‘What Will Happen? Where?’ KGB Is ‘on Pins and Needles’ : Espionage: The spy business is tough these days, one agent admits. ‘We’re all waiting for what will happen from above.’
Sitting on a park bench and professionally eyeing the passers-by, KGB Maj. Andrei Borisov--his real rank but not his real name--told a tale Thursday of a spy agency in deep trouble, hurt and hopping mad.
“Most people in the committee are in shock and terribly upset,” he said, referring to the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopastnosti-- the Committee of State Security. “Everyone’s on pins and needles, waiting. What will happen? What? Where? There are rumors flying--how many will be fired, starting from what age, where we’ll be transferred. Everyone’s sitting around and telling their fortunes from coffee grounds.”
“What can we do?” asked Borisov, who described himself as “a professional counterintelligence man now working in another area.”
“Who are we? We’re without rights. We’re all waiting for what will happen from above. Nothing depends on us now.”
The confusion inside the long-feared security agency has reached near slapstick depths this week, according to Borisov’s account.
“It’s gotten absurd,” he said. “We’ve been fulfilling various instructions. Suddenly they say, ‘Quick, emergency evacuation, emergency destruction of archives.’ People don’t understand what to do. They gather up bags (of papers) and then there’s another order. ‘Don’t destroy anything, unpack the bags and work as normal.’ ”
“So we said, ‘Listen, are we going to destroy them or not?’ And no one understands anything. Then we said, ‘Guys, let’s not destroy anything, or they may order us to restore everything later. And also, we’ll be able to show the Soviet people that we didn’t do anything against them. This is our alibi.’ And we decided not to destroy them.”
The bad times in the KGB began Aug. 19, when the attempted coup by a committee of eight reactionaries caught the reputedly omniscient agency flat-footed.
“On the 19th, no one knew anything,” Borisov said. “We were all taken aback by the declaration of the committee, but most of us were happy. Everyone was tired of the mess in the country. Everyone wanted order. So there was even some euphoria.”
“Most of us were glad (Soviet President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev was removed from power,” he noted.
“But by the next day, when we came to understand what means they planned to use to get order and prosperity--most of the workers were against it.”
“We’re really mad at that junta,” Borisov added. “If you’re going to seize power, you have to do it with some brains, at least.”
He said KGB workers, of which he knows hundreds, were proud of the special KGB troops who refused to storm the Russian government building, headquarters of those resisting the coup. But that pride was overwhelmed by horror at the “barking” against the KGB that followed, he said.
“It’s not clear what we’re being accused of,” he complained. “The Committee always fulfilled the social programs of the groups that held power. Who passed the laws? The Supreme Soviet. When there was an article (in the criminal code) on anti-Soviet activities, we enforced it.”
“Now,” Borisov said, “ ‘democrats’ have come to power, and we fulfill their orders.”
Borisov doubts that even the most radical of reformers will impose very deep cuts on the agency because, he said, “We’re professionals. You get rid of us, and pretty soon you just need us again.”
Better, he said, to selectively purge the drones from the top ranks, “the worn-out people, the colonels who are 70-years-old and still sitting there. . . . They don’t understand anything, they still have the mentality of the 1940s and ‘50s. We should just get rid of them.”
Meanwhile, Borisov said, many of his comrades have left the agency already, because although a major may earn 800 rubles a month--three times the national average--that is not enough to live decently these days.
“I have a friend who left,” Borisov said with a hint of envy. “He’s a young guy, he moved to a joint venture. . . . He already goes abroad all the time, he has a free work schedule, he has a Toyota, and I sit like a dope and what do I have?”
But many aren’t leaving because of a sense of duty, he said, and others don’t leave because of a secret order issued last year to keep people by any means--"even threats.”
“One guy who served 20 years and had the right to leave was told, ‘We can release you only on grounds of incompetence.”’
“I was planning to go after 20 years,” added Borisov, who joined the KGB as an athletic young man in 1976, mainly because he was asked and had no better options. “But now I won’t go. It would be indecent to be like a rat fleeing a sinking ship.”
Borisov said he believes that the recent flood of literature about the mass repressions of the Stalin-era KGB fueled much of the tremendous resentment against the agency that has been expressed since last week.
“When I read (author in exile Alexander) Solzhenitsyn, my hair stood on end,” he said. But “I don’t associate myself with political spying. We thought, ‘This is not the Stalin era and we’re doing nothing illegal'--and that really was so.”
At one point, Borisov admitted, he met a man who had been detained in a psychiatric hospital for his dissident political views ". . . and I realized that we were going in the wrong direction, but soon (Soviet leader Leonid I.) Brezhnev died, and changes began.”
If the KGB is ultimately dissolved or renamed, Borisov said, even if he is smoothly transferred somewhere else, he will miss it.
“I’m used to those three threatening letters,” he said. “I’m used to being able to use my ID card to go into a hotel where simple people can’t go, to have a drop of beer.
“But that’s just psychological,” he added with a shrug.