KGB Admits Some Agents Spied for West
A number of KGB agents have been arrested over the past 2 1/2 years for spying for the West, the head of the Soviet intelligence organization disclosed in a rare interview published in Moscow on Friday.
KGB chief Viktor M. Chebrikov said that despite the improvement in relations with the West, the United States and other Western countries continued to spy on the Soviet Union and to recruit agents here.
“Over the past 2 1/2 years, organs of the Soviet Committee for State Security (as the KGB is formally known) exposed more than 20 dangerous agents of intelligence services of capitalist countries engaging in espionage and instituted criminal proceedings against them,” Chebrikov told the Communist Party newspaper Pravda.
1st Recent Acknowledgment
“Unfortunately, there were KGB personnel among them, too,” he added, acknowledging for the first time in recent years that Western intelligence agencies had succeeded in penetrating the Soviet operation.
Chebrikov provided no details on exactly how many secret agents had been arrested, their activities or for whom they were working. He made a strong point, however, of warning that the country must not relax its vigilance as it continues to improve relations.
“It is necessary to admit that as a result of the activity of Western intelligence services, our political, military and economic interests have suffered damage,” he said.
In Washington, knowledgeable sources, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, said Chebrikov’s remarks were considered credible. One source noted that the defection of ex-CIA agent Edward Lee Howard, 35, in 1985 “cost us assets,” or agents. The United States had “KGB assets” who were exposed in recent years, the source said, and a KGB man working for British intelligence was publicly identified within the last 2 1/2 years.
At least half a dozen U.S. agents were exposed by Howard. Between 1981 and 1983, he had been fully briefed by the CIA on its Moscow operations in the expectation that he would become one of its operatives at the U.S. Embassy there. He was fired, however, after he began displaying erratic behavior. He began selling secrets to the KGB for $150,000 before fleeing to the Soviet Union as the FBI was preparing to arrest him.
5 Embassy Aides Expelled
According to press reports, five American Embassy officials were subsequently accused of spying by the Soviets and expelled, and presumably would be counted among Chebrikov’s “more than 20" Western intelligence agents. A Soviet aeronautical engineer, Adolf G. Tolkachev, who had worked for the CIA since the late 1970s, was caught and executed, but Howard later denied that he was responsible for Tolkachev’s exposure.
In all likelihood, more Soviets were also caught but they have not been identified, a source said.
There was speculation that Howard’s information also threw suspicion on U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff, who was arrested and expelled about the same time, although he was not a CIA agent.
A recent book about the Howard case, “The Spy Who Got Away,” by David Wise, included extensive interviews with Howard, but the book did not estimate the number of U.S. agents he had compromised.
Another case, apparently unrelated to Howard, was exposure of the KGB chief in London, Oleg A. Gordievsky, as a British agent several years ago. He was ordered back to Moscow but was given asylum in England.
Secret Agency Need
The Chebrikov interview which ran across the bottom of Pravda’s front page and took up most of an inside page as well, seemed to be intended to explain why such a secretive organization, identified in the minds of many here with repression, is needed in this era of glasnost , or openness.
“Despite a certain warming of the international climate, certain circles of imperialism have not abandoned the course toward confrontation,” Chebrikov said.
More than 50 diplomats and correspondents from countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been expelled from the Soviet Union over the past 2 1/2 years, he said, implying that they had been engaged in espionage or subversion.
“The intelligence bodies of capitalist states, first of all those of the United States, actively utilize the latest achievements, particularly those in the field of up-to-date space and electronic technology, against the Soviet Union,” Chebrikov said.
He said the Soviet Union had recently retrieved two large eavesdropping devices, each weighing six tons and powered by plutonium, that the United States had placed on underwater cables in the Sea of Okhotsh, about 40 miles off the Soviet coast north of Japan, in order to intercept messages.
“The complex was designed for registering . . . all information transmitted by the underwater communication cables,” he said. “There was also a beacon that helped the American intelligence service to quickly detect it. . . .”
He repeated previous accusations that the United States had attempted to place eavesdropping and other devices in Soviet diplomatic facilities in Washington, New York and San Francisco. Over the past seven years, he said, there had been more than 200 cases of such penetration at Soviet offices abroad.
Chebrikov accused American intelligence of targeting Soviet representatives abroad with a special program meant to modify their behavior and recruit them as U.S. agents or persuade them to defect.
He warned that Western intelligence has tried to “complicate the reform process of perestroika ,” or restructuring, by encouraging new political groups and clandestine organizations. But he nevertheless declared his support for greater openness and democracy in an effort to show that the agency is in step with the changes in Soviet society.
“I am for wider democracy and glasnost , for radical, scientifically sound economic reform, for the reform of the political system and for utilization of the full potential of socialism,” the security chief said, declaring his support for Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Chebrikov, who has headed the KGB since 1982 and served as deputy chairman for 14 years under the late Yuri V. Andropov, has been a member of the party’s ruling Politburo since April, 1985, a month after Gorbachev took over the leadership. He rarely speaks out on national issues and has come to be viewed by most Western analysts as a conservative within the Kremlin hierarchy.
In the Pravda interview, Chebrikov said the KGB’s role is still to counter not only foreign intelligence activity but also the “anti-socialist, anti-Soviet people in the country aiming at undermining and eliminating the existing social system.”
The KGB has come under public pressure recently in the media, and at political meetings and in some party and governmental forums its officials have been asked to explain and even justify its activities. Chebrikov emphasized that the legal basis for the KGB’s activities will be strengthened with new laws defining its authority and responsibilities and that the organization will be made more open to public scrutiny.
Times staff writer Robert C. Toth, in Washington, contributed to this report.