB. The FSB is now in the process of creating diversionary centers of Chechen resistance in order to compromise genuine ones. The KGB has always done this sort of thing

If you had the opportunity to live your life over again, would you have gone into foreign intelligence?

Preobrazhensky: Absolutely not. There were too many sacrifices, too many victims. The special field of knowledge for which I entered the KGB brought me many disappointments and ultimately destroyed my life.