The KGB, the Soviet security police, opened the doors of its headquarters at Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka Prison to the press Tuesday in its gathering campaign to demonstrate that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reforms have changed even it.
“Our activities must be increasingly subjected to public control, and in protecting the state we must strive to protect human rights as well,” Maj. Gen. Alexander N. Karbainov, the chief of the KGB’s new Center for Public Contacts, explained at the unprecedented press conference.
“ Glasnost is now the norm of our life, the foundation of the trust between ourselves and the people and the foundation for the control of our activities.”
The KGB, which is responsible for the Soviet Union’s internal security, the protection of its borders and most of its intelligence-gathering abroad, is anxious, Karbainov said, for the adoption of new legislation governing its activities and for the supervision of Soviet lawmakers.
And Karbainov was candid about why the KGB, once the most secretive of Soviet organizations, is now committed to such openness and new political controls.
“Society must be informed of what we are doing . . . so that we will not find ourselves on the wrong sides of the barricades in the future,” Karbainov said. “It would be truly a tragedy if we found ourselves on the wrong side of the barricades with the people.”
That, another KGB officer said later, was the lesson of Romania, East Germany and several other countries in Eastern Europe where Communist regimes were ousted last year, often in clashes that pitted the security police against the people.
“We have had a hard rethink here in the five years under Gorbachev,” the officer said, excusing himself from giving his name for “operational reasons.” “I think we now realize that there is a basic choice--either you stand with the people or you stand against them. We are making our choice--to be with the people,” he said.
But Karbainov readily acknowledged that the KGB, whose full name is the Committee for State Security, had been far from saint-like in the past.
“Stalin turned the organs of state security into a weapon of his personal power and set them above the party and the state,” he said, recalling the years of terror under dictator Josef Stalin. “We all condemn what happened then.”
Lubyanka, a grim, gray building, had become synonymous with persecution, torture and execution over the years, and the KGB and its predecessors came to symbolize the repression that kept the Communist Party in power.
This remains the image of the KGB among much of the Soviet population, Karbainov said.
The department that had pursued political dissidents through the 1960s, ‘70s and even ‘80s was abolished and replaced by another dedicated to protection of the constitution and human rights, said Karbainov, who headed it for a period. The organization has also been ordered to take on organized crime in the country as a priority.
To win broader public sympathy for its work, the KGB established a press office a year ago, and the new KGB Center for Public Contacts was set up recently under Karbainov, 44, a former satellite communications engineer. Plans include a series of publications on the exploits of the KGB, films and television documentaries and opening the KGB’s museum to the public.
“Understandably, intelligence and counterintelligence activities cannot be fully exposed,” he said. “Otherwise, the purpose of these activities is betrayed. All the same, historical experience shows that security agencies should not seek to be fully closed to the public.
“We believe that we have found an optimum solution to the dilemma. Everything relating to the aims, directions and results of the KGB’s work should be open to the public, while the methods, forms and techniques used to perform specific operations and the security agents should remain hidden . . . .”
Despite its public contacts program, the agency’s activities have come under frequent attack. One of its sharpest critics, Oleg D. Kalugin, a former major general who headed its counterintelligence service and served as deputy commanding officer in Leningrad, has alleged that it has changed nothing essential and even continues to carry out political murders.
“I can say in all sincerity that since Stalin’s death (in 1953) and certainly since Yuri Andropov headed the KGB (in 1967), there have been no such actions,” Karbainov said.
He was more defensive, however, about the KGB’s relentless pursuit of political dissidents in the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. The KGB “was following closely the law of the land as it then was,” he said, and stopped only after Gorbachev came to power in 1985.
“I myself believe that a person has the right to his own opinion, even if it differs from the official, and that he has the right to speak his mind . . . . " he said. “Short of calling for the overthrow of the government, there should be no restrictions on this, and indeed we have a duty to protect these rights.”