The idea, subversive and insidious, grew slowly, but in the end it became an overpowering conviction for Oleg D. Kalugin: The socialist system that he was sworn to defend and propagate as an officer of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence and security agency, was simply not worthy of such a commitment.
"There I was, charged with hunting down dissidents and ferreting out possible defectors and spreading the cause of communism, and I was more and more harboring some of the same doubts, the same thoughts as those we were imprisoning," Kalugin, 55, once a top Soviet counterespionage official, said last week in an interview.
"This took the double life that we all lead too far. An intelligence agent compartmentalizes his life, but he can only go so far, and then the lies spill over. . . . Then you have the choice of living the lie--or getting out."
Kalugin got out.
Retired from the KGB in March as a major general with 22 decorations, he is now campaigning for its reform as an essential element in the Soviet Union's democratization.
"This country is worth defending, absolutely, and socialism is worth striving for as the sum of man's ideals," Kalugin said. "I remain deeply, zealously committed to those goals, but the KGB, as it is constituted today, is not the instrument to do either.
"If the KGB remains the way it is, we will never achieve democracy, and without democracy, we as a nation have little hope."
Kalugin, who was once one of the KGB's top agents in the United States, has joined the Democratic Platform, a movement of social democrats that began in the Communist Party but has announced plans to develop into a separate party. He is running for the Congress of People's Deputies, the national Parliament, and he is under consideration for a top post in the reformist government that Boris N. Yeltsin, the populist president of Russia, is forming for the largest Soviet republic.
In an attempt to force an unprecedented national debate on the KGB's role, Kalugin is speaking out, candidly and provocatively, on the need to get the KGB out of the country's political life and to cut it down to size as "a normal intelligence and counterespionage service."
"Of all the institutions that have changed under perestroika , the KGB has changed the least," he said. "It remains in place, as strong as ever. It has a new, friendlier face, but that is a facade.
"There is one major difference, however, and one that is very important: It is the end to the repressions. But that was not the KGB's choice; that was a decision of the political leadership. As far as the KGB is concerned, if the order were given to return to the old ways, this organization would respond. It has not lost its potential, and it has not given up its old perspective."
Much is at stake, for the KGB, no less than the Communist Party and the Red Army, has been a pillar of the Soviet system since the days of V. I. Lenin, the Bolshevik revolutionary who founded the Soviet state.
The Cheka, a KGB forerunner, began defending the newborn revolution in 1917--from the threats it faced from czarist forces in Russia, from the Bolsheviks' rivals for power and from hostile powers in the rest of Europe. But it quickly became an instrument of political terror at home, particularly under dictator Josef Stalin, and an instrument of Soviet expansion and infiltration abroad.
As it grew larger and more powerful, the Soviet security and intelligence service became, as Kalugin readily acknowledges, "a state within the state, a party within the party, responsible only to itself and acting according to only its own lights as to what was necessary."
The means have included political assassinations, torture, blackmail and smear campaigns, according to Kalugin, a 32-year veteran of the KGB. His steely blue eyes suggest that he knows more, much more, when he says he was "aware of such activities."
"Imperialism would always try to crush the revolution," he said. "That was and remains the mentality of the KGB and of the party circles that want a strong KGB. There is still a threat, but it comes from within and not from some long-forgotten czarists or the imperialist West.
"The threat today is from the internal contradictions of socialism itself. Socialism looks like a very good idea, summing up all the best aspirations of man. But through 70 years, wherever we have an experience of socialist construction, be it in the Soviet Union or China, in Albania or Cuba or Cambodia, there has always been bloodshed, always conflict, always misery for the people.
"What kind of socialism is that? This is the question people here have asked themselves, that our nation is trying to address through perestroika . This is the question that began to tear at me maybe 20 or 25 years ago . . . and my efforts to answer it have now taken me down this difficult road."
Kalugin's criticism, which he began internally within the State Security Committee, as the KGB is formally known, and continued through party channels, cost him his position as chief of foreign counterespionage and then as the deputy head of the KGB office in Leningrad.
Forcibly retired in March, he began to make his case publicly last month, and the government promptly stripped him of his rank, his decorations and his pension. The KGB now describes him as a vain, careless, undisciplined officer whose incompetence cost it key agents in the United States and whose quarrelsome nature made his removal imperative.
"Our patience with him was over," Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, the head of the KGB, told the Communist Party congress this month when he was called on to answer Kalugin's charges. "He tried to blackmail the leadership of the State Security Committee (with threats of disclosures), but the KGB makes no deals on questions of conscience."
Kalugin dismisses the charges as "typical KGB disinformation, an attempt to distract people from the points that I am making by talking about my love for a 'bohemian lifestyle' and hinting at 'dark deeds' of some sort."
"Were any of it true," he went on, "why did Kryuchkov sign my retirement papers with an official characterization of me as an extremely professional, highly qualified, almost brilliant intelligence officer? I have an impeccable record, and that allows me to speak freely. They can collect all sorts of lies, but put against my official record, they fade away."
Kalugin is gaining support, particularly among radical reformers who have long contended that removal of the KGB from domestic Soviet politics is essential for the success of perestroika --President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's program for restructuring Soviet society. It is a rare day on which Kalugin is not interviewed in the Soviet press, on the radio or even on state television.
"In the long run, Kalugin has done more for the prestige of the KGB than its official troubadours by demonstrating that it does have brave people, anxious for perestroika , within its ranks," the avant-garde weekly Moscow News said in a flattering profile of Kalugin. "By a mysterious but good Russian law, the more a system throws mud at its victim, the higher his prestige among the people."
Kalugin joined the KGB when he graduated from Leningrad State University. His first assignment was as one of the first Soviet exchange students to come to the United States, where he studied journalism at Columbia University in New York in 1958.
He returned in 1960 for a four-year assignment as a Radio Moscow correspondent at the United Nations and later in the 1960s as the deputy chief of the KGB station at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, where he was listed as a press attache.
He continued to specialize in U.S. affairs, handling among others the Walkers, a family of U.S. Navy personnel who have been convicted of providing top-secret codes and other material to the Soviet Union.
"I can mention the Walkers because they have confessed and have implicated me," he said. "There were more than a few others I cannot mention."
In Moscow, Kalugin maintained his diplomatic cover by working in the Foreign Ministry press department, where he developed extensive contacts with American journalists and diplomats.
"I suppose I started to question things in the late 1960s, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia (in 1968) was critical," he recalled. "I was in Washington, and I had reported extensively that the United States was not involved in the 'Prague Spring' (the ill-fated Czechoslovak attempt at internal reform) and was even a bit surprised by its scope.
"Yet, when we invaded, it was with the excuse of Western involvement. When I returned to Moscow, I found that all my messages had been withheld and destroyed by the KGB leadership in order to justify the crushing of the Prague Spring."
There were other events. A decade later, reassigned to Leningrad after defending a dissident scientist, Kalugin was appalled at the extensive corruption in the city. He tried to clean it up, he said, but was reprimanded. He wrote to KGB headquarters in Moscow but was reprimanded again. Then he wrote the party's Central Committee--and was summoned by his superiors to Moscow and told that he would be cashiered if he continued.
"I really made my decision four, five years ago," he recalled. "I was told that one more letter would end my career, that I would be sacked. I wrote again and again."
At that time, Kalugin said, he hoped that Gorbachev's reform program would transform the KGB along with the rest of Soviet society.
"When perestroika began, I thought this was another chance for the revival of socialism and of the party and of the whole country," he said. "I had hoped for this when I joined the party and the security service in the late 1950s during the thaw under Nikita Khrushchev. I saw that as a chance for the country to be different and not continue as a Stalinist system. I saw the Communist Party and the KGB as two structures that could help achieve this society and a better life within my generation.
"Then came Leonid Brezhnev, with all his stagnation, and the inevitable decay and incredible corruption. I despaired, and all those around me who understood what was happening despaired. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, came Gorbachev. Again there was a chance for the country to move forward.
"But after five years of perestroika we have come to a deadlock, politically and economically. Perestroika is very good, but it has not profoundly affected society yet. Gorbachev has made a historic move, and Russians will always be grateful to him as the one who started perestroika . However, he has fulfilled this historic task, and other people, more energetic, more vigorous, less chained to the old ways, need to come to the fore."
Although perhaps radical for a former KGB officer, such opinions place Kalugin just left of center on the current Soviet political spectrum.
What has surrounded him with controversy has been his unremitting criticism of the KGB, which is sacrosanct to party stalwarts but frightening to everyone else, and his call for its removal from Communist Party control and its reduction in size.
"We cannot move forward unless we dismantle the party's all-powerful role in society," Kalugin said, "and it is state security that implements those policies as the party's right hand.
"To my mind, state security is more dangerous, more devious, more concealed and definitely sinister in the way it manipulates the political scene. What the party declares, people sometimes take at face value, but I know--remember, I know from experience, from life itself--that behind the scenes there are other forces manipulating things."
Kalugin has been spurred on by the KGB counteroffensive against him, sensing not only that popular sentiment will be with him but that the controversy will promote reform of the KGB.
"When I opened this window, letting some air into our very stuffy political life, people felt exhilarated," he said. "Finally, they thought, someone was entering that last forbidden zone of politics, the role of the security service in our life."
Arguing forcefully, point by point and with the detail of a KGB insider, Kalugin calls for the sharp curtailment of the KGB in both domestic and foreign activities, and its strict control by the Soviet president and the legislature with scrutiny by public organizations and the press.
"As long as the KGB remains the way it is, I don't see any real progress toward democracy in the Soviet Union," Kalugin said. "As long as it belongs to the party, it will manipulate all of public life for the sake of one-party rule. . . . The KGB is everywhere, in everything, and that itself frustrates democracy."
Through a vast network of its own personnel or people who act for it, the KGB is present at virtually every major factory and office in the Soviet Union, according to Kalugin. Although he refused to give a figure, he said the staff at the KGB's Moscow headquarters exceeds the total personnel of the FBI and the CIA in the United States.
"Maybe not in the candy factories, maybe not at the toy shops, but almost everywhere else you will find the KGB," Kalugin said. "Even we are sometimes surprised at how numerous the Chekisti (KGB agents) have become--even more than before World War II, when we were isolated internationally and under threat."
And through a vast network of people--government functionaries, party officials, industrial managers, foreign trade negotiators, labor union activists, teachers, journalists, lawyers and clergymen--it has extended its influence into all spheres of life.
"I seriously think that we cannot overestimate the control that the security service exercises over all aspects of our life," Kalugin said. "What I saw in Leningrad amazed even me. If it was happening, we were there."
When Western-style rock 'n' roll became popular, the KGB infiltrated the rock music clubs, Kalugin recalled. When a religious revival began in the Russian Orthodox Church a few years ago, the KGB began to co-opt more priests and send its own men into the seminaries. And when new political groups began to appear with the start of perestroika , KGB personnel were present, whether the groups were to the right or left of the Communist Party.
"The main thing is to maintain control," Kalugin said of the KGB infiltration. "State security has its people everywhere. Even in the Presidential Council (the top policy-making body under Gorbachev), there are KGB people, not identified as such but KGB all the same, not KGB officers but people who have cooperated with the KGB their entire careers, who grew up with the KGB and are dependent on the KGB.
"Gorbachev may not know who they are . . . he probably does not. They were promoted due to their talents and qualifications, but also due to KGB help. Now that they are in top positions, they will probably advise Gorbachev what the State Security Committee thinks he should do. This is repeated at every level, in every organization, in every committee and council of our political system.
"None of this has changed. The KGB's hand is everywhere; its shadow falls across everything. The talk of a new KGB is a lie, a subterfuge. I know--I was there."